A former top Liberal backroom operative wants to become the city's mayor, and he's promising he'll cut his own pay and sell off assets if he gets the job.

"My name is Rocco Rossi. Some people have said 'Rocco Who'," the 47-year-old son of immigrant parents told a news conference held outdoors at Nathan Phillips Square on Monday.

"At the end of this campaign, what's important is Rocco Why, Rocco How, Rocco What and Rocco When. And that's going to make the difference."

The shaven-headed candidate also said, "Being a great mayor is more than about having a great head of hair" -- possibly a reference to Mayor David Miller.

"While 2003 was about stopping a bridge, 2010 needs to be a campaign about building bridges," Rossi said. "And so I am pledging today that on the very first day, I will cut my pay by 10 per cent and I will freeze my salary for my four-year term as mayor.

"And I will be encouraging each and every councillor to roll back the salary increase that they just voted themselves."

One of the assets he would sell off to pay down debt is Toronto Hydro.

Toronto's city operating budget is facing a deficit of $500 million, which will mean Miller and the 44 councillors will have to grapple with some tough decisions this winter. In previous years, the city has received ad hoc funding from Queen's Park, but the province has a budget deficit approaching $25 billion. Ottawa has its own deficit problems.

"I don't always want to have to go hat in hand to the province and the feds and quite frankly ... don't count on a whole lot of money coming from them," Rossi said.

He is the third candidate to openly join the race to replace Miller in the Oct. 25, 2010 election. Former deputy premier and provincial Liberal heavyweight George Smitherman will be in the fight, as will be Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti.

Candidates cannot raise or spend money on their campaigns until they file their nomination papers. The earliest they can do so is Jan. 4.

Some other names being bandied about as possible candidates include:

  • budget chief Shelley Carroll
  • TTC chair Adam Giambrone
  • Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone

Candidates will need about $1 million to run a serious campaign, and city council voted recently to ban corporate and union donations.

Unlike the others, Rossi has never held elected office, although he was campaign manager for mayoral candidate John Tory in 2003. There is speculation that Tory, who resigned this year as provincial Progressive Conservative leader, will run for mayor in 2010.

As national director of the Liberal Party of Canada, Rossi revved up that party's fundraising machinery. He will step down from that position on Dec. 31.

Rossi has also worked in business as well as serving as CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Alicia Markson