A tumultuous week at city hall ended with one of Mayor Sam Katz's former allies defecting as a prelude to a possible mayoral run -- and another preparing a run of his own.
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding resigned from council's executive policy committee Friday, saying he could not support a property-tax increase expected in the 2014 budget. Fielding's move paved the way for a 2014 mayoral run in a field that may or may not include Katz.
Meanwhile, former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves, who spent seven years on EPC with Katz, sent out invitations to a Monday announcement sources confirmed as the launch of a campaign for mayor in 2014.
That means the path back into the mayor's office for Sam Katz must lead through at least one former ally and potentially as many as three. Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, whom Katz kicked off EPC last year, is also mulling a mayoral run.
"I don't know how viable Sam is as a candidate anymore, to be quite honest with you," Fielding told reporters Friday over the lunch hour, after informing the mayor he was leaving EPC.
Fielding framed his decision as a matter of principle, insisting he has no interest in supporting a second annual one per cent property-tax increase that would be devoted to infrastructure renewal, never mind additional property-tax hikes he claimed are part of a draft budget for 2014.
"The mayor's already announced a property-tax increase of one per cent for infrastructure. In the backrooms, they're pushing for more," Fielding said. "I just couldn't support another property-tax increase, especially with all the bungling and mismanagement that's been going on."
Fielding, who was first elected in 2006, served on EPC for five years, acting first as finance chairman and later as protection chairman. He said he takes pride in his work and is not happy about the ballooning cost of the Winnipeg police headquarters conversion or the botched and unfair fire-paramedic station replacement program, the subject of a scathing review that has led to turmoil at city hall.
Katz thanked Fielding for his service but noted the St. James councillor left his ward for a new home in Linden Woods, pledged not to run for a third term as a councillor and has designs on running for office at another level.
"In light of the fact he announced he wasn't going to be running, this was just automatic," said Katz, insisting Fielding's decision to join the ranks of non-EPC councillors was no surprise. "When you don't live in your ward, although it works in federal and provincial politics, in municipal politics a lot of people frown on that."
While wishing Katz the best, Fielding could not resist a return jab at the mayor. "I'm not sure people believe everything he says these days," he said.
Katz said he'll make up his mind whether to run for mayor in the new year. Fielding said he will decide after consulting with his wife and family.
Steeves, meanwhile, invited friends and supporters to an Assiniboine Park announcement slated for 1 p.m. on Monday. The 11-year former councillor, who now works as a lawyer for the firm D'Arcy & Deacon, initially announced he was mulling a mayoral run in June.
"Winnipeg seems to be two cities, almost. I see people who are doing very, very well and I love that. But I also see large parts of the city going in the exact opposite direction," he said at the time.
Steeves sat on council from 2000 to 2011, when he resigned to run in the provincial election. A federal Liberal for much of his career, he ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Seine River, but lost to NDP incumbent Theresa Oswald.
He is the first person to commit to the 2014 mayoral race. Lawyer Brian Bowman and 2010 mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis are also considering a run, along with Katz, Fielding and Havixbeck.
Katz said Friday he does not believe the fire-paramedic station scandal has hampered his election chances or his ability to govern. But the mayor faces a short list of prospective councillors to replace Fielding on EPC.
Katz could reappoint St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, who quit EPC last fall, or promote one of three other non-EPC councillors considered friendly to the mayor: Thomas Steen (Elmwood), Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) or council speaker Grant Nordman (St. Charles).
Joining EPC at a time when council is almost paralyzed by scandal comes with a risk, however.
"I think the mayor's going to have trouble finding people who want to sit on his executive policy committee right now, which is a very unusual situation," said Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi.
Katz must shuffle EPC before Nov. 6, when council holds its annual organizational meeting, which determines the makeup of council committees.