Monday, May 29, 2006

The new gang

There is growing speculation that Sam Katz is trying to put together a "gang" of his own at City Hall. (Greybeards out there may remember that versions of right/centre-right councillors, known as "the gang" have run City Hall more often than not.)

Afraid of any opposition in the Council chamber, Katz is doing what many observers can't remember a Mayor so overtly doing - using the influence of his Office to help position certain council candidates in the upcoming civic election.

The non-partisan structure of city government is a virtue that Mayor Katz often heralds in the same breath he reminds us that, "I am not a politician." However, on key council votes the line between the yays and nays is often drawn on political or idological grounds.

Katz would be wearing egg on his face today if two more councillors had voted nay in the recent 10-6 Olywest decision. Katz knows that all his future plans, such as business tax cuts and service privatization, will depend on preserving "his" balance of power.

So Katz is using extraordinary measures. This week, the Mayor hosted a campaign-style news conference announcing that he and Councillor Franco Magnifico will be "recommending" to City Council a $300,000 grant to the Cercle Moliere Theatre in Magnifico's St. Boniface ward.

"Franco deserves full credit, as usual, for persistently working to bring Le Cercle Moliere’s case to my attention," extols Mayor Katz in the news release issued on his personal letterhead, rather than the City's official stock.It would seem unusual to host a media event for a mere "recommendation" and even more unusual since Katz is not known as a strong supporter of municipal funding for the arts.

Or maybe it's not so unusal if Katz were trying to throw some smelling salts under the nose of Councillor Magnifico who has taken quite beating lately on the Olywest issue. It is widely speculated that Magnifco may receive the final knock-out punch from the "come back kid" Danny Vandal.

Katz really needs to keep Magnifico's vote. While this flew far over the head of the Winnipeg Free Press, our television media did make passing reference to this questionable timing in their reports.The Free Press did report this week that two prominent Tories will will run against two strong council incumbents. Scott Fielding will take on veteran Jae Eadie in St. James and Brenda Leipsic will go up against Donald Benham in River Heights Heights. Both would give Katz "sure thing" votes on council decisions and would oust Donald Benham, a consistent opponent to Mayor Sam.

The Free Press reported that Leipsic has an impressive resume, including being a member of the Winnipeg Convention Centre Board. They fail to mention that both her and Scott Fielding were recently appointed to that blue chip board by Katz himself.

Katz also appointed Leipsic to chair the recent high-profile City Summit dinner.

Some might say that these kinds of "political" tactics would only be used by a seasoned politician. Well perhaps Sam Katz has grown a pair of those "politician's legs" that he had early-on resisted. He knows that to successfully run the four-year marathon of his next mandate he will need as many councillors as possible in his gang. We'll see what other powers he might use to make this so.