There are signs Kevin Klein has set his sights on the mayor’s office, but the rookie councillor remains coy about his political aspirations.
"I laugh at that, I guess, because… I’m really just focusing on results for Winnipeg and change for Winnipeg and ending the status quo," Kevin Klein says in response to suggestions he’s already looking at carpet samples in anticipation of moving into the mayor’s office in about 18 months.
He has stepped up appearances on radio programs and issued a raft of news releases touting fresh ideas, such as free parking for electric vehicles and monthly water bills.
"I’m going to continue pushing for a better Winnipeg," he said. "I’m going to continue trying to do my best to make a difference... I’m going to focus on my job today."
However, a couple of people who’ve spent their careers watching Manitoba politicians suspect the councillor may have started an unofficial campaign.
"He dropped some pretty broad hints that he’s eyeing the job and he’s going to take a run at it," said Paul Thomas, political studies professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba.
"You could say that all the time he’s been (at) city hall, he’s always been looking to trade his way up to a higher position.... So, in some ways, he’s been involved in a campaign since he first got elected. I think that’s why he’s strived so much to get publicity and get noticed and offer news releases and things like that."
Christopher Adams, a political scientist based at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba, said he also suspects Klein, who is in his first term as a city councillor, could be eyeing a run for mayor.
"His name pops up quite often. I would say he’s been fairly active, he’s been visible," said Adams.
A review of press releases sent out since Mayor Brian Bowman announced on Oct. 23 that he wouldn’t run for re-election shows Klein has not been shy about establishing his own brand.
He has issued at least 14 news releases and official statements just a couple short of the number sent from Bowman’s office during the same period (not including releases from the city’s corporate communications department that mentioned the mayor).
And each of the six councillors who sit on Bowman’s powerful executive policy committee appear to have emailed out just five or fewer releases and statements.
Add Klein’s notable social media presence to the mix and Thomas said the councillor’s public persona would probably stand out even if the October 2022 municipal election were further down the road.
He noted Klein’s call to remove the executive policy committee as one key indicator that he’s interested in a run for the mayor’s seat.
A preliminary governance review recently found city council’s mayor-appointed EPC has extra votes and more power to vet public service reports than counterparts in nine other Canadian cities, something Klein has argued gives that select group of councillors excessive sway on final votes.
"That’s a pretty broad hint that you have your eye on the top job at city hall and you have some ideas about how the city would be run," said Thomas.
Since his election, Klein has not hesitated to highlight what he sees are shortfalls in the current leadership group at city hall, often openly opposing the mayor.
"I think he likes to see himself as a bit of a rebel around city hall," Thomas said. "I think he likes to generate controversy and that’s not a bad thing from the standpoint of getting your face and name recognition and attracting a wider audience for your viewpoint."
Klein said he’s inclined to call attention to specific issues that he feels council has not properly addressed, such as the fact 87 homicides took place in Winnipeg over the past two years.
He stressed that reflects his current council work, not a push for a higher office.
Adams said he expects it could be easier for councillors who are interested in a mayoral run to attract attention now, since there’s no incumbent in the race.
He said he believes many Winnipeggers would consider Klein a centre-right candidate, so his visibility could drum up calls for a centre-left opponent.
"I would say right now people are starting to talk to their backers who will help them finance their campaign," he said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.