Gillingham triumphs Edges out Murray to become Winnipeg’s 44th mayor

Scott Gillingham has been elected Winnipeg’s 44th mayor, following a nail-biting race Wednesday night, defeating Glen Murray, whose campaign was marred by workplace harassment allegations.

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Scott Gillingham has been elected Winnipeg’s 44th mayor, following a nail-biting race Wednesday night, defeating Glen Murray, whose campaign was marred by workplace harassment allegations.

Separated by just 4,391 votes, Gillingham, a two-term councillor for St. James and a former Pentecostal pastor, won 27.54 per cent of ballots cast. Murray, who was mayor of Winnipeg from 1998-2004, was second with 25.29, according to unofficial results.

“Tonight, the votes were very split. This was an extremely close race, but my campaign motto has been from the start: uniting to build a stronger Winnipeg,” Gillingham told cheering supporters at the Clarion Hotel.

“And it will be my goal to make every effort through the coming months and years of this term to unite Winnipeg together so we can build a stronger, brighter city.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Scott Gillingham has been elected Winnipeg’s 44th mayor after earning 27.54 per cent of ballots cast.

Gillingham said he didn’t run to settle for or defend the status quo, while citing goals of making the city economically and socially stronger, and culturally richer.

“I ran because I believe Winnipeg can try harder, can govern smarter and can deliver faster.”

It was a crowded mayoral race, with 11 candidates — the highest total since 1992 — vying to succeed Brian Bowman, who was first elected in 2014 and didn’t seek a third term.

In the end, it was the two-horse race that was expected, but much closer than anticipated.

“I ran because I believe Winnipeg can try harder, can govern smarter and can deliver faster.”–Incoming mayor Scott Gillingham

Winnipeggers were on the edge of their seats as the results rolled in. Gillingham and Murray took turns in the lead, separated by about a percentage point at times.

Confusion reigned for some time, after CTV Winnipeg declared Murray the winner shortly before 9 p.m. — but the City of Winnipeg’s election website showed Gillingham in the lead with more polling stations to report.

The local TV station later withdrew the projection, saying the outcome was “undetermined,” amid a long wait for the final six polls to report.

As they watched the results trickle in on TV, Murray’s supporters at the Fort Garry Hotel cheered when he was wrongly given the victory. Later, they looked glum when they realized he wasn’t going to win.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Cheers erupted among Gillingham's supporters when he pulled ahead of Glen Murray in the polls.

At the Clarion Hotel, there was a collective gasp among Gillingham’s backers when Murray was projected the winner with just 140 of 251 polls reporting.

Cheers erupted moments later, when Gillingham pulled ahead with 170 polls reporting.

Murray, who turned 65 on Wednesday, made light of the situation while conceding defeat.

“For a few minutes there we knew what it felt like to win, and it was exciting,” he said to a smattering of laughs, while most of his supporters watched in silence.

“All of us are going to get up (Thursday) regardless of who gets elected or not, and feel very much that we are ‘team Winnipeg.’”–Glen Murray

Accompanied by his husband, Rick Neves, Murray pledged his support to the new mayor and council.

“All of us are going to get up (Thursday) regardless of who gets elected or not, and feel very much that we are ‘team Winnipeg,’” he said. “Even our opponents in this election are part of our team as well, and we will be part of their team to create change.”

As for what’s next for him, Murray is chief innovation officer with Creative Applications for Sustainable Technology, a software-development company, and an Exchange District Business Improvement Zone board member.

Former councillor Kevin Klein (14.78 per cent) finished third in mayoral voting, Shaun Loney (14.66 per cent) was fourth, and Robert-Falcon Ouellette (7.71 per cent) fifth.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeggers were on the edge of their seats as the results rolled in. Gillingham and Murray took turns in the lead, separated by about a percentage point at times.

Jenny Motkaluk, who finished second to Bowman in 2018 (3.82 per cent), Rana Bokhari (3.03 per cent), Rick Shone (1.32 per cent), Don Woodstock (0.97 per cent), Idris Adelakun (0.65 per cent) and Chris Clacio (0.23 per cent) were also on the ballot.

Left-leaning Murray and centre-right Gillingham finished one-two in public opinion polls throughout the civic election campaign.

A Probe Research survey in July suggested the race was Murray’s to lose, giving him a lead of 28 percentage points among decided voters.

A final poll — conducted by Leger and commissioned by Gillingham’s campaign — suggested the gap had narrowed to nine points, close enough for political observers to declare the race wide open.

“Even our opponents in this election are part of our team as well, and we will be part of their team to create change.”–Glen Murray

Aaron Moore, chair and associate professor of the University of Winnipeg’s political science department, wasn’t really surprised by Gillingham’s win.

“He had the momentum,” Moore said, noting the victory echoes Bowman’s 2014 underdog win over Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Moore got the impression Winnipeggers either “really like” or “really dislike” Murray. It’s possible some voters threw their support behind Gillingham to keep Murray out, he said Wednesday.

Moore said Murray’s chances were also hurt by some of the former workplace allegations against him, and inconsistencies in his campaign.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESs

Gillingham gave his grandfather Gordon Alder a hug at the podium while he gave his victory speech.

The unofficial results had Gillingham at 53,663 votes, Murray at 49,272.

The overall voter turnout of about 37 per cent was lower than the elections in 2018 (42.33 per cent) and 2014 (50.23 per cent).

Gillingham was a Pentecostal pastor for 22 years before he became the city councillor for St. James in 2014. He chaired the Winnipeg Police Board as a rookie councillor, and then spent five years as head of the finance committee.

He released a costed platform about two weeks before election day, with promises to raise property taxes by 3.5 per cent in each of the next four years and add $1.50 per foot to frontage levies in 2023 to raise $280 million for infrastructure projects.

When he is sworn in next month, the new mayor faces a number of critical issues, including an infrastructure deficit of about $7 billion, ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 downturn, and the 2023 budget.

Gillingham has pledged to freeze the business tax, hold increases to the police budget at or below the rate of inflation and fast-track extra lanes on Kenaston Boulevard and extend Chief Peguis Trail from Main Street to Route 90.

Other promises include an extra $50 million on roads, 270 modular housing units for people without homes, $13 million for new connected bike and pedestrian routes, 33 more Transit buses and increased funding for the city’s 311 information desk.

His first tasks include meeting Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who earlier this week told the Free Press she hopes to sit down with the winner Thursday, and forming an executive policy committee.

When he is sworn in next month, the new mayor faces a number of critical issues, including an infrastructure deficit of about $7 billion, ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 downturn, and the 2023 budget.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"It will be my goal to make every effort through the coming months and years of this term to unite Winnipeg together so we can build a stronger, brighter city,” Gillingham said.

Moore said Gillingham now has to get his tax proposals through and make tough decisions on where to spend money in the budget, amid calls to do more to address homelessness and crime.

While he benefited from name recognition, high-profile backers and union support, Murray’s campaign was dented by allegations of sexual harassment and poor management while he was the executive director of the Alberta-based Pembina Institute in 2017 and 2018.

The claims about his time at the non-profit clean energy think tank were made by some of his former employees.

Reading from a prepared statement at his campaign office, Murray denied the allegations and apologized for “any stress or tension” caused during his time at Pembina.

“We have a lot of problems we have to fix, we have a lot of issues with crime.”–Kevin Klein

As election day neared, Murray’s opponents pounced on the Pembina allegations, his history of resigning from roles (he left the Winnipeg mayor’s chair in midway through his second term to enter a federal election) and his tax proposals, questioning how he plans to pay for all of his promises.

While conceding defeat, Klein and Loney both offered their “full support” to Gillingham, and encouraged Winnipeggers to get behind the new mayor.

“We have a lot of problems we have to fix, we have a lot of issues with crime,” Klein said, while addressing supporters at Assiniboia Downs. “We have an economy that is starting to fracture in many more places.”

Loney hopes Gillingham puts homelessness at the top of his list of priorities. He’s ready to offer support and guidance, should the mayor come calling.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Gillingham celebrated his victory with his wife Marla.

“He knows I have a background in the issues that Winnipeg is really struggling with,” Loney told supporters at the Norwood Hotel. “It’s time to pull together as Winnipeggers.”

As civic and school board elections were held Wednesday across Manitoba, eligible Winnipeg residents cast their ballots for mayor, councillors and school trustees at almost 200 polling stations between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

There were a total 42 candidates for councillor in 13 of 15 wards.

The incumbents in two wards — Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) and Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) — were acclaimed.

A record number of voters took advantage of advance polling between Oct. 3-21, with stations set up at shopping malls, community centres and other public locations. According to the city, a total of 41,895 people voted early, a five per cent increase from the last election.

— with files from Carol Sanders

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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Updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2022 10:14 AM CDT: Cutline fixed.

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