10/24/2014 03:51 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST

Olivia Chow Returns To Political Roots With Toronto Mayoral Race

TORONTO - For Olivia Chow, taking the reins of Canada's most populous city would mark a triumphant return to the halls where she honed her political skills years ago — and to the social issues that first lured her into public office.

The former First Lady of the federal NDP started her political career as a Toronto school board trustee in 1985 before switching to city hall, where she became known for her work on homelessness and other urban issues.

After nearly nine years representing a downtown Toronto riding in the House of Commons — where she stood with her late husband, the iconic NDP leader Jack Layton, and served as transportation critic — Chow's bid to replace Rob Ford as mayor has seen her vow to take up arms against poverty once again.

She has also strived to appear fiscally responsible, saying she learned the value of money growing up poor after immigrating from Hong Kong with her family.

"I learned to work hard and make every penny count, to save for rainy days and to invest wisely," she said in a campaign speech this spring, adding she helped balance budgets as a city councillor.

The only left-wing contender in the Oct. 27 mayoral election, Chow was pegged as a possible counterpoint to the socially and fiscally conservative Ford from the early days of his mayoralty.

But critics have panned her performance in mayoral debates, saying she has been outshined by her opponents. Observers also warn she may be a victim of strategic voting from those set on keeping Ford's brother Doug from the mayor's seat.

Chow maintained strong ties to Toronto as an MP and could often be seen at community events and marching in the city's annual Pride Parade.

She and Layton, who were married on Toronto Island 26 years ago, were regularly spotted biking around town, sometimes on a tandem bicycle they gave each other as a wedding present. Chow has long been a cycling advocate.

Before venturing into politics, Chow was an accomplished artist; she took up sculpture again to make a bronze bust of Layton after his death in 2011.

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