In the political equivalent of a high-wire act, Gord Steeves launched his campaign for mayor by describing himself as both an experienced former councillor and a city hall outsider who's been gone long enough to avoid the taint of scandal.
The former St. Vital councillor, who served from 2000 to 2011, became the first person to definitively enter a Winnipeg mayoral race that will culminate on Oct. 22, 2014. He timed his announcement to precede the election by a year -- but wound up holding his coming-out party in the midst of another flare-up of the fire-paramedic station scandal.
On Monday, Steeves stood before friends and supporters at Assiniboine Park's Family Centre and lambasted the "mismanagement, questionable procedures (and) questions of favouritism" that have led citizens to lose faith in a city council he left two years ago.
"Confidence from the citizenry in city hall seems to be at a really low ebb," said Steeves, who resigned his St. Vital seat in 2011 to make an unsuccessful run for provincial office as the Progressive Conservative candidate for Seine River. The former federal Liberal lost to NDP cabinet member Theresa Oswald.
Now, he's asking Winnipeggers to elect him as their "mayor for a new day," based on his 11 years of experience as a councillor who got along with both former mayor Glen Murray and current Mayor Sam Katz. "It's going to be very helpful for whomever comes in to have the experience and hit the ground running," Steeves said.
He also noted he left council before the emergence of problems with the fire-paramedic station replacement program, which an external review found to be severely mismanaged and plagued by unfair contract awards.
Steeves promised to bring the city back to a time when "we took responsibility for our actions" and "it did not take millions of dollars on audits and reports just to figure out what the truth really was."
Steeves was council's protection chairman when the fire-paramedic station construction project started in 2009 and remained in that role until he resigned in 2011. He said Friday he was not aware of any problems with a program managed by former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl.
Steeves, who voted in favour of Sheegl becoming CAO, declined to find fault with the former administrator.
"I don't blame... any single person for any of that. People want to lay blame, I guess they can do this," he said, adding it was unfortunate Sheegl did not work out as CAO. "It was one of those things where I look back and we did not know then what we know now."
Steeves also refused to criticize Katz for the problems afflicting city hall. "I really would prefer not to base my candidacy and what we're trying to do on anybody else," he said. "Obviously, city council has frayed to a large degree. There doesn't appear to be a lot of positive direction going around right now."
Steeves said he has a lot of "very detailed and specific ideas" about how to run the city, but will spend the next few months holding meetings in each ward to solicit opinion from the public. The first such meeting will be held in the Mynarski ward in November, he said.
Since leaving city hall, Steeves has worked as a lawyer for D'Arcy & Deacon. His wife, Lorrie, and three children attended the campaign launch, where the crowd included former Katz policy adviser Derek Rolstone and St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel. The latter joked Steeves was the best candidate in a field that so far has only one candidate.
Other Winnipeggers mulling mayoral runs include Couns. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) and Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo), lawyer Brian Bowman and former NDP MLA and MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who finished second to Katz in the 2010 mayoral race.