Just five hours after telling a
Town Crier editorial board meeting that he is in the race to win, Rocco Rossi announced he is dropping out of the race to become mayor of Toronto.
“It was a difficult decision, but clearly Torontonians have narrowed it down to a two-person race,” Rossi said.
“I wasn’t getting the traction I needed and that wasn’t going to change in 11 days and it was time to allow Torontonians to examine the front-runners more closely.”
The announcement followed the release of a new poll this afternoon indicating Councillor Rob Ford and former health minister George Smitherman are locked in a dead heat for the mayoralty.
The poll put Rossi’s support at just four percent amongst decided voters, with Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone sitting at 11 percent.
Rossi said he learned of the poll results a half an hour after meeting with the Town Crier.
“Faced with new data that we corroborated against some other tracking that we were doing, it was time to make a very difficult decision,” he said.
Rossi had faced mounting pressure to step aside in recent weeks, fuelled by left-wing fears about Rob Ford’s consistently high poll numbers.
The concern was that the three left leaning front-runners might split the vote, thereby allowing Rob Ford an easy win.
Two weeks ago candidate Sarah Thomson officially ended her own floundering campaign and threw her support behind Smitherman, who has consistently polled second to Ford and is widely seen as the candidate with the best chance of beating him.
The endorsement came as a blow to Rossi, who had been rumoured to be the candidate Thomson would support if she withdrew from the race.
More bad news plagued Rossi all the way to this week, when on Tuesday it was announced six former members of his campaign were officially endorsing Smitherman for mayor.
Although Rossi shrugged off the endorsement Wednesday, the optics were clearly bad for his campaign.
Wearing a brave face and surrounded by signs still bearing his name in his rain-dampened campaign office, Rossi was non-committal about his future plans.
“I’ll be giving some due consideration after some rest and relaxation with my family on what to do next. One thing I am committed to is to continue being of service,” he said, recalling he had previously served four and a half years as head of the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Rossi said for the remainder of the campaign he’ll focus on issues he thinks are important and will encourage Torontonians to ask tough questions of the candidates, but will allow the focus to rest on the front-runners.
“I hope that by getting out of the way that the front runners will be forced to present their positive vision as opposed to what they’re against because Toronto deserves better,” said Rossi.
He also said he would not be endorsing any other candidate.
Within an hour after Rossi’s announcement, Smitherman released a statement praising him for “what was surely a difficult decision” to end his campaign.
“I have watched Mr. Rossi in action and I have been consistently impressed by his bold thinking, his wit and his passion for building a better, more inclusive Toronto … I wish Mr. Rossi and his family well, and every success in whatever he chooses to do next,” said Smitherman in the statement.
Although he will no longer actively campaign, Rossi’s name will remain on the ballot, as the deadline for official withdrawal passed several weeks ago.