The gale-force winds that blew through Winnipeg on Wednesday night stopped short of entering the second-floor windows at city hall.
Sam Katz will return to the mayor's office for a third and final term after winning the toughest fight of his political career -- a head-to-head battle with former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
At the end of a six-month, somewhat chippy mayoral race, Katz shrugged off Wasylycia-Leis' vaunted get-out-the-vote machine to win the support of an outright majority of Winnipeg voters -- no less than 55 per cent at press time.
When 99.5 per cent of the votes had been tallied, Katz amassed 116,176 votes compared to 90,717 for Wasylycia-Leis, a victory margin of 25,000 votes.
The result, while not entirely unexpected, gives Katz a strong mandate for the next four years.
"Thank you to all Winnipeggers who voted today so we can continue what we're doing to move Winnipeg forward," Katz said at a victory party in the downtown Radisson Hotel's ballroom, standing on a podium with his daughters, Kiera and Ava, and his girlfriend, Leah Pasuta.
Addressing a room full of firefighters clad in yellow T-shirts as well as close friends and trusted allies, Katz thanked the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Association, the two unions that endorsed him during the campaign.
Katz also thanked even candidates who ran in the election, especially the other mayoral contenders.
"I don't think any of us has ever worked so hard," said Katz. "Judy and Brad (Gross) and Rav (Gill) definitely motivated me to do everything I had to do."
Katz also thanked campaign manager Marni Larkin and chief of staff Bonnie Staples-Lyon, two Conservative campaign veterans who out-strategized their NDP and labour counterparts on Wasylycia-Leis' election team.
"Labour and the NDP, they're the best at what they do," said Katz, pledging to work more closely with unionized paramedics and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, who both appeared to back Wasylycia-Leis without formally endorsing her.
With 300 supporters cheering her on at Canad Inns Polo Park, an upbeat Wasylycia-Leis said she ran an honest campaign that changed the nature of the debate at city hall and raised issues Katz now can't ignore.
"Together, we have served democracy well. Together we have shaken up this city," she told her crowd of supporters. "There's no going back ever again."
She congratulated Katz on a well-fought campaign and joked that she hoped he would steal some of her ideas.
"I told him I would be buggin' him for a long time to come," she said.
She said she will continue to be an activist on civic issues in Winnipeg and ruled out a future run for the NDP provincially.
"We came up short this evening," she said. "We had hope to take the message of change to city hall; that message will have to wait a little while longer, for a different day."
Katz told his supporters he would always leave his door open for Wasylycia-Leis. "We're all going to work together," he pledged.
In his brief victory speech, Katz also lamented the death of long-time Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor Bill Clement and the illness that forced Mynarski councillor Harry Lazarenko from office, and welcomed all of the city's new councillors. He also fired a shot across the bow of the Selinger government, warning he will continue his campaign for a greater portion of provincial tax revenue.
Katz was originally elected in the 2004 civic byelection called after former mayor Glen Murray resigned to run for federal office. He defeated four other high-profile candidates -- and won 43 per cent of the mayoral vote.
In 2006, facing a less formidable trio of opponents, Katz won re-election with 62 per cent of the popular vote.
This year, facing an organized opponent in the form of former MP Wasylycia-Leis, Katz relied on Larkin to run a scientific campaign. Her strategy was to run on Katz's record and present him as better positioned to deal with crime.
"We were the crime and safety candidate," she told the crowd at the Radisson.
After taking two days off, one of the mayor's first tasks will be to heal the wounds of a council that may wind up being even more divided along ideological lines. The City of Winnipeg's 13th council will be inaugurated Tuesday evening.
The other two mayoral candidates -- real-estate agents Gross and Gill -- collected a combined three per cent of the popular vote.