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Editorial

After 100 days in office, Mayor Brian Bowman has demonstrated some of the characteristics that have defined great mayors in the past. He is passionate and intense, comfortable in front of the cameras and a natural political performer.

He's also exhibited some less-flattering qualities. He's prone to gaffes and sometimes speaks before thinking or acquiring all the facts. It's too early to say if these are rookie mistakes or evidence of political calculation.

Mayor Brian Bowman

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mayor Brian Bowman

His intense and emotional response to a magazine article's description of Winnipeg as Canada's most racist city immediately transformed him into a national sensation, a rock-star mayor. It seemed like the whole country was proud of his pledge to combat racism.

The mayor took centre stage again when officials warned the city's water supply might be tainted. The risk to human health was low, but he issued a city-wide boil-water advisory for the first time in Winnipeg's history. His status rose even higher for some Winnipeggers who admired his decisiveness, although others had doubts about whether he went too far.

Mayor Bowman was too quick to criticize the city's snow-clearing efforts following a major snowfall and was apparently unaware 80 per cent of the work is conducted by the private sector under the direction of rules set by the city.

And as Free Press reporter Bartley Kives outlined in a report today, his angry criticism of CentreVenture over a downtown development needs further scrutiny.

Mayor Bowman created the impression the proposed development was mishandled by CentreVenture in a climate of secrecy, even though it later surfaced officials in his office had been briefed on the details.

The mayor, meanwhile, said Monday restoring trust in civic government remains his most important and most difficult objective over the next four years. Quoting John F. Kennedy, he said he wasn't sure it would ever be achieved, "but let us begin."

Trust in all levels of government has been declining for decades, but it hit rock bottom in Winnipeg under former mayor Sam Katz.

The perception of city hall was that it was corrupt, lazy and incompetent.

Without trust, it becomes difficult to ask citizens to pay more taxes, accept fewer services or wait longer for infrastructure improvements.

Restoring trust, however, is a delicate balancing act. It cannot be achieved by firing everyone at city hall, or cancelling every contract with the private sector.

The mayor has promised new rules of governance for employees and elected officials will help improve transparency and accountability at city hall. Trust, however, like happiness, may turn out to be one of those virtues that is always pursued, but never achieved.

The first real test of his leadership will occur when he tables his first budget next month. The city is broke, heavily in debt and facing a bleak balance sheet with revenues that don't match expenses.

Unpopular decisions will have to be made, but that's the way it is with municipal budgets across the country.

The mayor realizes the country needs a new revenue model for cities, which he will pursue this week at a meeting of big-city mayors in Toronto. This is a familiar refrain, of course, so no one should expect fundamental change in the short term.

After 100 days, Mayor Bowman has brought new energy to city hall and a renewed sense that difficult problems can be solved. Council supports him, and he will soon have a new chief administrative officer to help boost the sagging morale of the civil service.

Just 1,357 days to go.