July 31, 2015


By Bartley Kives

Columnists

Yes, Katz loves his family, but he also hates to lose

After suffering through a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad final term, Sam Katz had to be concerned about his legacy as Winnipeg's mayor.

Long-serving politicians like to be able to look back at their time in office and say 'I built this.' They don't like to reflect on the projects that didn't turn out as well as planned.

Sam Katz with his family in 2012 (from left):  Daughter Kiera, wife Leah, son Aidan and daughter Ava.

Sam Katz with his family in 2012 (from left): Daughter Kiera, wife Leah, son Aidan and daughter Ava.

That's why it made absolutely perfect sense for Katz to announce his resignation from public life on Friday at Central Park, an amenity that serves as one of the best examples of Winnipeg's downtown revitalization effort.

Central Park is a rare patch of inner-city greenspace that serves a vital role in the lives of the recent immigrants and indigenous Winnipeggers who make up the bulk of the population in the nearby residential towers.

In 2010, the city oversaw a $5.6-million revitalization of Central Park, with help from the Winnipeg Foundation, CentreVenture and the late philanthropist Gerry Gray. This was not done to serve suburban hockey fans or club-goers who occasionally venture downtown, but the actual residents of inner-city Winnipeg.

As a child immigrant from Israel, Katz always spoke passionately about this project. Say what you like about this mayor -- and there's plenty you can say -- but his concern for newcomers and aboriginals is genuine.

As a result, an outdoor concert at Central Park featuring the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Rusalka and the Chai Folk Ensemble was the perfect place for Katz to say goodbye to public life.

So was the timing, as Friday marked 10 years, less two days, from the date he was first elected mayor.

Getting out ahead of the release of an audit into major city real estate transactions was also a wise move. That document is expected as soon as next week and has the potential to be just as explosive as the external review into the fire-paramedic station construction program.

Katz denied the audit had anything to do with the timing of his announcement. He said he wants to spend more time with his family and claimed he is sticking to a commitment to serve only two full terms . He even pointed to a Free Press story that described his 2010 election victory as the start of his "third and final term."

There is no doubt Katz wants to spend more time with his family. But his term-limit claim has to be debunked.

Yes, even on the day he announced he will no longer be mayor, Sam Katz practically begged reporters to fact-check his rationale for resigning.

In 2007, Katz voted in favour of a council motion that would have created term limits. That motion, launched by the late Brenda Leipsic and the retiring Scott Fielding, failed.

Katz, whose first term was an abbreviated 2.5 years following a byelection, did, in fact, state he believed two full terms would suffice. But as recently as 2013, he asked reporters to offer him a reason why he shouldn't seek office again in 2014.

He also stated he was not bound by his 2007 support of term limits after council rejected it. So to claim he's not running again simply to stick to a previous commitment is more than a little disingenuous.

No one should blame Katz for not wanting to run again. Ten years is a long time in office and the past two have been a virtual nightmare, thanks to the water-park debacle, the fire-paramedic station construction scandal, the police-headquarters cost overruns, the bizarre business with the Arizona shell company and the even more bizarre business with the home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

But let's be clear: Katz also is not running again because it is all but certain he's aware he would have had a very poor chance of winning.

His popularity rating is very low, according to the only credible recent poll. He would have been one of several right-of-centre candidates in a race against a single left-wing candidate, Judy Wasylycia-Leis. And some of the people who helped finance and organize his campaigns are backing Brian Bowman and Gord Steeves.

Katz, more than anything, appears to hate to be a loser. He did not seem to enjoy losing the Fort Rouge council race to Glen Murray in 1989. He did not seem to enjoy backing down on Upper Fort Garry in 2007. He did not seem to enjoy giving up on a water park in 2012. He did not seem to enjoy watching his friend, Phil Sheegl, leave city hall in 2013.

Sam Katz likes to win. Winning this October would have been all but impossible.

Taking the path of least resistance, in this case, was the only sensible move.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 A7

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