After 10 years as mayor, what is Sam Katz’s legacy?
This isn’t always a question that can be answered with immediacy after any leader steps down. It often has to fit it has be a lasting narrative that is repeated as fact about that person.
For example: Duff Roblin and how Winnipeg has been spared disaster time and time again because of the Red River Floodway.
Ten years from now it is doubtful that Katz will be remembered as the man who brought IKEA to Winnipeg.
The problem with that narrative is that a lot of people lay claim to that. And in the end IKEA brought IKEA to Winnipeg.
Sometimes it is the simplest things that will be remembered and they may often say more about us that it has about the person we elected. In this case, let’s think about Glen Murray.
Glen Murray was the first openly gay mayor elected to a major city in North America. That’s a legacy for the continent. The issue mattered little to us compared to who led the city.
In terms of legacies that a politician likes to be remembered for, it was Glen Murray who expended quite a political capital to get a downtown arena built, got the Esplanade Riel bridge and restaurant completed and was one of the champions of the Human Rights Museum. He managed to that and have a freeze on property taxes.
All of the above are legacies. Many were not recognized as such when they were undertaken. It took time to realize some of the significance of these projects. Some, in the case of the Human Rights Museum, we still don’t know what the end story is.
So, if we keep things simple at first, what is the legacy of Sam Katz? Well, he is the first Jewish mayor elected in Winnipeg. This is a big deal insofar as we have had Jewish leaders routinely rejected by the electorate for higher office at various levels.
Winnipeg has grown up. We have made firsts in electing a woman, a gay man and a Jewish man mayor of the city of Winnipeg. Collectively, we have said these are not the issues that will stop me from voting for this person.
Now what of the legacy of achievements of Sam Katz? To be sure, those things are still in flux. He can certainly claim as much as Glen Murray a hand in getting the Human Rights Museum completed. However, we don’t know what the citizens of the city will feel about the project for some time to come.
Property taxes were frozen… till they weren’t.
Business tax was cut and this is a concrete legacy and something he pushed for.
Katz was also the force behind ending city garbage service. Costs are down but the is still a developing story of service, efficiency and conservation.
After this, things get a little fuzzy. We have a number of fire halls and police headquarters built but the good legacy of investment there is tangled in with the overcosts, cronyism and lost trust of business and the electorate.
The praise from Alex Forest of the fire union stating that the mayor did right by the fire fighters and paramedics and they don’t know what all the fuss is about is a bit rich. Let’s just say that a fire all built on private land a swaps of city property by a fire chief is not way to run city hall.
How things get done is equal to getting them done.
This is the immediate aftermath of the legacy of Sam Katz.
Some other projects that Sam Katz was involved in might have a more lasting and appreciated recognition in years to come. The turnaround of Central Park came from a lot of people but Katz was there to help usher it in. He also was there to help with the new fieldhouse for the University of Winnipeg.
After many decades, the first leg of rapid transit was constructed under Katz’s watch. Even now, we don’t know if it was in spite of him or not. We don’t yet know how Winnipeg feels about it all and won’t know for years to come.
The legacy of Sam Katz is still being written. Let’s see how it turns out.
This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations