Thompson bears scars from her time in office

Would former mayor do it again? Not a chance

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Think the mayor's job is all ribbon-cuttings and photo opportunities? To hear Susan Thompson tell it, it's as much fun as wrestling alligators in a snake pit.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2010 (4535 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Think the mayor’s job is all ribbon-cuttings and photo opportunities? To hear Susan Thompson tell it, it’s as much fun as wrestling alligators in a snake pit.

The former two-term mayor, now CEO of the University of Winnipeg’s foundation, describes her time in office as "brutal." There were times, she says, when the personal attacks were so vicious she was glad her parents weren’t alive to hear them.

"There was such a barrage of unpleasantness from the media," says Thompson, who ruled the city between 1992 and 1998. "Subsequent mayors haven’t faced what I did."

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Susan Thompson: vicious personal attacks

Everything about Thompson, from her marital status to her weight, was considered fair game. She was asked who would escort her to official functions, she says.

"Can you imagine them asking a man that? What did that have to do with my policies?"

While she won’t comment on this year’s mayoralty race, she says anyone considering a run should take "a sobering second thought."

"It wasn’t anything I ever envisioned," she says. "You never dream it’s going to get so personal. Inside city hall, (it was) equally or more so. The media was one arena but inside there were all sorts of issues."

She still shakes her head when she talks about signing official documents that read His Worship. She’d cross out His, write in Hers and sign. It’s a small detail that still rankles.

She says she doesn’t regret her decision to run or her eight years in office.

"It was something I was meant to do for whatever reason," says Thompson. "I’ve never hesitated in my destiny but when you’re thrust into it, this is a very different world.

"Running for public office as a woman requires a different campaign to be run. Women think differently than men. You should never apologize for your sensitivity. Men in your campaign will say ‘you have to toughen up. You have to get a thick skin’. If you develop a thick skin you become aloof."

She says her gender and personality were career assets.

"I felt that one of the things about being a leader was to have the sensitivity. You are serving the citizens. You have to develop a skill set. You have to have those feelings and not apologize for them and carry on and lead."

Her staff tried to protect her by shielding her from the nastiest news reports. She insisted on knowing what was out there. Her team instituted the "10-second cry" and the "10-second expletive" rule.

"If something was particularly cruel you do have to feel the hurt and the anger," she says. "There’d be a box of Kleenex. Then you have to move onto the next most important thing. One of the most important things is to let things go. Public criticism is devastating. If it’s just crass, mean, nasty, you have to let go. If not, you’ll go stark raving mad."

Thompson says people in the public eye would benefit from a "life coach," a person who has shared experiences and wisdom.

"You are dealing with such highly confidential information you really do need someone to talk to," she says. "A lot of this, you can’t talk to your family or your spouse."

She fervently hopes no one resorts to smear campaigns in this election. There were three against her during her time as a civic politician, she says.

"It’s horrible when it happens and you’re wondering ‘where did people get this information?’ They are so personal and so mean. You have to be prepared for psychological, emotional, financial, family strain."

Despite this, despite the scars that remain years after she moved on to one success after another, Thompson still feels becoming mayor was the right thing to do.

Would she do it again? The woman who ran her own business, helmed a city government, was Canadian consul general in Minneapolis and who now heads a major foundation doesn’t hesitate.

Not a chance, she says firmly.

She served her time, took her lumps and wishes all contenders well. Eight years was long enough. In fact, one suspects it may have been more than long enough.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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