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My wife is not racist: Steeves

'She was afraid,' candidate says of Facebook comment

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Steeves comments on delay in responding to controversy around wife's Facebook comment

Amid hecklers and a throng of media, mayoral candidate Gord Steeves made clear Tuesday that he is standing by his wife.

After four days of silence following the revelation of his wife's racist Facebook comments, Steeves finally addressed the controversial posts.

"My wife apologized... She wanted to issue the apology, she did, and I support it," Steeves said.

"I love her and I stand with her."

He initially wanted to skirt the entire issue by trying to discuss civic policy, but was shouted down by hecklers and the media at a press conference Tuesday at Bonnycastle Park.

Steeves himself didn't issue an apology during the press conference.

That could be a problem for Steeves, say aboriginal leaders and at least one other mayoral candidate.

At first, Steeves attempted to read a statement about reducing red tape in applying for permits with the city.

When reporters and bystanders began yelling out questions about his wife's Facebook comments on "drunken native guys", he responded by saying his wife apologized Friday.

"The comments were wrong," Steeves said.

Steeves said his wife, Lorrie, is not a racist.

Steeves describes events leading to wife's controversial Facebook comments

He said he hasn't considered dropping out of the mayoral race.

"Yes, I will stay in the race," he said. "I don't know if it will hurt the campaign."

Steeves said he didn't think his wife needed to be at his side while he gave his latest statements.

"It has been a pretty difficult experience for my wife," he said.

Chief Jim Bear, of the Brokenhead First Nation, and Kevin Hart, chairman of the Circle of Life Thunderbird House, said they believe Steeves should have said and done more.

"I think he should have stood up about the negative remarks made by his wife," Bear said after Steeves left Bonnycastle Park. "We all know she stoked the coals of racism.

"He does have a problem. He should be forthright with the people."

Chief Jim Bear says Steeves should apologize directly himself

Hart, who noted Steeves ignored his questions after the scrum even though they used to play football together, said, "The incident happened four years ago and he was in city council at the time where he could have dealt with the issue."

"That should have been addressed at that time. Why wasn't this done when you were a councillor?"

Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman was the only mayoral candidate to hold a press briefing after watching Steeves' conference.

"I think more was demanded and a lot more was deserved," Bowman said. "I would have directly addressed the concerns. I think people were looking for a bit more from him.

"I'm calling on all Winnipeggers, regardless of their background, to join us if they want a more inclusive style of leadership."

Earlier, Steeves tried to put his wife's Facebook comments in context by detailing the two incidents that sparked the posting.

Steeves said she had been alone with their two young children four years ago when "a large man" in the skywalk downtown "approached in a threatening" way causing her to tell her then-eight-year-old son to get security if he grabbed her. Nothing happened, Steeves said.

Steeves said on another occasion a few weeks later "three native panhandlers" asked for money and when she refused one "put his finger in her face" and asked her why she didn't like aboriginal people.

Steeves said his wife went home angry and wrote the Facebook comments in that state of mind.

"She is deeply sorry," he said. "I don't say this to give excuse. I am saying it to give context... she was afraid.

"She did something in poor judgment. She acknowledges that and she apologizes. She is a good, caring, wonderful person. A great mother and a wonderful wife. The most important person to me in this world."

Steeves responds to questions on wife's Facebook comments

Steeves' day did not start well on Tuesday, with his team at first refusing to tell media where and when the press conference would held be unless they agreed to an embargo on the information. Almost two hours went by before the campaign team released the information publicly.

As well, rumours began floating about whether Steeves was going to pull out of the campaign after his website was found to be down before his news conference. Hours later, an email from his campaign team said it was taken down for maintenance. It was expected to be back up later Tuesday.

Steeves defended himself for his silence after the Facebook comments were first revealed Friday.

He said the delay was because he already knew he would be making an announcement on Tuesday about eliminating red tape for developers and he also had to think of his family.

"It was a difficult weekend," he said. "I'm a candidate for mayor and I'm also a husband and father. I had to look after my family this weekend."

Steeves said he didn't know any details of an invitation for him and his wife to help give food to the homeless during the weekend, saying all requests for his time should go through his campaign office.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Policy announcement lost in Facebook flap

Gord Steeves is promising to reduce red tape for developers if elected mayor.

During what Steeves called "an important policy announcement", but one greatly overshadowed by his having to explain derogatory comments made by his wife, he said he wants to streamline the permit application process at city hall.

"There is so much potential for business to thrive in this city, but too often bureaucratic largess slows down the process," Steeves said during an announcement in Bonnycastle Park, just a few metres away from Fort Garry Place, which houses several of the city's planning and zoning offices.

Steeves promised to reduce by 70 per cent the number of variances taken out by eliminating the zoning bylaw regulations that automatically lead to public hearings, increase the number of frontline staff taking applications while eliminating the same number of mid-managers, and use the city's website to notify the public about applications.

"Most people will not be excited by this announcement, but oftentimes the viability of a project or a business rests on our efficient application of these," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 13, 2014 B1

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Updated on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 6:34 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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