That sound you just heard was the unofficial starter's pistol for the 2014 Winnipeg mayoral race.
Winnipeg lawyer Brian Bowman, long sought-after as a political candidate, confirmed he is now very close to entering the race to be Winnipeg's next mayor. Bowman said he needs more time to talk to potential supporters before making a final decision, sometime early in the New Year.
Still, Bowman's decision to show his hand adds excitement to a civic election that already has the potential to be the most interesting in a decade.
A nationally recognized expert in privacy law, and a prominent philanthropist and business lobbyist, Bowman is a Progressive Conservative by association. He is also young (42), telegenic and despite his lack of experience, seems to be a natural at retail politics.
'I'm not going to be basing my decision on who's in and who's out'
Not surprisingly, Bowman is already positioning himself as the "big tent" candidate. "The people I've been talking to about this are from across the spectrum," Bowman said. "I don't see this city through the lens of any one political perspective."
What makes Bowman an interesting potential challenger is the fact that, unlike so many other contenders, he is not basing his final decision on whether incumbent Mayor Sam Katz decides to run for a fourth mandate.
Katz has been incredibly aloof when asked about his political future. He has, at one time or another, strongly suggested he is both running and not running. Many believe he won't make a final decision until the release of two audits of city real estate transactions, expected this fall. The audits could turn up the heat on a mayor already criticized for allowing his developer friends undue influence at city hall.
Bowman, for one, said he will not make his final decision based on whether any other particular candidate is in the race. "I'm not feeling any pressure to make a decision too soon. And I'm not going to be basing my decision on who's in and who's out."
Right now, Bowman is arguably the most intriguing of the viable candidates who are dipping their toes in the mayoral pond.
Former city councillor Gord Steeves, back practising law after losing a bid to win a seat in the last provincial election for the Progressive Conservatives, has been threatening a mayoral run. A notorious tease when it comes to his political future, Steeve's candidacy is likely dependent on Katz retiring.
The same holds true for Coun. Scott Fielding, a business- and Tory-friendly politician. Coun. Paula Havixbeck is also considered at this point a serious threat to enter the race. Dropped from Katz's powerful executive policy committee, Havixbeck has become one of the mayor's most vocal critics. Paul Jordan, chief operating officer for the Forks Renewal Corp., also declared an interest in the mayor's office, although little has been heard from him after his name was outed in June.
Even against one or more of these candidates, Bowman would likely be a formidable opponent. Especially if he is able, as he has promised to do, build a broad coalition of support.
Now, it's not unusual for a candidate to sing the praises of a big-tent coalition. Jordan mentioned the same thing when he discussed his bid. The harsh reality is big-tent campaigns are rare, and that's because they're tough to construct and sustain.
In 2010, it appeared there might be a legitimate big-tent campaign to challenge Katz. The Winnipeg Citizen's Coalition, a group that claimed to have support across the political spectrum, tried to recruit a candidate with broad, non-partisan appeal. Unfortunately, those plans were undone by, not surprisingly, old partisan allegiances.
The coalition pursued a number of challengers but those plans fell apart when former NDP MP and provincial cabinet minister Judy Wasylycia-Leis jumped into the race. As a lioness of the party, New Democrats felt more or less obligated to support her, or at least not work actively for another candidate.
Wasylycia-Leis did her best to keep the big-tent dream alive; Sen. Sharon Carstairs, a former provincial Liberal leader, co-chaired her campaign. Unfortunately, as the campaign unfolded, Wasylycia-Leis shut out everyone but a cadre of longtime New Democrat advisers.
On election day, she finished a respectable but distant second and Katz collected more votes than ever before.
There will be no concerted, organized effort to recruit and promote a big-tent candidate. Even so, the right candidate could still curry support across party lines and build a coalition of support that would materialize on election day.
Unfortunately, that creates a problem for Bowman and others who are still contemplating the possibilities. There is only a year left until Winnipeggers go to the polls to elect or re-elect a mayor.
And the unofficial starter's pistol has already sounded.