Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP calls in top organizer

St. Norbert ward is 'in play'

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Amid a brewing controversy over the new football stadium's location, one of the NDP's best campaign managers has been parachuted in to help unseat St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel.

Geof Langen took a leave of absence last week from his job as a provincial policy analyst to work full-time managing Louise May's campaign against Swandel.

Langen, the NDP's go-to guy in too-close-to-call races, managed NDP MLA Erin Selby's successful campaign against Tory veteran Jack Reimer in the Southdale riding in 2007. He also ran NDP MP Jim Maloway's campaign in Elmwood-Transcona in the last federal election.

So far, St. Norbert hasn't been one of the half-dozen ward races to watch. Langen's arrival suggests the NDP believes that's changed.

"We consider this ward to be in play," said Langen Tuesday.

Not according to Swandel, who says he's been assured of a vote at 65 or 70 per cent of the doors he's knocked on and feels confident that his work over the last four years will outshine the stadium controversy.

"My sense is that we appear to have a comfortable lead," said Swandel.

Residents of Fort Richmond have raised an increasingly loud fuss over plans to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the University of Manitoba. They fear the stadium will bring traffic jams, parking problems and drunken louts to their quiet enclave and say the city and Creswin failed to properly consult with the community before council approved the project.

Some residents, who are increasingly well-organized, buttonholed Swandel at a community meeting last week, demanding answers.

But Swandel said their concerns are localized and haven't eroded his support in the rest of the ward. He said he's got signs up and is working on his second brochure of the race, and the campaign has about the same feel it did in 2006 when he soundly defeated anti-pesticide activist Glenda Whiteman.

St. Norbert, located south of Bishop Grandin and mostly west of the Red River, includes neighbourhoods such as Waverley Heights and Fairfield Park

Besides the frustration in Fort Richmond, Langen said voters in River Park South -- St. Norbert's outpost on the east side of the Red River -- are confused about who their councillor is. That means a third of the ward is ripe for the picking.

Langen, who has been volunteering on NDPer Keith Bellamy's council campaign in Daniel McIntyre, said he got a call from a local union asking for a top-tier campaign manager willing to kick May's campaign into high gear.

May is the daughter of Bill and Shirley Loewen, the wealthy philanthropists and political activists. Fundraising hasn't been as big a challenge as it normally is for a long-shot challenger.

And, Langen said May has deep roots in the arts community so her campaign has attracted volunteers who haven't been involved in politics before.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 14, 2010 B4

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