Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Predictions of Katz's demise may be premature

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Some New Year's predictions are easy, some take crystal balls.

Big crystal balls.

That said, and with the next civic election less than a year away, here are a couple of predictions for 2014.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis will run for mayor again. That's the easy one.

A Winnipeg Free Press/Probe Research Inc. city-wide survey this month showed her support at 45 per cent, up two percentage points from what she actually polled while finishing second in 2010.

Now here's the one that takes the big crystal balls. Mayor Sam Katz will not only run again, he could win again.

Even with all the political blood in the murky city water and all the potential candidates lining up, harpoons in hand, to finish off the city's big political fish. Yes, of course Katz looks vulnerable right now and anything but a sure thing to even declare a fourth bid for office.

The Free Press/Probe survey this month more than underscored the vulnerability. The sampling of 605 adults showed what support Katz has is mostly soft and well under half of what he actually polled in the 2010 election -- 22 per cent compared with 55 per cent.

Scott MacKay, the president of Probe Research, says it's all the "bad news" that's attached itself to Katz during the last year. That news being the well-documented mismanagement and cost overruns of the fire-hall and police-station files and the odour that's wafting from city hall as a result. It could be said the mayor has even been deserted by friends; people such as now-former Goldeyes partner Sandy Shindleman and now-former city CAO Phil Sheegl. Although strategic distancing might be a more apt description of Shindleman selling his shares in the Goldeyes baseball team to Katz. And jumping before be was forced at swordpoint to walk the plank would more accurately describe the departure of Sheegl, whose decision to position a monkey-business sculpture in front of his office -- you know the one; see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil -- seems more prophetic now than ironic.

So what makes me think Katz will even run, never mind win?

He'll run because power is addictive. And the salary and whatever perks that come with it are attractive to a man in his 60s with a young family and two homes in two countries. He'll run again because he listens not to surveys in newspapers but to the voters who walk up to him at the grocery store and tell him what a great guy he is.

All of that, and because of what's already obvious; that Katz has been running for re-election -- and running hard -- for at least the last year. Remember two years ago when he was criticized for not showing up at a Remembrance Day ceremony? That and unapologetically choosing family time in Phoenix over invitations to cultural and special events in Winnipeg. But more than the last year at least, Sam Katz has become a mayor who seems to be at every and any event where he can flash a smile and shake a hand.

Korean War veterans? Welcome to an armistice day anniversary reception in the mayor's foyer. Paul McCartney in town? Give him a key to the city.

Got a cause? St. Andrews Society, Greek Oxi Day, Winnipeg Blue Bomber Alumni Manitoba Heroes? Sam Katz will literally run it up the city hall flag pole. Want an honorary Chinatown street named after Joseph Du?


Will it make a difference at election time? It could. Voter turnouts for civic elections are notoriously low, and early polls notwithstanding, not everyone who actually votes keeps track of the news as closely as pundits and politicians.

Sam Katz has the advantage of name recognition, which, granted, may not end up being a plus this time. And historically, incumbents are tough to finish off.

Even with harpoons.

Of course, as Probe's MacKay points out, there have been mayors who have bowed out because they sense the voters are about to kick them out.

It could come to that for Katz, too. But, that's not the way Sam Katz operates, as MacKay has discovered from those who know him best.

"He's not a quitter," MacKay says, "and he likes a challenge."

Nonetheless, as of now MacKay, can't see how Katz can win. "But," he conceded, "I would never say never."

Which reminds me. Everyone counted Wasylycia-Leis out after the she lost last time; everyone, that is, but her.

And look at her lead now.

We'll see what happens next October, but in the meantime, I can imagine Katz is happy to see all the potential candidates circling his carcass and all that potential vote-splitting.

Yes, his challengers smell blood in the water. What they forget is Katz is still not only the city's biggest political fish, he's a political shark.

And he's only wounded.

Not dead in the water.

Not yet.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 B1

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