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This article was published 20/1/2010 (4262 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The race for mayor in Winnipeg just got a little busier, as federal NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis says she's thinking about running against Sam Katz this fall.
The Winnipeg North MP is mulling the prospect of returning from Ottawa to challenge Katz in the October civic election.
"A lot of people have been raising it with me and asking me to consider running. I'm certainly going to give it some thought," she said Wednesday.
An MP since 1997, Wasylycia-Leis, 58, served as a Manitoba MLA from 1986 to 1993 and held a pair of cabinet posts under Howard Pawley's provincial NDP government. But she has never held municipal office in Winnipeg and concedes she did not consider running for mayor before she was approached in late 2009.
"I love being an MP. I love the work I'm doing as health critic. I'm busy dealing with the prorogation," she said. "But I owe it to the folks who have raised it with me to give it some thought and to gauge whether this is the right thing to do. I have to gauge where I can be of the most use."
No one in Winnipeg has defeated an incumbent mayor since Stephen Juba beat out George Sharpe in 1957. Wasylycia-Leis described the defeat of Sam Katz as "a formidable undertaking," but said some Winnipeggers are desperate for change.
"They want to see a mayor who represents the community and moves it back toward a more participatory form of government," she said.
Wasylycia-Leis said she would seek the support of members of all three mainstream political parties if she runs for mayor. But the mere fact she's considering a move from Ottawa surprised NDP-affiliated Coun. Lillian Thomas (Elmwood-East Kildonan), the only person to declare a run against Katz so far.
"I'm a bit taken aback," said Thomas, who said she met with Wasylycia-Leis in 2009 and only got a vague sense of her intentions.
The Elmwood councillor said she admires the job Wasylycia-Leis has done in Ottawa and wants her to continue her work as health critic. The MP, conversely, said Thomas has made a great contribution as a councillor.
Watching in the wings, Katz said Wasylycia-Leis has had "a wonderful career" in Ottawa, but suggested Winnipeg does not need another veteran politician.
"I think we should encourage young people with fresh ideas to consider civic politics. I think young blood is a great thing," the mayor said.
"I don't know how long you would want to be in Ottawa as a backbencher. That couldn't possibly be very fulfilling," Katz added. "I think Judy would much rather be in Winnipeg than Ottawa."
Talk of her joining the race has been the "worst-kept secret" according to some insiders, but nobody wanted to say anything publicly until Wasylycia-Leis herself had commented publicly.
Sources close to the Wasylycia-Leis camp indicated she has the backing of a wide range of people, including Manitoba NDP and Liberal organizers, feminist groups and labour. The election machine that has helped the provincial NDP win three consecutive majority governments -- each one bigger than the last -- is likely to rev up behind her.
Wasylycia-Leis is also well-regarded among some of Manitoba's largest ethnic minority groups, including the Filipino community and Indo-Canadians.
In a straight-up race with Katz, Wasylycia-Leis would likely fare better than Thomas, but would still have trouble winning, surmised Curtis Brown, a pollster with Probe Research and the author of political blog Endless Spin Cycle.
"I think of any of the candidates from the NDP or centre-left, she has better name recognition," Brown said. "She has a strong organization and a strong campaign, but is that enough to beat a popular two-term incumbent?"
The most recent Probe poll pegged Katz's popularity at 74 per cent, but with only 16 per cent in the "very strong" category.
In March 2009, an NDP-Liberal coalition allowed John Orlikow to defeat Conservative-affiliated candidate Geoff Currier in the River Heights-Fort Garry municipal byelection. The centre-left Winnipeg Citizens Coalition, which played a role in the byelection, hopes to replicate that success in October.
In a general election, NDP mayoral candidates would encourage more Tory voters to back Katz, who is considered more vulnerable to a challenge from a Liberal or centre-right candidate.
To that end, both St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves and Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Dave Angus have been approached to run against Katz.
Steeves rejected the possibility, while Angus said he's focused on his job.
Born in Kitchener, Ont., in 1951.
Ran for office as NDP candidate in Ontario three times in 1970s and early '80s.
Served as MLA for the Winnipeg riding of St. John's from 1986 to 1993.
First elected as MP for Winnipeg North in 1997.
Has served as federal NDP finance critic and currently serves as health critic.