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You got the wrong number, Mr. Katz

Mayor's phone blitz clogs voter's voice mail

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2010 (2478 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Attention, Sam Katz campaign: Benita Luey has your voice mail. Lots of it. And after an oddball technological screw-up directed thousands of Winnipeggers to call her house to reach the mayor's re-election campaign office, she'd rather not get any more, thanks.

"It hasn't stopped," sighed Luey of the flood of calls for Katz that landed on her answering machine over the long weekend. "We're not happy that our phone number is out in the world."

Benita Luey stares at her answering machine, which has been working overtime thanks to  Sam Katz's auto-dial campaign.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Benita Luey stares at her answering machine, which has been working overtime thanks to Sam Katz's auto-dial campaign.

Here's how it got there: On Oct. 8, tens of thousands of Winnipeggers received automated messages from the Katz campaign warning that opponent Judy Wasylycia-Leis' proposed property tax hike could cause fixed-income Winnipeggers to "lose their homes."

The calls spurred a lot of voters to call Katz's campaign office. One problem: due to a known glitch in the telecommunications system, the number that showed up for the robocalls on many caller IDs didn't belong to the Katz campaign.

It was actually Luey's home phone number.

At first, Luey and her husband thought callers leaving irate voice-mail messages about Katz simply had a wrong number. But the phone kept ringing, the messages kept piling up... and soon, the surprised family learned why.

"(My husband) decided to ask what phone number was being displayed (for the robocalls)," Luey recalled. "The caller told us our phone number back to us. So people were phoning back and of course our answering machine says 'Hi, we're not home, leave us a message.' "

And did callers ever leave messages for the Lueys -- more than 100 messages, in fact -- ranging from the excited, to the annoyed, to the just plain odd. "We had everything from, '(Can the mayor) come to this craft sale' to 'My brother's in the hospital because of Sam Katz, and I'm not going to vote for him,' " Luey said.

On Tuesday, a Katz campaign spokeswoman said the kerfuffle came down to some crossed wires in the telecommunications world.

"It's an issue of miscommunication (by a telephone provider)," campaign manager Marni Larkin said. "It has nothing to do with our campaign."

What the Katz campaign believes happened is that the last time the Lueys changed telephone providers, the telecom company failed to purge their home number from its list of available digits. So, when the Winnipeg firm hired to make the automated calls applied for a series of phone numbers to dial out the Katz messages, the phone provider accidentally handed out the Lueys' active number. The mistake has happened before, a Katz campaign staffer added -- though perhaps not involving a mayoral re-election campaign.

On Tuesday, messages continued to trickle in to Luey's answering machine. She's unplugged her home phone for now, but she hopes the Katz campaign will hold off on future robocalls until it's certain her number won't pop up on call-display screens.

Oh, and Luey has some feedback to pass along to the Katz campaign, too. "People are really angry about this robocall thing," she said. "At least, that's what I gather from the messages."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Melissa Martin.

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