Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The man who could be mayor, if he ran

David Sanders just needs some wind at his back

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It was a mutual friend -- curiously, a guy who's also a former longtime pal of Sam Katz -- who formally introduced me to the man who should be our next mayor.

But hasn't even officially declared.

At least not yet.

His name is David Sanders, although our mutual friend who arranged the get-to-know-you has another handle for him.

"He's the conscience of the city."

The three of us met over breakfast two weeks before Katz abruptly announced Friday what many anticipated: that he would not seek re-election this October. In a sense, even before I met Sanders, I felt like I already knew him. Two months earlier, my Free Press colleague Aldo Santin had introduced him to Winnipeg by another nickname: "the gnat under the skin of city hall administrators and many politicians."

As Santin wrote:

"Sanders has been a regular at city hall for the past year, attracted there, he says, because of the incomprehensible decision to detour a rapid-transit route through a barren field that can only benefit a developer who was given the property by the same people at city hall who determined the route."

That would be the proposed second leg of the South West Rapid Transit Corridor, the so-called Parker Lands.

The profile included two sidebars that offered more detail about the man.

One traced the 67-year-old Sanders' interest in civic politics back to 1965, when he reported on city council for the Winnipeg Tribune.

He would go on to earn two master's degrees and a law degree, and over a career largely devoted to his passion for public service, Sanders would serve twice as Manitoba's deputy minister of urban affairs.

The other sidebar accompanying the story featured the best of his biting rhetoric as city hall's self-appointed public watchdog. Included was one from a submission to the mayor's executive policy committee, where, in a single sentence, he captured his fury at, and a city's collective frustration over, a civic culture we can only hope will end with the election of a new mayor.

Said Sanders: "I trust that today this committee will not allow this continuing stonewalling and coverup by an administration which seems to think that the public's business is none of our business."

By the time readers had finished learning who Sanders was, the Free Press's April 14 profile had been shared more than 1,000 times. And the rarely positive online comment regulars were posting comments such as these:

"Four words: David Sanders for mayor"

"Could we use a mayor that will keep the administration under control?" "I would vote for David Sanders for mayor."

What was so appealing to so many about Sanders?

I suspect what readers understood was he was at city hall working for us, not for himself, which contrasts sharply with the perceived culture created during the Sam Katz era. And maybe because people can see Sanders not only knows what he's talking about, he knows how to express it.

There was one more encouraging comment under the Sanders profile that stuck out.

"Please consider running for office."

Sanders acknowledged it was that online reaction that got him thinking about running for mayor.

So, would he run?

"I feel a breeze," he smiled coyly two weeks ago, "but not a draft."

This week, before a crowded field of declared candidates appeared at a public forum, and prior to Katz making his departure known, I asked again.

The tone of his answer was serious and direct this time.

"At this point, I'd say yes."

But, as of today, he doesn't have any organizers, much less an organization.

No "kingmaker" as he refers to it, the way candidate Brian Bowman has Mark Chipman and the business community backing him.

"Obviously, I haven't gone out and got myself an official agent or an auditor, and I haven't set up a committee or any of those things. I've just been going down to city hall and trying to influence what they're doing right now."

I have huge admiration for David Sanders. But the man who says he feels a breeze, not a draft, seems to be waiting for some wind at his back. That wind, that draft movement, can only be created by one source.

His fans.

I don't know if David Sanders thinks that's possible, but I suspect he won't be holding his breath. Just as, no matter what happens at city hall between now and October, he won't be holding his fire.

You can reach him at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 B3


Updated on Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 7:34 PM CDT: Adds David Sanders' contact information.

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