A pledge by mayoral candidate Gord Steeves to reduce public intoxication in downtown Winnipeg has been derailed by a four-year-old comment by his spouse, who complained on Facebook of harassment by "drunken native guys" while her husband was a city councillor.
On Friday afternoon, Steeves stood near the Portage Avenue bus stop in front of Portage Place and promised to hire more police cadets and intensify police patrols to improve public safety in downtown Winnipeg.
The lawyer and former St. Vital councillor said he would like to spend $600,000 to $800,000 to ensure an additional 20 police cadets patrol the heart of the city, over and above existing police, cadet and business improvement zone patrols and social-work efforts aimed at combating public intoxication.
"No person who is drunk or high will be allowed to linger downtown. No person struggling with mental illness will be left to their own devices downtown," said Steeves, promising to work with the province and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to more rigorously enforce existing public-intoxication rules. This would require police board approval, he said.
Steeves, who has spent the past two weeks trying to position himself as the mayoral candidate of choice on the right, appeared to be gaining momentum for his campaign with a series of provocative announcements.
Within hours of his downtown-safety pledge, however, a seldom-used Twitter account circulated a screen-capture image of a 2010 Facebook post by Lorrie Steeves, the candidate's spouse, who expressed dissatisfaction with "getting harrassed (sic) by the drunken native guys" in downtown Winnipeg skywalks.
"We need to get these people educated so they can make their own damn money instead of hanging out and harrassing (sic) the honest people who are grinding away working hard for their money," she wrote on her Facebook page, which was completely open for all viewers to read.
"We all donate enough money to government to keep their sorry assess [sic] on welfare, so shut the (expletive) up and don't ask me for another handout."
Lorrie Steeves issued a news release just before 6 p.m. Friday, apologizing for what she'd written.
"In 2010, while I was working downtown, I was regularly harassed for money and often put in a position where I feared for my safety," Steeves said Friday. "One day in particular, four years ago, was very bad and out of frustration I vented on my personal Facebook page. I feel terrible about these comments. I am terribly sorry and apologize. I do not clear my Facebook posts or status updates with my husband."
Reached by telephone earlier Friday, Lorrie Steeves said she wanted to consult with her spouse before commenting. She made the post in February 2010, when Steeves was the councillor for St. Vital. He resigned in 2011 to run for office as a provincial Progressive Conservative.
Steeves was speechless when he was read the content of the post. He declined to immediately comment.
A screen-captured image of the post was first distributed by a Twitter user with the handle @DarlingDarleneJ. The image is the first tweet issued by that account. The user declined to respond to queries about his or her real name or involvement in any Winnipeg mayoral campaign or Manitoba political party.
Lorrie Steeves' four-year-old Facebook post overshadowed her spouse's downtown-safety announcement, which also called for the re-establishment of a Winnipeg Police Service office in a Portage Avenue storefront, closer monitoring of liquor licensees who over-serve their clients and the deployment of more police and cadets at times when public intoxication is more frequent.
Steeves said a small group of chronic offenders is responsible for the majority of charges under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act and said he would like to see those people get the help they need from social-service or mental-health agencies.
He said Winnipeggers still do not feel safe downtown, in spite of recent improvements in surveys about the perception of safety in the heart of Winnipeg.
Steeves acknowledged that if elected mayor, he would need police-board approval to apply new resources downtown. Steeves said what he is proposing would augment existing programs run by agencies such as the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, which he said he did not consult.
Downtown Winnipeg BIZ executive director Stefano Grande, who spoke in an interview before Lorrie Steeves' comments came to light, said three social workers under his employ have helped 50 people living on the street find housing -- and 18 police officers devoted to daytime foot patrols have improved the perception of downtown public safety.
He said he supports a pledge by any candidate to increase resources aimed at improving downtown safety.