What’s missing when a candidate drops out?

When mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson walked into her campaign office last Sept. 9, she was greeted by a sometimes uncommon sight – reporters ready and waiting.

“We became accustomed to the fact that every time I had a press announcement, the press wouldn’t cover it,” Thomson said.

But the reporters’ presence that day was bittersweet. Thomson was about to drop out of the running for mayor of Toronto. According to Thomson, the room was so silent you could hear a pin drop. She signed the papers to leave the mayoral race, but at the same time signed the papers to run for a council seat in Ward 20.

“After we left (city hall), we went straight back to the office and started working on our campaign for council,” she said.

She wasn’t the only one to drop out of the race for the mayor’s chair this fall. David Soknacki pulled out of the running the same day. Soknacki didn’t offer much comment, just saying that he wanted to minimize his media exposure now that he had the ability to.

According to Hamutal Dotan, editor-in-chief of Torontoist, Soknacki’s presence, or the lack of it in this case, has definitely been felt in the mayoral race.

“What’s lost is his anchor for policy,” Dotan said. “What he brought to the campaign was he forced other candidates to also address policy issues in more detail, and on a broader range of subjects than they otherwise would have.”

People have speculated that Soknacki shouldn’t have dropped out of the race, given Rob Ford’s cancer prognosis, but Dotan believes otherwise.

“When you’re asking if there wouldn’t have been the Ford factor with Soknacki, it’s not a static situation,” she said. “If Rob or Doug hadn’t been a factor, someone else might have been. You always have to bear in mind what the whole (political) environment looks like, because all these moving pieces affect one another.”

Richard Underhill is another mayoral candidate who dropped out of the race. He said he felt the loss, but that wasn’t all.

“I felt a bit sad, but I did feel a sense of relief,” Underhill said. “It’s quite an intense experience trying to be abreast of the many important issues that impact our city.”

As for Sarah Thomson’s presence in the campaign, she said her policy mainstay was always transit funding through tolling 905 commuters. It’s a topic no longer addressed in the campaign since Thomson has left. But that’s not the only thing missing from the Toronto mayoral race this time, Dotan said.

“She brought a certain idiosyncratic flare to the campaign. She showed up at campaign events on horses; no one has ever done that before,” she said. “But in terms of the actual substantive race for mayor, I don’t think her presence or absence really made a difference.”

For the record, Sarah Thomson ran for mayor in 2010, and a second time in 2014. She’s in the running for the Trinity-Spadina council seat.

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