Olivia Chow officially launched her campaign to be Toronto’s next mayor, saying that "it's time for change" in Toronto,  promising to take the city in a new direction from the "failed" leadership of incumbent Rob Ford. 

"We need a new mayor for a better city and I'm here to apply for the job," Chow said. 

Speaking of her humble beginnings in a struggling immigrant family, Chow told the crowd in St. James Town — the neighbourhood where she grew up — that she learned not to spend what you don’t have, to work hard for what you want and how that has shaped her view of Toronto and what the city needs to thrive.

“I’ll be talking about a plan to put children at the heart of this city. A plan to strengthen our small businesses to promote jobs and prosperity, a plan to get people moving faster now, not in 20 years from now and we will do all these things while minding the public purse – responsibly,” she said. 

Chow praised the public schools, libraries and parks as especially important to those “growing up in a poor neighbourhood” like she did.  

She then went on the attack against Ford.

'Current mayor failing at his job'

“In the last four years we have paid more and more and got less and less. We are paying more to take the TTC, but we’re waiting longer for buses and packed into them like sardines," Chow said, also speaking of the unemployment rate and the vulnerable younger generation.

Although Chow made no direct mention of Ford's admission that he smoked crack cocaine and bought illegal drugs while mayor, nor his videotaped booze-fuelled rants, she emphasized how disappointing he has been and how he is not someone who could ever be a role model for children. 

“The current mayor’s disappointing leadership has let us down over and over again. He has failed to make the critical investments our city needs to stay competitive … the current mayor is failing at his job and he is no role model for my granddaughters,” she said.

The major candidates that have declared their intention to run for mayor have so far been right-leaning, fiscal conservatives. Chow, a notable New Democrat, has already tried to contrast comments about left-wing overspending her rivals have spoken about.

Chow, appearing on CBC News Network later Thursday afternoon, noted she was on the city's budget committee, under then-mayor Mel Lastman, for five years, during which time the books were balanced. 

"It's important to have a balanced budget, and I've done that with my five years on the budget team," said Chow. 

Chow also pointed to her family's financial struggles when she was growing up — when her mother, who was a teacher in Hong Kong, worked as a maid and laundry worker upon arriving in Toronto because there were no jobs. 

"We really didn't have much. We worked hard and we struggled. And we saved every single penny," said Chow. 

TTC promises

On transit, an often polarizing topic in Toronto, Chow has backed light rail instead of a subway in Scarborough, and has said a downtown relief line needs to be built — but when is a question of funding and timing. 

Chow has said her transit plans will come later. She offered no specifics and made no mention of cancelling the Scarborough subway, though she continued to tout the advantages of other plans. 

An above-ground transit expansion in Scarborough would cost $1 billion less, putting less pressure on taxpayers who foot the bill, and could be built quicker, Chow told CBC News. 

Chow resigned her seat in Parliament as NDP MP for Trinity-Spadina on Wednesday following confirmation Tuesday she would enter the mayoral race. Her campaign video was released Thursday morning and can be seen here.

Coun. Mike Layton and Sarah Layton, the children of her late husband, former NDP leader Jack Layton, were in attendance along with Sarah Layton’s children.

Chow had previously said she was "seriously considering" a run for mayor but was waiting to make a decision. She is considered one of the frontrunners vying for the mayor's job.

Other candidates include Ford, one-time provincial Progressive Conservative Party leader and failed mayoral candidate John Tory, city councillor Karen Stintz and former councillor David Soknacki.

Since Wednesday, Chow's competition has already welcomed, debated and criticized her decision to run. 

Ford said Wednesday that Chow's entrance into the race was the "best news he heard all day" and that "she makes David Miller look like a conservative." 

Ford has said he's not concerned about the new high-profile candidate, saying his re-election support is strong despite the string of scandals he's faced over the past 10 months.

Chow’s late husband Jack Layton was elected to Toronto city council in 1982 and had a failed mayoral bid in 1991. 

Municipal elections will be held across Ontario on Oct. 27. 

With files from The Canadian Press