He won with a textbook campaign
Katz gave up his 'outsider' persona, hired a political team
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2010 (4484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The man who claimed “I’m not a politician” when he was first elected mayor won his third and final term by fully embracing all the tricks of the political trade.
Mayor Sam Katz is back in power after waging what his re-election team describes as the first genuine campaign of his life.
In 2004, he stormed into office on a wave of populist sentiment after jumping into a byelection at almost the last possible moment. Two years later, he faced no serious opposition.
But up against an organized opponent in the form of Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Katz hired an experienced Tory campaign manager in May, identified his vote in June and brought them to the polls in October with a small but carefully timed package of campaign messages.
In other words, he became the politician he said he wasn’t.
“He loves politics now,” said campaign manager Marni Larkin, who worked on 20 federal, provincial and municipal elections before she joined Team Katz.
“We were out door-knocking and we were supposed to do 120 homes. He wanted to do 10 more. He’s really come around.”
The key to the Katz strategy was the six-year mayor’s strong name recognition. In his two previous mayoral races, Katz won merely by announcing his presence in the campaign.
“Sam has amazing brand recognition. People know him,” Larkin explained.
But late in 2009, the mayor’s advisers warned the next election would not be a cakewalk and he would need to wage a real campaign. By December, Katz began making public statements about fighting the NDP, labour and the rest of the organized left in Winnipeg.
In January, the knowledge that Wasylycia-Leis would be his probable opponent galvanized him out of what some supporters called a state of complacency.
To a conservative mayor, she was the perfect opponent: A lifelong politician on the left wing of the NDP. A challenge from a centrist or right-winger would be far more difficult for his supporters to frame.
Early on, Katz began demonizing the NDP for trying to take control of city council, all the while pretending the centre-right majority that governed council did not exist.
He also started portraying Wasylycia-Leis as an out-of-touch outsider. But the groundwork for his victory was laid out in the spring by Larkin and her telephone banks.
Unlike in 2004 and 2006, Team Katz went out and actually identified its voters, using both telephone calls and a massive Canada Day-weekend mail drop. Later in the campaign, robo-calls would keep them motivated and help bring them out on election day.
“This is the first election he’s really been in,” said Bonnie Staples-Lyon, a former Manitoba Tory advisor who became Katz’s chief of staff early this year.
Part of the re-election plan was to avoid making many campaign promises. Only seven were issued in total, down from 10 in 2006 and a whopping 30 in 2004. Policy has never been a Katz strong suit.
More importantly, Team Katz largely avoided any grand gestures until October. The plan was to peak closest to election day.
“It was all about getting the attention at the right time,” Larkin said.
The long slog made the mayor antsy, especially in late September, when the Wasylycia-Leis campaign gained momentum and she drew even with Katz in a Probe Research poll.
“He started getting ‘candidate brain’ while Wasylycia-Leis was out there. He wanted to be out there, too,” Larkin said. “But we made a plan and we stuck to it, even under pressure.”
Media taunts about a lack of policy in the mayoral race annoyed both Katz and Wasylycia-Leis.
But Team Katz also won the policy battle, mainly by framing the campaign as an election about crime-fighting. Katz’s first campaign announcement, on Sept. 7, called for hiring 58 more police officers.
“Our first announcement, although it was far earlier than I preferred, was an attempt to set the agenda,” Larkin said.
Surprisingly, Wasylycia-Leis played along. A triple shooting the weekend before the election may have sealed the deal.
The Katz campaign also successfully managed a tricky campaign decision. In early October, Team Katz went negative with the robo-calls and radio ads that famously warned Winnipeggers low-income people could “lose their homes” if Wasylycia-Leis follows through on a pledge to raise property taxes.
While the move turned off opponents, it also served to motivate the mayor’s conservative base of supporters. A second round of robo-calls reinforced the crime-and-safety message.
On election day, Team Katz mobilized a team of 400 volunteers to bring out the voters they’d been identifying all summer. Larkin said she doubted Wasylycia-Leis had as large an advantage as some people claimed, surmising she did not have the support of all factions of Manitoba’s NDP.
Katz, however, continued to portray his opponent as being backed by a superior election-day machine. And he did this all the way until election day.
If that sounds like the work of a politician, that’s because it was. After winning three elections, there is no further doubt about Sam Katz’s identity.