Four veteran city councillors bade farewell to municipal politics this week. Speeches were made, collegial plaudits were offered and perhaps even a few tears were shed.
The nature of the departures is different in each case, as is the motivation for leaving city council. What the exits of Jenny Gerbasi, Russ Wyatt, Mike Pagtakhan and Marty Morantz have in common is that each deserves credit for having served Winnipeg as a ward councillor.
Nobody gets into civic politics for the money, or for the ego gratification, or — heaven forbid — for the small-scale fame and/or notoriety a council position affords. Council work is a grind, plain and simple, and the people who seek to do it tend to be motivated by a shared understanding that the hard work needs to be done and a confident belief that it stands a better chance of being done well if they’re the ones doing it.
Ms. Gerbasi leaves city council as its longest-serving current member, having served five terms — a full 20 years — as the representative for Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry. First elected in 1998, when she ran successfully for the seat Glen Murray had vacated to run for mayor, Ms. Gerbasi has served under three mayors — Mr. Murray, Sam Katz and Brian Bowman. As the ideological winds changed at city hall, she has at different times found herself either part of the inner circle or decidedly on the outside looking in.
For Mr. Wyatt, who has represented Transcona since 2002, entering civic politics was in part an exercise in carrying on the family business; his father, Reg Wyatt, was a city councillor from 1983 to 1986. Volatile, opinionated and seemingly quite comfortable in the role of principal irritant to the mayor of the day, Russ Wyatt’s political career comes to a clouded end as he embarks on a life after substance-abuse rehab while facing a sexual assault charge related to an incident in January.
Mr. Pagtakhan, who was also first elected in 2002, has represented the Point Douglas ward in a more under-the-radar fashion than his combative contemporary from Transcona. He has held several senior positions on council, and recently was a member of executive policy committee and chairman of the protection, community services and parks committee.
Council work is a grind, plain and simple, and the people who seek to do it tend to be motivated by a shared understanding that the hard work needs to be done
Mr. Morantz is a relative newcomer to council, having first been elected by the residents of Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge in 2014. He rose quickly in the council ranks, landing a spot on EPC early in his first term and serving as finance chairman and, more recently, chairman of the public works committee.
Unlike his three departing council colleagues, Mr. Morantz’s decision to step away does not signal a desire to leave politics. Rather, it’s an expression of loftier ambitions — he intends to run federally next year for the Conservative party in the Charleswood constituency.
Exiting, as he is, after a single term, Mr. Morantz will not be remembered for having had a significant impact on civic politics. But the departure of the other three councillors represents the end of an era at city hall, and next month’s civic election will deliver a changing of the guard on Main Street that, depending on ward-election outcomes, could greatly affect the direction of municipal government in this city.
But that’s weeks away. For now, let’s let the exit-bound councillors bask in a few moments of well-deserved gratitude, a brief but heartfelt thank you from Winnipeggers for having dedicated years of their lives to otherwise thankless jobs.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.
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