Doug Ford set to face off against opponents in debate for the first time Tuesday evening

Eleven days after he shocked the city by jumping into the mayoral race, will grace his first debate stage at York Memorial Collegiate Institute Tuesday in what is being billed as a pivotal moment in the municipal campaign.

, the clear frontrunner in numerous polls, will surely face the wrath of his opponents, but most of the attention will be on how the brash Ford sibling performs. Doug Ford can turn on the charm, but he’s also been an attack dog of sorts at city hall, with debate experience that pales in comparison with Mayor , now undergoing chemotherapy to treat a rare form of cancer.

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“You don’t know which Doug Ford is going to show up and the fact is there is a bombastic divisive one who said a bunch of negative things in the past, including that he wanted to run off to Chicago and ditch this city,” John Tory said on CP24.

Quoting former U.S. secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, spokesman Jamey Heath called it the “unknown unknown.” That is, “who knows what [Doug Ford's] presence will do that debate. We certainly hope it’s an issue focused debate.”

Peter J. Thompson/National PostPeter J. Thompson/National PostToronto mayoral candidates John Tory and Olivia Chow take part in a debate about disability issues at Ryerson University Monday.

Expect Ms. Chow, who has been attacking Mr. Tory’s transit policy more aggressively, to continue that streak, especially since the debate is in the community of Mount Dennis, where Tory’s SmartTrack line is supposed to run through.

Mr. Heath said that Ms. Chow’s mindset is “good,” noting that she has done “extremely well” in one-on-one debates with Mr. Tory. Having emerged out of the summer trailing Mr. Tory, Ms. Chow is now trying to impress upon voters that it’s not about Rob Ford anymore. “Rob Ford isn’t going to be the mayor,” she said Tuesday following a press conference. She asked people to vote for “hope.”

The significance of Tuesday’s debate is not lost on any of the camps, which have been running their candidates through debate drills.

As he comes into more scrutiny, you will see things starting to shift

“Obviously tonight is important, but it really is just the beginning,” said , who is a spokesman for Doug Ford’s campaign. Just like the mayor before he dropped out of the race, Doug Ford is betting that the election will be won at the doorstep, reaching out directly to voters.

Mr. Silverstein played down poll results that had Doug Ford in second or third place. “[John Tory's] had a real free ride for the most part and he really hasn’t been scrutinized, certainly to the extent the mayor was. As he comes into more scrutiny, you will see things starting to shift,” he said. As for which Doug Ford will show up to tonight’s debate, Mr. Silverstein says it will be the “real” Doug Ford. “I think he’s a guy with conviction, who has some very strong opinions, is a forceful speaker and a strong debater and I think that’s what you’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ford’s medical team at Mount Sinai Hospital will be assessing his clinical status Tuesday afternoon and deciding if he can go home, said Mr. Silverstein.

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