Coun. Lillian Thomas plans to run for mayor next year and believes she can turn "a growing frustration" with Sam Katz into an election victory.
The veteran councillor plans to give up the Elmwood-East Kildonan seat she's held since 1989 and try to become the first person to knock off an incumbent mayor in Winnipeg since Stephen Juba defeated George Sharpe in 1957.
"I have a lot of experience. I've been on all the committees. I think I have a handle on the job," the 60-year-old politician said on Tuesday following a council meeting that saw her vote against the 2010 capital budget.
Thomas said she's running for mayor because she's fed up with Katz-supported council decisions such as the sale of the Winnipeg Square Parkade and the creation of a new corporate utility to replace the city's water-and-waste department. She's also annoyed with "last-minute" plans being placed on council agendas.
"You walk in here and you say, 'What the heck is he up to today?' " she said.
Ordinary Winnipeggers are increasingly upset with Katz as well, she claimed.
"I've been sensing in this city a growing frustration with the way things are going," she said. "I don't think he is paying attention to the anger that's out there with a number of things he has done."
Thomas said she hopes to enlist the support of Manitoba's New Democrats, whose party machinery has aided council candidates in the past. Defeating Katz will not be easy without the party's endorsement, she said.
But her declaration took NDP officials by surprise.
"I'm kind of stunned by this news. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because she's been around," Manitoba NDP president Lorraine Sigurdson said.
"I would think there would be a few more conversations before she came out so boldly," added Liam Martin, the co-chair of the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition, a group that's trying to ensure NDP and Liberal council candidates don't run against each other in 2010.
"I don't know how well her name resonates in south Winnipeg, to be frank," Martin said. "She has been around for 20 years. She has been a vocal, consistent opponent of Sam. If she thinks her time is now, power to her."
Katz said he welcomes Thomas' declaration, even though he rejected the notion Winnipeggers are growing upset with him. The most recent Probe Research poll places his approval rating at 74 per cent, he noted.
"You can take that scientific poll and take it as fact, or you can take what Coun. Thomas is asserting," he said. "I think for the first time in a long time, Winnipeggers are feeling very good about our city and are seeing good things getting done."
With the NDP poised to hold nomination meetings in some council wards in 2010, possibly in concert with the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition, Katz said he will do "everything in my power" to stop the NDP from controlling city council. Although a small-C conservative, Katz claims to be the only member of council who has never held a membership in any political party.
Thomas, meanwhile, is encouraging her executive assistant, Darryl Livingstone, to run for council in Elmwood-East Kildonan next year. He said Tuesday he has yet to decide whether to run.