Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A sorry fact -- Katz finds it hard to apologize

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Mayor Sam Katz

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A timely apology or mea culpa is not a magic elixir, but it's worked wonders for some public figures, frequently restoring or even boosting their standing in the community.

Former president Bill Clinton was a master.

For others, including Mayor Sam Katz, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

The mayor is an unapologetic man, and he makes no apologies for it.

In fact, as Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair recently reported, the only time Katz has apologized for a personal error over the last 10 years was in a letter to a woman who was angry after witnessing him toss his chewing gum onto the ground. The mayor initially denied the infraction, but eventually came clean.

Littering is hardly the worst accusation the mayor has faced, so it's a bit of a mystery why he went the extra mile over this incident, while stubbornly denying any other mistake or error in judgment.

The mayor also made an implicit apology -- without using the word -- when he returned a valueless shell company to Phil Sheegl, the city's chief administrative officer, who had sold it to the mayor for $1. Katz called criticism of the transaction a "witch hunt," but he later agreed the optics were bad, which isn't quite an apology.

Unfortunately for the mayor, he seems unaware some of his political problems over the years might have vanished if he had just uttered the hardest word, but it's like he can't get it out.

When he was confronted with accusations of conflict of interest over a $3,000 bill at a restaurant he owned, he should have apologized, pleaded ignorance and paid back the money.

The issue likely would have disappeared, but Katz simply could not say sorry. As a result, he faced a conflict-of-interest challenge in court, where he was cleared of the accusation, but found to have exhibited poor political and ethical behaviour, a damning judgment that will forever be on his record. The case is under appeal.

It's unclear if the mayor doesn't understand the perception factor in politics, doesn't care, or simply has a hard time admitting an error.

He still doesn't grasp the idea, for example, that it was a gross abuse of power for him and deputy mayor Russ Wyatt to spend $70,000 on a political campaign that had not been endorsed by council or any of its committees, including his inner circle of supporters on executive policy committee.

Katz has resorted to the famous "mistakes were made" line, whereby the blame is somehow redirected to others, but at least he hasn't used the non-apology apology, where the public figure admits he's unhappy you're unhappy.

Apologizing can be an act of cynical political expediency, or a moment of genuine self-cleansing where the apologist throws himself or herself at the mercy of the public. It was never clear which option applied to Clinton when he was explaining his problems with serial adultery.

Lance Armstrong's apology over drug-use issues, after years of denial, seemed too little, too late, but at least he was freed from the need for persistent lying.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to bring himself to say "sorry" over the Senate expense scandal, but it was a rare moment for a man who also doesn't like admitting a mistake.

Henry Kissinger should have a lot to apologize about, but his mantra was and is: "No apologies, no regrets."

Rob Ford? Forget about it.

The proliferation of apologies and admissions of personal wrongdoing by politicians and celebrities have started to attract the attention of psychologists, who are trying to figure out why some people are sorry, while others are in denial.

There's no definitive judgment yet, but some psychologists believe refusing to apologize is actually good for the self-esteem.

Australian psychologist Tyler Okimoto conducted several experiments on the subject, including one involving about 300 people who were asked to explain why they did or did not apologize for an error or wrongdoing.

He found those who had refused to apologize felt "greater power and greater levels of self-esteem" than those who had made an apology.

"There can be beneficial psychological consequences for individuals who refuse to provide an apology to the victims of their harmful actions," Okimoto said.

If that's the case, then Mayor Katz's self-esteem may have suffered a minor setback over a piece of gum.

Otherwise, in his mind, he's got nothing to apologize for.

dave.obrien@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2013 A13

History

Updated on Friday, June 7, 2013 at 8:03 AM CDT: replaces photo

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