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Toronto voters look elsewhere besides Ford

Rob Gillies
Associated Press

Toronto — A straight-laced moderate conservative is favored to win Toronto’s mayoral election Monday, with many residents eager to close out the Rob Ford era characterized by crack-smoking, public drunkenness and outrageous behavior.

Ford announced last month that he would not seek re-election as he battles a rare and difficult form of cancer. His brother, city councilor Doug Ford, is running in his place but is widely expected to lose to John Tory, wealthy former chief executive of cable company Rogers Communications.

Analysts say Olivia Chow, a leftist candidate and the widow of late popular Canadian politician Jack Layton, seems to have lost momentum as a candidate as people look to vote strategically to ensure Doug Ford doesn’t win.

“There is a sense of excitement. Finally we can have someone new,” Chow said after the polls opened.

Tory said it matters a “huge amount” that people get out and vote. He said all the stuff that has happened the last few years has created interest in the election and said people want a leader who will “calm down a lot of division and chaos we’ve seen.”

City Councilor Jaye Robinson, a one-time Ford ally who is now supporting Tory, said folks just want to make sure a Ford isn’t mayor.

“People are literally counting down. Every door I go to, they are counting down. They are feeling that this is going to be transformative moment in our city where we right the ship, we focus on city building and we leave the sideshow, the circus, the distractions behind,” Robinson said.

Tory, 60, a longtime politician and adviser, also served as commissioner of the Canadian Football League and more recently hosted a radio talk show. He ran for mayor in 2003 and lost.

A record 161,147 people turned out for early voting this month, more than double the number in the last election, in 2010. Among them was Kaye Wilkinson, a retiree who lives in Etobicoke, the middle-class western Toronto suburb that is home to the Ford family.

“We have to get rid of the Fords. I don’t care who is running,” Wilkinson said.

Ford’s four-year tenure as mayor of Canada’s largest city was marred by his drinking problems and illegal drug use.

After months of denials, the mayor in 2013 acknowledged he had smoked crack cocaine in one of his “drunken stupors,” but he refused to resign. The City Council stripped Ford of most of his powers but lacked the authority to force him out of office because he wasn’t convicted of a crime.

Ford announced he was entering rehab for drugs and alcohol in April 2014 after newspaper reports detailed three nights in which he was extremely intoxicated. One report was about a video that appeared to show him smoking a crack pipe again — nearly a year after reports of a similar video first brought international attention.

When Ford was elected mayor in 2010, his drug and alcohol use weren’t known — but his bluster was. A plurality of voters backed him, eager to shake things up at a City Hall they viewed as elitist and wasteful.

Despite the cancer, Ford has opted to seek the City Council seat from the Etobicoke district where he launched his political career. His brother now holds the seat.