After serving as Winnipeg's mayor for the past six years, Sam Katz is blessed and cursed with being the incumbent.
Winnipeg's relative economic stability during the recent recession and the restraint displayed by city council at budget time look good on him. The city's continuing poverty and reputation for both violent crime and ad-hoc planning do not.
In a two-horse race with former Winnipeg North MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Katz has been trying to run on the positive aspects of his record as both a politician and businessman. He has also attempted to portray his competition as an inexperienced NDP figurehead bolstered by labour unions, while downplaying his own policy weaknesses and connections to federal Conservatives and Manitoba Progressive Conservatives.
The Free Press sat down with Katz right before the most tumultuous week of Winnipeg's mayoral race, which saw Katz take fire for automated voice messages and Wasylycia-Leis attempt to distance herself from a union telephone campaign against right-of-centre incumbents.
Here's what the mayor had to say about his record, his ethics and what he intends to do if he's granted a third term as mayor on Oct. 27:
Free Press: You've been mayor for six years. Winnipeggers know what you're all about. Why should they give you another chance?
Sam Katz: If you look at the big picture, right now we're thriving. This is happening during my term and what I want to do is continue that.
People are starting to invest in my city. We're seeing good things happen in our city.
The key thing is to keep the momentum going. Look at the things that are happening that have never happened before. Highrise apartment blocks being constructed in our downtown. Vacant buildings that have been there for eons on Portage Avenue that are finally being developed, with housing, which is even more important. Ikea investing millions of dollars in our city in a major development during a major recession in North America.
FP: Why should people believe you'll do more in your third term than during your previous six years?
SK: I think you have to look at who an individual is and what they've done in their life. Look at the big picture.
When the Winnipeg Symphony (Orchestra) was in trouble, I was asked by the former mayor as well as the former premier to get on the board and help turn it around. I served on Big Brothers' board as a board member and as a president. I helped the Transcona Optimists build Optimist Field. With a large group of people, we formed a volunteer organization and we saved a theatre which is very special. It's now called the Burton Cummings Theatre, formerly the Walker Theatre. As a private citizen, I took a complete block on McDermot (Avenue), where the buildings were all empty. And without any government subsidies of any kind, I created a vibrant area, full of nightclubs, restaurants, retail, housing, et cetera.
These are things that I've done and I want to continue doing them.
FP: Your campaign slogan is "proven results, real leadership." How do you feel about running on your record?
SK: I'm not going to get into slogans, basically. I'm talking about what I have done in my life, the big picture, and also the fact I have the expertise and the knowledge to get things done.
You can't run the city if you can't read financial statements, if you don't know what the word "terms" or (what) "amortization" is, if you don't know what "deferred maintenance" is, and more importantly, if you can't bring council together and get nine votes.
The greatest idea in the world goes nowhere unless you get nine votes on the floor of council. I've proven I can do that.
FP: At the time of this conversation, you've made four policy announcements. [Katz has since made two more.] Why haven't you offered up more in the way of policy?
SK: There will be more announcements. Unfortunately, there are some people who want to start a campaign five months in advance.
I've said to you over and over again, the campaign starts after Labour Day. So we have a schedule and we're making announcements. It's really too bad you and I aren't doing an interview next week.
FP: After six years as mayor, why don't you have a better idea about what you want to do?
SK: I do have, but there's a schedule. We plan it. And what we're doing is, we're building on everything that's existing right now.
Look at some of the good things that are happening right now. Just look around the city. You live here every day. There's great things happening in this city.
FP: You're even in the latest poll with Wasylycia-Leis. The numbers suggest her recent strength comes from voters who supported other candidates. How would you feel if she wins this election because some people vote against you?
SK: You may have people who vote against the incumbent. You may have people who will vote against the civic leader of the NDP. Who knows what people will do? The idea is for you to get out there and talk to as many people as possible and make sure you convince them you're the right person.
FP: What would you say to voters who still have concerns about your ethics?
SK: I don't think voters have concerns about my ethics. I think my ethics are very pure. I think if people know the true story, they would realize that.
I think what happens is people repeat something and quite often it's not the truth. But if you repeat it over and over again and you see it in the media, people start asking the question.
The bottom line is, I know who I am. I know what I am. I know I do things the right way. That's the way I live my life.
FP: Crime's the big issue. We know you'll hire more police. Why weren't you more successful with the efficiencies you hoped to achieve with CrimeStat and the now-defunct Winnipeg Police Advisory Board?
SK: I would have to take exception to that. I think we have been successful. We were the stolen-auto capital of Canada. We dropped it by addressing the issue by 74 per cent. We're no longer the auto-theft capital of Canada. If those aren't results, I don't know what is.
FP: I was talking about value for money. You used to say you didn't want to just hire more police officers, but get the best results from the ones you have.
SK: To be very frank with you, that's what you should do with the city in general. That's how it should work and I think we've done that. We've actually saved money in operating different departments.
FP: The city has a revenue problem. You dislike property taxes. You say the province should provide more revenue and you say you can get that out of them next year, a provincial election year. What makes you think that strategy will be successful when it didn't work in 2007?
SK: Because the general public had no idea what happens with their tax dollars. We have now told them, and through the media I hope to keep on repeating this. Now that the public is getting to understand that and know it, they can see we need a change and a bigger share of revenue.
How do you get elected (provincially)? You win the city and you win the capital region. The bottom line: If we all work together, we can move a mountain.
FP: Will you promise definitively, right now, to avoid a property tax hike in 2011?
SK: Definitively, it's the last thing we'll look at. My goal is not to have a property tax increase. Absolutely not, and I've already told you why.
FP: But you won't rule it out.
SK: I'll tell you why you can't rule it out -- I only have one vote. Council is supreme.
FP: Over the past two weeks, I've told you of a couple of city plans you said you didn't know about -- the downtown parking strategy and the increased scope of the Veolia contract. Are you uninterested or simply out of the loop?
SK: Neither. We have a process, and when reports go through a process, that's when it comes to the mayor's office and then we deal with it at EPC.
When we talk about Veolia, I think you were talking about a group of engineers getting together. That would be the equivalent of a couple of people at your paper getting together and saying, "You know what? Let's publish two newspapers on Sunday." I'm not sure your publisher or editor would know anything about it, nor would they be interested.
FP: Some people still aren't comfortable with the Veolia deal. What can you do to make the public confident it will be good for the city?
SK: Try to get the truth out there. There have been so many lies told about this by councillors and my opponent about this whole thing.
All we're trying to do right now is build two sewage treatment plants at a cost of approximately $660 million. The last sewage treatment plant we built went way over budget. We don't want that to happen.
So what we're doing, like we do for every project, is put it up for tender. That's normal. The expertise in this area isn't phenomenal. We had people come forward. We narrowed it down to one. We're doing a performance-based contract. It's being negotiated.
FP: The single largest financial issue facing Winnipeg is the combined sewer overhaul, which will cost billions. What's your preferred option for the replacements?
SK: This is something that happens in old cities. We have a significant problem. To raise money, you know what (utilities) do -- they increase the rates. And that's not the best thing to do when you're in a position to be competitive, and you want to be attractive to businesses.
FP: In 10 words or less, why should Winnipeggers vote for you?
SK: I definitely have the expertise, the work ethic, the knowledge and I've been here for the last 25 years, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years. I haven't been out of town. I know what the problems are. I know how to identify them. But more importantly, I'm here to represent the citizens of Winnipeg, not a political party.