Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Katz calls it quits

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Sam Katz will leave the mayor's office this fall battered and bruised, a far cry from the man who glided to power in 2004 with a reputation as a businessman who knew how to get things done. He was the visionary who built a wonderful downtown ballpark in the face of fierce opposition from city hall.

It was on that basis, and not on his thin platform of unexciting promises, that Mr. Katz swept the field and entered the executive suite at city hall.

Now, 10 years later, he seems like the mayor who couldn't do anything right, who couldn't make up his mind about key initiatives, who didn't know how to get things done. He never figured out how to navigate the complicated corridors of power at city hall.

His mayoralty was, in a sense, a study in the failure of leadership.

Mr. Katz is not without some achievements. An early decision to cancel rapid transit, for example, resulted in some $50 million being invested into community clubs and small parks. He leveraged money from the federal and provincial governments for the same purpose.

They may seem like small victories, but they had an effect on thousands of citizens and their families. The mayor believed it was smarter to make small gains, rather than invest in complex and controversial megaprojects that might never happen. He eventually embraced bus rapid transit, but he leaves only a 3.8-kilometre stretch as his legacy.

He was a champion of active transportation, building more cycling paths and lanes than any mayor before him.

As mayor, he also gets some of the credit for the boom in development during the last decade, including the transformation of Assiniboine Park, Central Park and the construction of new bridges and roads. The commercial and residential tax base has grown significantly.

He made efforts to help the poor and aboriginals, but like all mayors his powers to effect significant social change were limited. He reduced the business tax, but never met his promise to eliminate it.

He believed in rational planning and helped to cut the red tape that angered so many developers.

Of course it is this file that also got him into trouble. Cost overruns on several projects suggested weak oversight, as well as a rush to get the work done.

He was accused unfairly of favouring a single firm -- Shindico -- over others, when in fact the development firm had done substantial business with former mayors Glen Murray and Susan Thompson.

The promotion of his friend and business partner Phil Sheegl to the top job in the city's civil service also left the mayor vulnerable to innuendo and allegations of favouritism.

The mayor regrettably never grasped that perception matters in politics. A prime example was the use of a restaurant owned by his brother to hold a staff Christmas party, which led to allegations of conflict of interest. A judge said he showed poor judgment, even if he did not break the law.

Ultimately, Mr. Katz was a mayor with no vision, other than fixing roads and potholes, and clearing the way for development. If he had a larger vision or world view, he never articulated it.

Former mayor Glen Murray started a national campaign for recognition of the fiscal imbalance between cities and provinces. Mr. Katz should have run with it, but he pursued it tepidly, almost as if he didn't believe change was possible.

The mayoral candidates still in the race will want to learn from Mr. Katz's experience, particularly his inability to control his often unruly council. A mayor is powerless without at least eight other votes.

Mayor Katz undoubtedly decided he could not win this race, which itself is an enormous rebuke, but it shows there are limits to the power of incumbency.

Mr. Katz deserves thanks for the service he provided.

Perhaps, now, he will find new ways to contribute to the city's growth.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 A16

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