If you had to compile a list of the most popular people in Winnipeg, the top five spots would be occupied by Mark Chipman, Mark Chipman, Mark Chipman, Santa Claus and Mark Chipman.
The person who brought the NHL back to Winnipeg will forever be regarded warmly by hundreds of thousands of Jets fans — a collection of people that happens to correspond to a majority of the city’s population.
So beloved is the chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment, at this juncture in the city’s history, the man could run around punching kittens and kicking bunnies and still receive high-fives in the street and rise a level in the Order of Manitoba.
Of course, Chipman wouldn’t do that. But when you’re the most popular human being in town, your actions carry a tremendous amount of weight.
So if you have any interest in Winnipeg’s mayoral race, let the following action sink in: Thursday night, Chipman co-hosted a private reception for mayoral candidate Brian Bowman.
The Bowman campaign booked a private room at the MTS Centre for a meet-and-greet co-hosted by Mark Chipman and two other Winnipeg businesspeople, Maxim Truck & Trailer’s Doug Harvey and Derek Johansson of Carlyle Printers Service & Supplies.
The event wasn’t open to the public. It was intended to allow businesspeople and others to meet the mayoral candidate and raise funds for the campaign, said Bowman spokesman Kelly McCrae.
This is significant on a number of levels. For starters, it further demonstrates how a powerful segment of Winnipeg’s business community is supportive of Bowman, a former Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce chairman.
Some support from business is not surprising. At the privacy lawyer’s campaign launch in May, he was introduced by chamber president Dave Angus and endorsed by current chamber chairwoman Jodi Moskal.
But the support of a person of Chipman’s stature is a vivid illustration Winnipeg’s establishment has moved on from the Sam Katz era.
In 2004, the Winnipeg Goldeyes owner won the mayoral race in a landslide, propelled by a wave of popular support as well as the hopes of a segment of the city’s business community.
Katz’s support appears to have eroded on both fronts over time. But few key figures in the business community have made overt attempts to move against Katz, at least in public.
Chipman is an exception. In 2011, when the NHL came back to Winnipeg, the True North president famously seated the mayor in the second row of the audience, rather than saving a seat on stage.
Now, Chipman is helping a candidate interested in succeeding Katz, albeit without publicly endorsing Bowman.
Chipman did not respond to an interview request on the subject Thursday.
Katz has yet to make his 2014 electoral intentions known. It’s believed he wishes to remain mayor but won’t run because he fears it would be difficult for one of several right-of-centre candidates to defeat former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
If Katz runs, he would join Bowman, former councillor Gord Steeves and Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck on the right. But it’s far too simplistic to view the race in purely ideological terms.
Bowman, with the help of fundraiser and Pitblado law-firm partner Howard Morry, clearly has access to many people capable of making the maximum $1,500 mayoral-campaign donation. In a race with several well-known candidates, access to money becomes an issue.
So is organizational capacity. There simply are not that many experienced campaign people in Winnipeg to spread around four or five serious campaigns.
In the early running, Bowman and Wasylycia-Leis have displayed an organizational advantage over Steeves and Havixbeck.
A big question facing a potential Katz campaign is who would actually run it, not to mention volunteer for it.
And that’s beside the not-inconsequential matter of Katz’s own low popularity.
In May, when Bowman held his campaign launch, the crowd included Jeoff Chipman, president and CEO of the Stevenson Group, a Chipman-family business.
This prompted me to ask Bowman whether he was seeking a Chipman-family endorsement.
"I think the endorsement from anybody that has shown the leadership like the Chipman family or others would be welcomed, of course," Bowman said at the time.
Even if that formal endorsement doesn’t come, Winnipeg’s most popular family appears to be in the Bowman camp.
If every Jets fan votes along with them, well... you do the arithmetic.