Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Katz still the one to beat

Here's a handicap of potential contenders for the mayor's chair

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Now that the conflict-of-interest case against Mayor Sam Katz has been put to rest, Winnipeggers don't have to worry about going to the polls this year.

But it's only 18 months before the city does get a chance to select its mayor; the next general election is set for Oct. 22, 2014.

On Friday, after Katz survived an attempt to have him removed from office over a 2010 decision to spend taxpayer funds at a restaurant he owned at the time, Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser nonetheless rebuked the mayor for exhibiting she called "bad political and ethical behaviour."

Such a statement will serve any Katz opponent well as part of a 2014 election pamphlet or attack ad. But it remains to be seen whether Katz will even run again, never mind who would run against him.

Serious 2014 mayoral candidates do not need to begin getting their ducks in a row until late this year. Here's a handicap of potential contenders for next year's race, as they exist right now:


Sam Katz

WINNIPEG'S three-time-elected mayor is a seasoned politician with an excellent grasp of the issues facing the city. He has a tremendous amount of experience in the line of fire, having weathered a particularly ugly 2012 that saw the City of Winnipeg stumble through the Parcel Four water-park fiasco, the fire-paramedic station affair and a messy waste-collection upgrade.

Katz's appeal will also be tarnished by the mere fact he's been in office since 2004, as voters eventually grow weary of almost any incumbent. He also will not be helped by dubious personal decisions such as last week's display of defiance in the face of the near-unprecedented censure from a justice of the Queen's Bench.

In spite of these warts, Katz would be Winnipeg's most qualified mayoral candidate in 2014. While that statement may upset his detractors, there's no denying he will be the candidate to beat if he chooses to seek a fourth term. His decision to do so will depend on the wishes of his family -- as well as the results of any polling that may be conducted on his behalf.

Katz would be most vulnerable against a charismatic, new opponent, especially if that individual is on the centre-right. Essentially, the 2014 edition of Sam Katz faces the largest threat from someone who resembles the candidate he was in 2004.


Scott Fielding

AS a firm believer in term limits, St. James-Brooklands Coun. Fielding has said he won't seek a third term as a councillor next year. If Katz decides to give up the chain of office, Fielding is a safe bet to enter the mayoral race. If Katz runs again, Fielding likely will retire from council and prepare for a provincial or federal run as a PC or Conservative candidate.

Fielding has proven himself to be a consistent fiscal conservative, a voice of relative calm on city council and a politician with a very good grasp of right and wrong. Although not overly imaginative, he is decent and likable.

His primary weakness would be his association with Katz in a race against any opponent who runs on a pledge to take the city in a different direction.


Russ Wyatt

THE mercurial and shrewd Transcona councillor has made noises in the past about running for mayor and may declare his intention to do so again as a tactical manoeuvre. It is not clear whether Wyatt truly desires to be Winnipeg's mayor.

A gifted orator, Wyatt would be very entertaining as a mayoral candidate. He would also be highly creative. He is the epitome of the high-risk, high-reward candidate.

But he may not be electable, as he would present an ample target for any opponent willing to criticize his shifting alliances on city council over the years.


Dan Vandal

ST. Boniface Coun. Vandal is more qualified to be mayor now than he was when he ran against Katz and lost in 2004. Vandal now has the experience of working as a member of executive policy committee with leaders as diverse in outlook as Katz and former mayor Glen Murray.

Vandal may be the most careful and considerate member of city council. His lack of dynamism -- he is not a showman like Katz or Wyatt -- is offset by his role as a voice of calm on council.

While Vandal has not ruled out running for mayor next year, he also has not made any overt moves to do so. And he is not likely to engage in any rematch with Katz.


Justin Swandel

ST. Norbert Coun. Swandel, Winnipeg's former deputy mayor, is a passionate and intelligent politician. He too is a gifted orator and is fearless, to boot -- he's not afraid to take unpopular positions and stick to them.

That quality is also a fault, as Swandel has suffered in the past by coming across as too forceful on a handful of issues. Those stances could be used against him in a mayoral race.

Swandel has not ruled out a run for mayor in 2014 and may be one of the only sitting councillors who would consider taking on Katz. Quitting executive policy committee allowed Swandel to assert some independence.

And in a race against Fielding, Swandel could position himself as more of a centrist, given his Liberal affiliations.


Paula Havixbeck

THE rookie Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor has expressed a desire to run for mayor and has attempted to position herself as the most committed fiscal conservative on council. She also took a principled stand in 2012 during her unofficial role of inquisitor during the height of the fire-paramedic station affair.

Havixbeck's inexperience under fire, however, would be a drawback under the harsh glare of a mayoral race. One term on council may not amount to enough seasoning in the public sphere.

On the other hand, she could take a run at Katz without betraying loyalties -- and like Swandel, run against Fielding as somewhat of an outsider.


Gord Steeves

THE 11-year St. Vital councillor, who retired to make an unsuccessful run as a provincial Tory candidate in 2011, has had mayoral ambitions in the past. He has made little recent mention of any desire to return to city hall, but would have as good a chance as any existing councillor in a wide-open 2014 race.

He would, however, be subject to the same albatross that hangs around Fielding's neck: In a match-up against a charismatic newcomer, Steeves' record of never crossing Katz could come back to haunt him.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis

IN 2010, the former NDP MP and MLA attracted almost 91,000 votes and 43 per cent of the popular vote in a largely two-way mayoral race against Sam Katz. She was hampered in that race by an unfamiliarity with municipal issues and the absence of any platform other than the statement: "I am not Sam Katz."

If JWL chooses to run again, she would be better prepared. But this far out, it's tough to envision her winning a rematch against Katz, weakened though he may be by more time in office.

In a wide-open race, JWL would be just as vulnerable as any other veteran politician would be to a brand-new, charismatic candidate.


Somebody new

IF anyone in Winnipeg with A) Some sort of public profile; B) High-level administrative, business or political experience; and C) No serious skeletons in their closet chooses to run for mayor in 2014, they would immediately be a contender.

Katz won a landslide in 2004 because he was an outsider with a positive public image. Any charismatic outsider who meets the above criteria would be the front-runner in a wide-open race against veteran politicians next year. They would also stand a chance of knocking off Katz, even though history would not be on their side: Nobody has defeated a mayoral incumbent in Winnipeg since 1956.

The problem is few people who are not politicians can afford to run, either financially or personally. You can't work while you run for mayor and you're not allowed to raise money before the campaign period begins.

That alone is enough to dissuade potential candidates.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2013 A1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives

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