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Mayoral main events

Historical dust-ups offer clues to how 2014 may play out

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The Winnipeg electorate is a finicky bunch.

When a mayoral race comes along, we’re prone to sticking with incumbents. No sitting mayor has gone down to defeat in Winnipeg since 1956, when George Sharpe lost the chain of office to Stephen Juba.

But when a wide-open race comes along, we like to choose outsiders over candidates with any form of political experience. This happened in 1992, when Susan Thompson slipped by three veteran city councillors, and again in 2004, when Sam Katz absolutely crushed four well-known political names.

The 2014 race is unusual, however. It will either be a wide-open race or multi-candidate free-for-all that includes a profoundly unpopular incumbent. In the latest credible poll, Sam Katz’s support was down to a remarkable 12 per cent.

For some clues as to how 2014 may play out, here’s what happened during five of the most momentous races in Winnipeg’s 141-year history:

1874: The fixing of Winnipeg’s first race

Although the City of Winnipeg was incorporated in 1873, the residents of the new Manitoba capital would have to wait until January 1874 to elect their first mayor.

The city’s first mayoral race pitted William F. Luxton, the Liberal founder of the Manitoba Free Press — the forerunner of this newspaper — against Francis Evans Cornish, an Ontario protestant who agitated against the city’s sizable Catholic, francophone Métis population.

By modern standards, Cornish would be considered a drunken, violent racist. In frontier Winnipeg, his lack of ethics would serve him well.

When the ballots were counted, Cornish defeated Luxton 383 to 179, even though a scant 388 people were registered to vote in Winnipeg. A loophole in the election law allowed property owners to vote anywhere in the city where they possessed a parcel of land.

Cornish would only hold on to the mayoralty for one year; William Kennedy knocked him off in 1875. Cornish returned to city council as an alderman in 1878 but died later the same year of cancer.

Next: 1912: The campaign for a Winnipeg water source

History

Updated on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 9:30 AM CDT: corrects typo

3:14 PM: corrects spelling of Garnet Coulter

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