Sam Katz is not seeking a fourth term as Winnipeg’s mayor.
Katz got up on stage at Central Park before a lunch-hour concert Friday and announced he would not run for re-election. Winnipeggers go to the polls on Oct. 22.
"The decision in my mind was made quite a while ago, many months ago," Katz told reporters. "I had stated I believed two full terms would be it."
Katz said he always believed he would remain mayor as long as there was still work to be done, but added he has lived up to every promise and commitment and must honour his commitment to serve only two full terms.
"As well as, after 10 years you do sacrifice family time and my family is important to me. I know my loving wife would have said to me, ‘Darling if that’s what you want, l’d support you,’ but I know in her heart, she was hoping that I would not run and spend more time with the family, which is something I very much want to do."
Katz said the timing of his announcement had nothing to do with the pending release of an audit into major city real estate transactions. The audit may be released as soon as next week.
Katz was first elected Winnipeg’s mayor in 2004 during a mid-term byelection necessitated by the resignation of former mayor Glen Murray. Katz handily defeated a field of high-profile contenders, including St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, by riding a wave of popular support that followed the 1999 construction of the downtown baseball stadium now known as Shaw Park.
During Katz’s first term, he was praised for creating a Red Tape Commission that found ways for eliminating needless bureaucracy for city hall. He also provoked anger among transit supporters for cancelling an earlier iteration of the Southwest Transitway – and ran afoul of east Winnipeg residents for an aborted plan to build a hog-processing plant in the St. Boniface Industrial Park.
Katz was re-elected in 2006, when he easily dispatched former NDP MLA Marianne Cerilli. His second term was marked by infrastructure successes such as funding deals to reconstruct the Disraeli Freeway and extend Chief Peguis Trail. But Katz’s second term also saw him stumble during the Riverside Park Management affair, which saw a fractious council narrowly approve a retroactive rent break for a non-profit company that sublets city land to Katz’s Winnipeg Goldeyes.
In 2010, in a closer election, Katz defeated former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis by approximately 25,000 votes. During the ensuing third term, Katz was challenged by the defeat of a plan to build a hotel and water park at The Forks, the fire-paramedic station construction scandal and massive cost overruns at the Winnipeg police headquarters construction project.
The scandals contributed to the departure of Katz’s friend and confidante Phil Sheegl, who was hired by the city as a property director and rose to become chief administrative officer.
Following Katz’s announcement, he told reporters at Central Park he was proud of accomplishments such as the reconstruction of the inner-city amenity, the construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and new investments in Assiniboine Park.
He also said he was proud Winnipeg has made unprecedented investments in its infrastructure.
With Katz out of the picture, the 2014 mayoral race is now wide open.
Registered candidates are privacy lawyer Brian Bowman, booking agent Michel Fillion, Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, University of Manitoba administrator Robert-Falcon Ouellette, lawyer and former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves, funeral-home operator Mike Vogiatzakis and Wasylycia-Leis.
But those seeking to succeed Katz said they were putting down their political sword for the day to acknowledge the time and sacrifice made by Katz and his family while he was mayor.
"I hope this is a happy day for himself," Steeves said.
"Today is the day that Winnipeggers should thank Sam Katz and his family for their years of public service," Bowman said. "Whether people agreed with his politics or his style of leadership, at the end of the day he devoted a decade of his life to serving the people of Winnipeg and that’s something people should take pause and thank him for."
"He deserves some quality time now with his family," Wasylycia-Leis said.
Polls indicated Wasylyicia-Leis had the most to gain if Katz sought re-election, which would further fragment the centre-right vote. As the only left-of-centre candidate, polls show she could easily win the race even if she pulls in the same 43 per cent popular vote she drew when losing to Katz in 2010.
But that only works if the centre-right splits the vote. She has to hope that none of the other major candidates – Havixbeck, Bowman, Steeves – drop out.
Wasylycia-Leis wasn’t acknowledging Katz’s decision will have any effect on her campaign.
"I was in this race on an agenda of change, whether Sam was in or out," she said.
Steeves said he believes many of Katz’ supporters will now line up behind him.
"Of all the candidates in the race, my impression is Sam Katz running affected me the most," Steeves said. "If people liked Sam and were supportive of him because of what he’s done, now that he’s not running they’ll be free to choose up a new candidate and… hopefully that’s me."
Bowman, like Wasylycia-Leis, said Katz’s decision will have no bearing on his campaign.
Bowman said he has positioned himself as an alternative to the status-quo and the experienced politicians who have sought political office for years.
"It’s time to move forward with the new-generation leadership that we’re providing," Bowman said.
Union leaders Mike Sutherland and Alex Forrest praised Katz’s time in office, saying he oversaw several key public safety initiatives during the past 10 years.
Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, credited Katz with the introduction of the cadet program, a helicopter for the WPS and the creation of a full-time tactical response unit.
Forrest, president of the Winnipeg firefighters union, credited Katz with the construction of several new fire halls, hiring of additional firefighters, and initiatives that saw firefighters trained as paramedics.
"It’s made our job safer and our job easier to serve the citizens of Winnipeg," Forrest said.
Both police and the firefighters’ union endorsed Katz in the 2010 campaign.
Forrest said the firefighters will endorse a mayoral candidate soon, adding the union will be able to provide the right candidate with a team of 200-300 firefighters for their campaign.
Sutherland said the WPA hadn’t decided if it would endorse a candidate this time out.