Does His Worship Have a Briefcase?


By Bruce Clark

At a show at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival this past April, I made some off the cuff comments about Sam Katz that prompted an offended audience member to pen a letter to the Winnipeg Free Press.

I responded like this.

At the show I made fun of Katz’s leadership and wished upon him a horrible scourge all in the name of comedy. Being an equal opportunity comic, I asked the audience to proffer any evidence countering my claim that Sam Katz is easily the most deceptive, harmful mayor Winnipeg has ever suffered.

Nobody spoke up.

There are only two kinds of people who seek public office. First the near extinct mammal who believes they can effect positive change in their communities, like the great Tommy Douglas, and the morally sound advocate of social justice, Stanley Knowles.

Then there are the shameless opportunists like Brian Mulroney and our own Sam Katz who enter the political arena because they understand that wielding official power can be personally profitable.

Mulroney admitted to taking hundreds of thousands in kickbacks from Karlheinz Schreiber in the Airbus affair. (He actually received money in brown paper bags at secret meetings in hotel rooms in New York and Montreal.) Katz, who owns businesses and property in Winnipeg has, among other things, been forgiven paying taxes for his downtown parking lot.

The unctuous and frail-looking Katz, who resembles a slightly younger Mr. Burns (the greedy, age-spotted plutocrat from The Simpsons), claims that he became mayor and continued to seek the office in the last election because he wants to “…give something back to the city.”

He takes pride in the fact that he’s frozen property taxes for years even if parts of the city look like something out of a Mad Max movie set. Claiming the tax-freeze as a positive example of his leadership is tantamount to owning the most derelict house in the neighbourhood and bragging that you haven’t put a dime into the dump, all the while dragging down the value of your neighbours’ homes.

The massive, ubiquitous potholes may wreck the undercarriage of your car while you drive to work, but c’mon, you saved twelve bucks on your property taxes.

Katz’ public office and his personal business dealings have been written about ad nauseam. He’s profited from tax breaks on parking lots, didn’t pay back money borrowed from the hapless Crocus fund, and recently pushed for $7 million in public funds to be given to a private hotel outfit in order to build a cheesy water park claiming it would be “good for the city.” (The Alberta outfit has now pulled out of the deal because they realize they aren’t going to be given the free money.)

Katz ran on the platform that he’s a businessman and that the city should be run like a business. The problem with Katz’s assertion that a city should be run like a business is that it’s not a business. It’s a living, breathing entity that requires someone who is intellectually and emotionally capable of understanding that all things civic can’t be reduced to dollars and cents. With the city’s infrastructure in such bad shape maybe Katz should treat it like a failing business. As comedian David Feldman says, “He should burn it down and collect the insurance money.”

At a recent address to the chamber of commerce Katz told the audience that Winnipeg was a great city because “where else could a kid from the North end grow up to be mayor and live in Tuxedo.” Well, just about anywhere, Sam.  Haven’t you heard of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama?

Katz has and always will be about making a buck. After dropping out of dental school, he went into the schmatta business and opened a retail clothing store in Brandon. He has been involved in real estate deals and other ventures but he made his big money as a partner in Nite Out Entertainment, a concert promoter.

You don’t become a concert promoter because you love music and want to “give something back” to the music community. You enter the competitive and very risky world of concert promotion because, if you’re successful, you can make a tremendous amount of money in a very short period of time.

When it comes to questionable professions, “concert promoter” ranks just under “boxing promoter” and just above “pyramid scheme operator.” If you don’t believe my assessment, then consider the fact that Katz’s former business partner and one-time president of Nite Out Entertainment, Bruce Rathbone, was sued by the Manitoba government in 2011 for the extremely scummy crime of welfare fraud to the tune of $100,000.

The government claimed that Rathbone, who said he had fallen on hard times, hadn’t declared his income from several companies and that he was collecting welfare payments illegally. He still lists Katz as a reference on a job seeking website.

Katz is the major shareholder in the Winnipeg Goldeyes, a team he founded in 1994. I’m told that attending a Goldeyes game is an inexpensive way for the entire family to enjoy a sporting event but “live baseball” is, to me, an oxymoron.  (I went to a Dodgers game in Los Angeles and was so bored I was hoping I’d be hit in the head by a line drive to put me out of my misery.)

Katz claims he wanted to bring baseball to Winnipeg because he loved baseball but reading excerpts from Scott Taylor and Kris Row’s book Goldeyes, it’s apparent that Katz saw professional baseball as another profitable business venture.

According to Goldeyes, Katz promoted a game through Nite Out Entertainment between the Edmonton Trappers and the Calgary Cannons using the Winnipeg Stadium as a temporary baseball diamond. There were over 12,000 fans at the games and Katz was “stunned” by the turnout. There may be no “I” in “team” but Katz knew there would be  “g-o-l-d” in Goldeyes.

There’s nothing wrong with making money, and it’s to Katz’s credit that he seized the day, but it’s disingenuous to claim you brought professional baseball to the city for the good of its citizenry.

In yet another debacle, the city of Winnipeg quietly called for “expressions of interest” regarding seven publicly owned golf courses. The city asked for bids from anyone interested in operating the golf courses or developing the land.

When seventy citizens went to city hall to voice their concerns, they were shut down by the Property and Development Committee. Katz actually blamed councillors Jenny Gerbasi and John Orlikow for trying to “…whip up public sentiment against the redevelopment of golf courses.”

That statement says a lot about how Katz thinks. He actually believes you have to “whip up” sentiment against the secretive selling of public land and facilities.

Katz’s “business” approach to running the city hasn’t been good for anyone. While the streets crumble and the downtown and the North End becomes much more dangerous, Katz tries to get waterslides built and public land sold.

We get the government we deserve, I suppose. Unless some intelligent individual with good intentions steps up to challenge Mayor Burns and the voters realize that they have to get involved to make a difference, it might not be long before we see Sam Katz leaving a hotel with a briefcase.

Post a Comment

Your email address is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Stand Up Guy

Bruce Clark

Bruce Clark is a comic and playwright. He splits his time between Winnipeg and Palm Springs, CA.