Where everybody knows your name

Incumbency gives candidates an edge, but what if one ward has two incumbents?


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/10/2018 (1568 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Forget the incumbent advantage.

Candidates who seek re-election have an edge because they benefit from name recognition, while their challengers tend to be unknown. But in the case of two incumbents forced to run against each other because of ward distribution, is the playing field level?

St. James is one such ward that pundits will be watching come election night, Oct. 24.

‘If they feel their incumbent is not listening to them, they could go down. But when it is two incumbents against each other, that will be pretty interesting’ – political science professor Aaron Moore, on the power of name recognition and the St. James ward in particular

The candidates are Shawn Dobson, whose St. Charles ward no longer exists, and Scott Gillingham, who lost part of his St. James-Brooklands-Weston ward.

“Incumbency is a powerful advantage,” said Royce Koop, head of the department of political science at the University of Manitoba.

“But here (St. James), they all start with name recognition. They have four years of getting their names out there. Usually, candidates can spend the whole election trying to catch up to the incumbent, so it’s funny when you have two incumbents running against each other.

“And both have been pretty active on council, so there will be a real race there.”

Aaron Moore, an associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg, said there is no polling in wards to gauge voter support. While incumbency usually gives those candidates an advantage, that isn’t always the case.

“If they feel their incumbent is not listening to them, they could go down,” Moore said. “But when it is two incumbents against each other, that will be pretty interesting.”

And in another heated battle in the city, both candidates are known in their community. Coun. John Orlikow, who is running for a fourth time in River Heights-Fort Garry, is battling Garth Steek, a former councillor who held the seat from 1995 to 2003 before running unsuccessfully for mayor in 2004 against Sam Katz.

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Garth Steek is hoping people remember his name from his time on council from 1995-2004 and his mayoral bid in 2004. MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

St. James’ boundary is from the CF Polo Park shopping centre on the east all the way to the Perimeter Highway to the west.

Kurt Morton, who briefly had his name on the River Heights-Fort Garry ballot before withdrawing and appearing on the St. James ballot, is the third candidate, but this race is really about the two incumbents.

The lawn signs of two candidates, both with the word “re-elect” on them, have many voters scratching their heads.

“There is a tremendous confusion about having two councillors going against each other,” Dobson said.

Shawn Dobson, who held the St. Charles seat prior to redrawing ward boundaries, said he believes the redistribution of wards was done unfairly. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

“About two-thirds of my (former) ward are now in St. James and 80 per cent of his ward is here, so he has an advantage.

He thinks the race is close.

It’s not the first time Dobson has been forced to battle an incumbent. Last election, he bested Grant Noordman in the former St. Charles ward.

Gillingham’s said it’s a different campaign.

“People have asked me if it has changed by approach, but I say, ‘No, I’m running on my first-term record. I’m proud of my record. We are getting good support at the door, but we continue to work for the next vote.’”

Issues in the ward are include crumbling roads and crime.

In addition, the sale of the Vimy Arena by the city to the province for $1, to make way for the $14-million Bruce Oake Recovery Centre after rezoning approval, continues to spark anger from many residents. Some are against the idea of treating drug and alcohol addicts in a residential community and many others believe the land should be used for recreational purposes.

Dobson has been an outspoken critic of the sale, saying he believes the site could have been repurposed for four-season recreational activities.

He said while he was supporting the wishes of the residents to keep recreation space, he believes the issue is hurting him.

“Unfortunately, that whole thing was done improperly. They didn’t even notify the area councillor. The whole process was done backwards and in secrecy… but the more Vimy gets out it helps him (Gillingham) and it hurts me. It comes out like I’m against treatment centres. I’m not. One is not enough, we need two or three others in a city this size.”

Scott Gillingham is going up against his old councilmate Shawn Dobson in St. James. WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dobson said the two main issues he encounters at the door are potholes and the lack of transparency at city hall — not surprising because, unlike Gillingham, he has not been a member of the mayor’s circle who sits on the executive policy committee. He’s also against reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians and would put the brakes on bus rapid transit.

Gillingham is running on his record, which includes being chairman of both the Winnipeg Police Board and the finance committee. During his almost two years as finance chairman, he helped bring in a budget that he says has the smallest year-to-year spending increase since 1972.

Gillingham said he will also vote against reopening Portage and Main.

And as for the treatment centre, Gillingham voted in favour of the land sale to the province earlier this year and supports its development on the site.

“We need more treatment centres and we, as a community, need to do what we can to help families and individuals who are struggling with addictions,” he said earlier in the campaign.

Gillingham said when he ran in 2014, fixing roads and investing in infrastructure were priorities, and they still are.


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In addition to Orlikow and Steek in River-Heights-Fort Garry, Gary Lenko, a semi-retired contractor, is also running.

Koop has a different spin on the incumbent advantage here.

“In River Heights, older residents will have a faint idea who Steek is, but also about his baggage,” he said. “I think here, Orlikow still has the advantage.

“But it’s still better to have name recognition than to have no name recognition. But for (Steek), people might say they remember that name, but then they might say they remember something negative.”

Steek was asked to reimburse the city almost $9,000 in personal expenses that he charged on his city credit card during his final months in office in 2004. He finally gave back $2,115 after reaching an agreement with council’s secretariat committee.

Moore said both candidates have “pretty significant name recognition.”

“There is the possibility, I don’t think Steek will beat Orlikow, but if there’s an incumbent who could be the one who could lose, it is here.

“Garth Steek is making crime the main issue there and across the city, there is a significant concern with that. Garth Steek seems to be attracting the anger rather than John Orlikow on it. But without provincial support, there isn’t much the city can do about it.”

Orlikow said he doesn’t believe it’s an issue, having a current councillor battling a former one.

“It’s not that much effect for us,” he said. “We’re still focused on the residents. We’re focused on what we need to do.”

As for Steek, he said, “I’m at a stage of life I can do what I want.”

Both candidates agree the main issue in the area is crime. There have been so many smashed car windows in the area that a Facebook group called the Smashed Window Club has popped up in recent years.

John Orlikow isn't taking his incumbency for granted considering he's facing a name with some recognition — Garth Steek — in River Heights-Fort Garry. RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

While Orlikow said fixing roads and protecting trees are next in priority, Steek continues to hammer crime-related issues. He said he wants more police on the streets, more detox and rehab beds, and more police resource officers for schools. Steek also wants to keep Portage and Main closed and pause bus rapid transit expansion.

Orlikow said he’ll follow his ward’s wishes on Portage and Main and, as for rapid transit, he wants the city to finish the one it is already working on to the University of Manitoba.

For bus rapid transit expansion, Orlikow said, “I’m not sure what a pause means. “If he means pausing the existing BRT corridor that would be irresponsible. If it is on the east or other routes, well, at this point we’re just looking at it.”


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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