When politicians announce they’re not seeking re-election, it usually means they’ve already started planning a post-political career.
They typically serve up platitudes about commitment to the community, and how hard they plan to work for constituents until they leave office.
But in their hearts and minds, once they’ve announced they’re not running again, they’re as good as out the door. That’s why politicians don’t usually announce they’re leaving until a few months before moving on.
Sam Katz didn’t make his intention known to leave the Winnipeg mayor's office until four months before the October 2014 municipal race. Glen Murray bowed out as Winnipeg mayor mid-term in 2004, but he only went public when he was ready to announce plans to run for a city seat under the Liberal banner in the federal election that year (which he lost). Susan Thompson announced her intention not to seek re-election for mayor during her state of the city address in May 1998, five months before the next municipal election.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has taken a different approach.
In a surprise move last week, Bowman announced — two years before the next municipal election — he won’t seek a third term. Bowman says he’s committed to serving out the remainder of his term. Apparently, there are no cushy appointments or attractive job offers awaiting him over the next few months.
Perhaps that’s part of the explanation for his early announcement.
There are many downsides to declaring an early exit from politics; the most significant is he’s now a lame-duck mayor. Whatever political capital Bowman had prior to Friday’s announcement has largely dried up. He’s now figuratively dead in most political circles.
Mayors who announce their intention to leave office have less clout with the public service, largely because it’s known they won’t be around much longer. Without the potential of longevity, they have little bargaining power with other levels of government and diminished influence among city councillors.
As long as there’s a chance a mayor may seek re-election (especially in Winnipeg, where incumbent mayors are notoriously hard to unseat), commanding power and authority is more easily maintained. The moment they announce they’re leaving, that powerbase is shattered.
Bowman’s stated reason is he wants to give others ample time to consider running for mayor.
It’s a bogus explanation. Prospective candidates don’t need two years; six months to a year would have been plenty of time to give people a heads-up.
Meanwhile, Bowman seemed desperate to explain his bizarre announcement. His statement included a sudden revelation about not wanting to be a career politician.
"In my view, Manitoba has far too many career politicians," he said. "I won’t be one of them."
If there’s something particularly distasteful about a career in politics, Bowman didn’t mention it when he first ran for mayor in 2014. He didn’t commit to a limited time in office prior to running, as some politicians have. But now, on his way out, he decided to take a parting shot at those who have dedicated their careers to elected office.
Bowman also decided now would be a good time to lecture others about the need to put people before politics.
"In my view, elected officials should be more concerned about the needs of our community and next generation than the next election," Bowman said in his statement, as if the two are mutually exclusive.
Was the mayor not concerned about the next election during his first term in office?
As for the real reason Bowman announced so early, we may never know.
But if the mayor — who’s burned a lot bridges in political and business circles over the past six years — needs two years to start working on his post-political career (to let it be known to anyone who’s interested he’s open to offers), the early announcement may not be that difficult to understand.
Bowman may not be thinking about the next election, but he’s certainly thinking about the future.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.