I'm surprised how little I've written about the trials and tribulations of Winnipeg's embattled mayor Sam Katz up to this point. I've been negligent in my duties.
I feel we've reached a tipping point in Mayor Sam's tenure. It used to be that little controversies would spring up, then fade away, and Sam's mayorship would continue no worse for wear. For example:
- There was this thing about a tax break on a parking lot used by his baseball team, but that didn't seem important enough at the time to waste neurotransmitters on.
- There was a scandal about his baseball club not paying back shareholders of the Crocus investment fund after it went belly up because his wildly successful baseball club had apparently never made a profit. That seemed like a much more significant controversy, but was perhaps too complicated to capture the public's attention.
- There was a sale of a downtown parkade that seemed a little crooked, but not quite crooked enough to make a big deal out of.
- There was a thing about Sam spending city money at his own restaurant. Terrible optics, but again not really big enough potatoes to make a scandal out of.
Those days are over. The past month or so for Sam Katz has officially become a gong show.
The fire hall scandal that by now everybody in Winnipeg is familiar with has done nothing but gain steam, and with an external review of the whole deal yet to be conducted, we can be guaranteed to hear a lot more about it, some of which is likely to reflect very poorly on the mayor. Now, like any entertaining show, a spin off has developed. It seems that one of the new fire halls has gone way over budget as a result of a change order that nobody can explain.
Let's talk about that for a second. The original 10,500 square foot fire hall was expanded by 3,500 square feet at a cost of $2.3 million apparently to house a firefighting museum. This fire hall, in case you're not aware, is in a bit of green space encircled by a cloverleaf for the Route 90/Portage Avenue intersection. If somebody were to visit this museum, they would have to jay-walk across an off-ramp from one of the busiest streets in the city to another of the busiest streets in the city. (Best field trip evar!) Who came up with this idea? We don't even know! Somebody somewhere in City Hall (or maybe the fire chief for all we know) thought this was such a great idea that they signed off on the change order and said MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Now that the museum has proven to be a dumb idea, they're desperately looking for other things to stick in there to justify the expense. Haz mat unit? Decontamination unit? How about a wave pool? We can sell vouchers for the pool at $10 a person to make back some of the $2.3 million we wasted, except that we should give free vouchers to low income people to use, but not on weekends or holidays because those are high volume days for paying customers, plus we should build an overhead walkway to allow people to get to the wave pool safely, but that might cost another $1 million, or possibly $1.5 million if we put in a change order after the fact to add a heated and sheltered gallery of firetruck-related art work along the walkway.
So anyhow, as all this fire hall drama is happening, we find out that Sam bought a corporation from the CAO for the City of Winnipeg, raising a few more eyebrows, and then we find out that he bought a $1.5 million house in Arizona off the sister of a Shindico exec for TEN DOLLARS ... plus "other valuable consideration". If you're thinking that "other valuable consideration" entails millions of dollars in real estate business being funneled to Shindico, then you and I are on the same wavelength.
To make matters worse, old controversies are springing to life: The restaurant owner who was suing Sam for spending city money at his own restaurant is chirping again, Crocus fund stakeholders are smelling blood and starting to raise their voices against the weakened mayor, and previous real estate transactions will go under the microscope in the wake of this fire hall clusterfuck.
I don't see this blowing over. I am prepared to go on record and say that Sam Katz will not be mayor of Winnipeg in two years. Even the Jewish Post and News is calling for Katz to resign because he is an "embarrassment to us, as Jews".
He's back-pedaling as fast as he can, and will probably throw Sheegl and others under the bus to save himself, but it won't work. Last election people had a notion that Sam wasn't completely above board, but now people are certain that he's not. There is no bloody knife or smoking gun, but the circumstantial evidence is mounting. The only way he can survive this in my opinion is if the fire hall audit exonerates him, if murder rate drops dramatically next year and if a major head office moves to Winnipeg.
If you ask me, the mayor's luck has run out.