Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Two sides to this happy story
The man overreaches claiming his victories
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mr. In-Between.
It's not clear that Sam Katz is a fan of the late, great Johnny Mercer, a crooner who co-wrote and recorded Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive in late 1944. It was very much a song for the times, an anthem for hope that connected with music lovers all over the globe recovering from the ravages of the Second World War.
Still, although the mayor is not quite old enough to have enjoyed the song when it was first released, there was evidence Friday he may have adopted it as his personal theme song.
Exhibit 1: the 2013 state of the city speech. In contrast to past speeches that have been a bit edgier, Katz was most definitely Mr. Positive this year. It was a decidedly optimistic, glass-half-full address that was, in both content and delivery, pretty impressive.
The mayor used three stylish, high-concept videos in his speech. Each featured prominent citizens, opinion leaders and advocates talking about how the city is improving the state of infrastructure, public amenities and recreational opportunities for kids.
To be fair, there is a lot to be proud of in this city, and Katz is correct to demand some credit. When people disparage local government, they rarely consider the solid, effective programs it offers to improve the life of its citizens. You can't dispute the fact these things happened on his watch.
However, accentuating the positive will only take you so far. For the audience at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, it was at times hard to completely eliminate the negative while the mayor delivered a medley of his greatest hits.
This is a mayor who has been dogged by controversy in the last year. From an audit into real estate transactions, to missteps in the building of new fire stations, and revelations the mayor bought a home in Arizona from the family of an executive of one of Winnipeg's biggest developers, the past year has been a bit of a mess.
More importantly, when people gather to discuss the future of Winnipeg, it's not hard to find someone who thinks the city is bad at finding solutions. Some believe local government is the problem.
Katz does not do a good job of disputing that latter notion with his propensity to overreach while trying to claim victories. So much so, that as he tries to build a case for optimism, he tends to trigger his critics' gag reflex.
For example, on Friday, Katz trumpeted an increase in the number of people living downtown. It is not unfair to point out there is still a dire shortage of downtown residents, and most downtown advocates consider city initiatives to encourage people to move to the core woefully inadequate.
Another example was in the mayor's videos. In one clip, an IKEA official congratulates the city for doing a good job of improving roads around the new store. Obviously left out of this idyllic scene is the very real concern that Winnipeg unfairly subsidized IKEA and developers by spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on something developers should have carried. Katz seems blissfully ignorant that at the very least, the value of the city's investment around IKEA is still being debated.
Consider this gem: In the post-speech scrum, Katz confirmed, more or less, that he would be running for re-election in fall 2014. A mayoral re-election campaign has to start at least a year in advance of the vote, making this the last state of the city speech before the real work of winning another election starts.
In the past, Katz has waffled about his plans, but this time he was leaning toward re-election. "Can you think of any reason I should not run?" he asked.
As soon as he said that, another reporter reminded Katz that if he did run for a third full term, he would be formally contravening the two-term limit he once voted for at council.
The measure to introduce term limits did not succeed, which apparently opened the door for Katz to run again. "I've always said, 'Council is supreme,'" Katz said with a broad grin.
In politics, coy is occasionally an effective posture, but this is just annoying. Is he running or not? Does he consider term limits a serious issue or not? Katz is under no obligation to announce his re-election plans now, but surely he could resolve the issue of whether term limits were ever a priority. Treating it as a joke now suggests it was not a serious concern then.
In keeping with the moral of Mercer's catchy tune, Katz's speech was a triumph in accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.
As for his future, and the impact nagging scandal will have on his plans, he remains very much Mr. In-between.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 A13
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