Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Katz question: will he run for mayor?

Some signs say he'll stay; others say he'll go. Just one thing is certain: His decision will have a huge impact on how the mayoral race plays out

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As of this moment, six Winnipeggers who are not Sam Katz (above) are poised to run for mayor. Katz has not committed one way or the other.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

As of this moment, six Winnipeggers who are not Sam Katz (above) are poised to run for mayor. Katz has not committed one way or the other. Photo Store

At this stage in Winnipeg's almost eventless mayoral race, one of the most intriguing questions remains whether Sam Katz's name will be on the ballot.

Given his poor polling numbers and the long list of other people considering a run, Katz's decision likely won't determine the general outcome on Oct. 22. As of this nanosecond, it appears Winnipeg will wind up with a new mayor this year.

This doesn't mean it doesn't matter what Katz decides to do. In fact, Sam's presence or absence from the race may determine which other candidate winds up with his old job.

While that's conjecture, what's certain is a mayoral race including Katz would be all about his 10-year record in office. Every other candidate would be forced to attack him or be painted as happy with Winnipeg's status quo.

A race without Katz, meanwhile, would be more of a debate about the issues facing Winnipeg in the years to come. Every candidate in a wide-open field would be forced to offer policy ideas.

As of this moment, six Winnipeggers who are not Sam Katz are poised to run for mayor. Former NDP MLA and MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis can be considered the frontrunner, given her strong recent polling numbers and her status as the only left-of-centre candidate in the race.

But in a straight-up rematch against Katz, Wasylycia-Leis may very well lose, even given the incumbent's awful, 12 per cent approval rating.

This is because Wasylycia-Leis may have hit a ceiling. Her support in the two latest polls matched up to about the same support she received in the 2010 mayoral race -- about 43 per cent of the electorate.

Of course, there's little chance other candidates will allow Katz to manoeuvre himself into another head-to-head battle with Wasylycia-Leis. Up to five people on the right may run this year and at least two or three should follow through.

Former St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves, a provincial Progressive Conservative who used to be a federal Liberal, has declared he will run. Retiring St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, who now lives in Linden Woods, has little to lose from a run and everything to gain, as even a loss would raise his profile for a future provincial or federal run.

Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck faces more of a risk because she could lose her seat. But privacy lawyer Brian Bowman stands to lose little but his pride, and funeral director Mike Vogiatzakis -- twice convicted for filing false statements to MPI -- has little in the way of a reputation to sacrifice.

Based on his late entry into previous races, Katz is unlikely to declare his intentions soon. That also would serve no purpose, as it would be more advantageous for him to wait and see who registers.

Do not rule out the possibility Katz will remain mum about his future until the nominations close in September. But in recent weeks, he's offered a sign he's either getting ready to retire or run again.

This is not paradoxical. The recent departure of four long-time staffers suggests both possibilities.

Over the past month, Katz has said goodbye to an executive assistant, a scheduler and both of his communications staffers. If he's planning on leaving office, allowing these people to find new jobs ahead of time is an honourable move.

Also over the past month, Katz has hired both a new executive assistant and a new policy adviser and welcomed back a former staffer as his new communications director. If the mayor is planning on running again, this new team -- which includes a former employee of his 2010 campaign manager -- could offer up new ideas.

Katz should be polling right now to assess his chances. Based on his voting record on the floor of council, this is not a politician who likes to lose.

Personally, I believe Katz will only run again if he thinks he can win. For that to happen, he'll have to develop a ground game and convince voters he is responsible for some of the good things happening in the city.

Those are tall orders. It's not clear where volunteers would come from for a Katz ground game. Winning public favour would also be difficult, as the politically engaged portion of this electorate won't forgive him for the bungling of capital projects such as the police headquarters -- and an even larger number of less engaged voters blame him for the recent winter of infrastructure discontent.

If Katz enters a busy race with only one leftie candidate, he may wind up coronating Wasylycia-Leis. But it's too early to read those tea leaves.

In August 2010, Naheed Nenshi enjoyed the support of just one per cent of Calgary voters. In October 2010, he became Calgary's mayor.

In other words, it's too soon to count out anyone right now, including a very unpopular incumbent.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2014 B1

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Updated on Monday, April 21, 2014 at 6:26 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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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.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

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
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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