Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mayoral Candidate Forum on Downtown -- Manitoba Hydro Place, October 7th, 2010

Were you visiting the core of our fair city this past Thursday in the name of excitement? Drama? High discourse and adventure? Then you, like many others, had come specifically to witness and experience the razzle-dazzle of: the Mayoral Candidate Forum!

...On Downtown!

Other bloggers have done a great job of concisely encapsulating Thursday's mayoral debate, so let me do now what I do best: mull over the available information, drop in considerably after the fact, and then write exhaustively about the minutea that most people wouldn't bother with. Hey, you can't tell me I don't play to my strengths!

This was a two-hour show, so obviously a full runthrough and transcription would be complete overkill. If you were interested in the play-by-play I wholly recommend the #wpgvotes hashtag on Twitter, a collection which has routinely been some absolutely amazing reading as of late; if you were interested in the full text of the answers from both candidates for the ten questions that set up the evening, you can do some background reading here; and if you'd want to watch the event, almost but not quite in full, the Free Press archived it here as the second video.

Now, you see how that full-length video is more than an hour and a half long, and the highlight package directly above it runs a total of two minutes and thirteen seconds? That's the kind of event it ended up being. Your short-form summary is that both candidates kind of sucked, and very little new information was revealed (I'd have posted 'er up sooner if it had), but all the details and trappings of the presentation and format were a blast to watch. Or, to put it another way: low content, high form.

It also drew a considerable crowd, which was nice to see. For extra credit, see how many faces you recognize:

These debates keep being scheduled during daytimes, when I'm working, so it was a hoot for me to get out and see what shenanigans and goings-on might pop up that night. I headed right over after work, grabbed the best seat still available, and--


Okay, so I may have to grab a couple screencaps from that Free Press stream. I've grouped my impressions and the items of interest that may not have been immediately obvious into a few different categories, so let's start off with:

Katz Overall

Two hours of live exposure to Katz will make you want to build a time machine and go back thirteen hundred years to murder Al-Khwārizmī before he can popularize the Arabic numerals, just so you never again in your life have to hear Katz randomly say "first of all" before a sentence and/or "that's number one" after it.

As far as form and performance go, Katz did quite alright for himself; he made wise use of his past as a business and real estate owner in the area and was the stronger of the two candidates by a clear margin in the opening and closing statements, but one of his big vulnerabilities in this format is that he's almost completely incapable of handling questions without behaving as though they're secretly attacks. You have met ice sculptures with more warmth than Sam Katz.

As a close observer you do your best over prolonged exposure to try and ignore how awkward a man he seems to be -- he's just as nature made him, after all -- but then he busts out something really clumsy, like the hoops he had to jump through to answer a question about Winnipeg Parking Authority plans with a snipe at JWL's personal spending records, and you just end up disappointed in him. He also has the continued problem of forgetting that he's been the Mayor for a term and a half, responding to numerous subjects by suggesting solutions that he personally could have introduced and implemented any time he wanted.

As an example, Lett asked him at one point what people in neighbourhoods like Lindenwood are expected to think of downtown when his specific focus is more police in the area, and Katz tossed in this masterpiece here:

"You know what -- you should have police walking the beat wherever you have a problem. 'Cause when I was growing up, that's exactly what you had, and the same when you were growing up. Beat officers worked with the neighbourhood, they talked with the people, their presence was a positive thing."

You know that running gag from the Sam & Judy Election Comics where Katz turns to the camera and blurts out "I've only had six years"? Well, art, meet life.

So some of his answers were definitely bizarre (particularly when he would get flustered and lock up defensively), and I know it's hard to come across as personable when your open-mouthed smile kind of resembles a Scream mask, but Katz nonetheless seemed to show the stronger performance of the two when it came to command of the situation. Not entirely a surprise, of course, given his incumbency -- but also not that tremendous a compliment, as you'll see just below.

Wasylycia-Leis Overall

We'll just go ahead and get this out of the way quickly: Judy Wasylycia-Leis waves her arms around a lot. A lot.


That aside, as far as verbal skill is concerned -- Sam Katz is pretty unpleasant to listen to, and actually sort of unpleasant to be around at all, but you can usually count on him to speak in complete sentences most of the time. It's actually quite astonishing how bad both our mayoral candidates are at public speaking, especially considering that one is a career politician several decades running and the other is a self-proclaimed not-a-politician who has been the Mayor for six years and was running for office as far back as 1989. With all of the combined experience between the two of them you would really expect at least one of them to be able to cut a decent promo, but nope -- and, stranger still, it's the lifetime politician with the Master's degree in Political Science who emerges as the worse speaker of the two.

Wasylycia-Leis is noticeably stronger and more eloquent during the more conversational question formats than she is during her individual prepared speeches, for what it's worth. Part of the imbalance may be the nerves of having the entire floor for minutes at a time, part of it may be mentally planning too many steps ahead at a time, and part of it may be a better familiarity with the call-and-response format from her time as an MLA and MP -- but I think the most likely factor is that the question-and-answer format just offers less time to ramble and lose track of the original point.

It's not just that she goes on too long (and, boy, does she; ask her for an answer "in ten words or less" and you'll get twenty-five words back). Attempting to accurately transcribe JWL is infuriating because you can type every word out of her mouth with one hundred per cent accuracy and still not have anything resembling a coherent sentence on your screen when you look down.

"Bes-- besides, uh -- the fact that I you know that I have... committed -- to, uh, to..."

"And I want to, in fact -- find a way to kickstart the Winnipeg Partnership Agreement, which ah, has expired and which has not been, uh, aw-uh-uh agreement has not been, aw-uh, uh, recom-, ah, has not been commenced again."

"In fact, get rid of this red flag to businesses, outside of Winnipeg, that they're not welcome, let's, let's fix the basic, it, y'know, y'know and I think that's the problem, um, Dan -- that people, this isn't the time to put big sexy ideas on the table, this is a time to fix our streets, to, to deal with crime--"

And then what I'm not properly conveying through words alone is that the whole time she's saying this she's also doing the Randy Orton pose.

She can be a tad difficult to follow at times, is what I'm getting at. I'm not trying to be mean here, but it's kind of hard not to notice. She's Judy Word-Salad.

There were some positives for her delivery in this forum; hear tell is that this performance was actually an improvement over her previous outings, so there's that. And one aside I particularly appreciated was when she was asked about downtown's reputation, if the current tone of discussions around the downtown keep people from knowing it's an okay place to hang out, and she countered with "I have to say that -- things are not okay downtown". I am a socially skilled enough fellow to not blurt stuff out during public forums, but inwardly I was pretty much just going GOD, YES, THANK YOU because every time I suggest that downtown needs considerable improvement I just get dudes yellin' at me.

She got ahead of any cracks about her stature right at the outset by noting that she was too short for the podium microphone, which is good strategy. Then she closed one of her proposals for shoring up downtown events by saying the exact words "I don't know the price tag", which is bad strategy. At one point she busted out an email from a supporter and read it in full really quickly, something about sitting in traffic and visualizing gardens and statues and fountains and a whole lot of other stuff that nobody could follow, which may have seemed like a good idea in practice but was just weird to watch. And somebody may wish to file a restraining order for the term "flip-flopping", because boy howdy did she ever beat the poor thing into the ground that night.

While she did maintain strong support from roughly half the crowd throughout the event, her showing here wasn't particularly impressive or inspiring and served more to highlight her weaknesses than any of her strengths. So if she does end up winning the election, I tell you what, it won't be because of her charisma or speaking skills. On the other hand, if she loses, it'll be because she's a woman.


Rav Gill and Brad Gross Overall


Yeah, no, neither of them were invited. I mean, I guess they could have been in the audience, but if they were they never approached the crowd microphone and nobody in attendance mentioned or noticed them.

Are they not invited to debates because they're fringe candidates, or are they fringe candidates because they're not invited to debates? More importantly: if elected, will Gill provide the public with full disclosure of his hair-care tips?

Everything Old is New Again

Topics discussed that evening as though they were new and exciting ideas bound to surprise and delight us: New Flyer buses, an Exchange District pedestrian mall, BRT versus LRT, the Glen Murray New Deal (no, seriously), private-public partnerships for transit, grocery stores, the root causes of crime, Katz's Winnipeg Police Association union support, and hovercrafts (in a joke that Judy was apparently recycling from the day before, one of the dangers of having the same audience show up to everything). If you're thinking that this doesn't sound like it left a lot of time in the two-hour show for new content to be introduced, well... then you are pretty well one hundred per cent correct. Man, good guess!

And one particular exchange was so flagrant that it really needs its own heading of

Nobody Listens to Each Other

because, literally mere seconds after Judy had yet again reiterated her 2% property tax raise per year as a means of raising revenue for the city, Fort Rouge council candidate Shane Nestruck took the crowd microphone to ask both candidates why neither of them had said anything at all yet about how they would raise operating funds for the city. Perhaps a bit of unfortunate timing, but hey, he rolled with it. He then pitched the Cities Agenda as a potential solution for Winnipeg, asking "why have you not brought up this, in the one city in Canada where 75% of the province lives in this city?"

And then Sam's answer immediately afterwards -- besides claiming that Nestruck had no idea what he was talking about and citing the division of taxes amongst the three levels of government as "65-28-7", a point he kept complaining about at multiple intervals that evening -- involved telling Shane, very dramatically and methodically as though Shane had never heard this before in his life, that "unlike any other province in the country, Winnipeg possesses over two-thirds of the population of the province." Yeah, huh. You don't say.

Then immediately after that, when it was Judy's turn to answer the same question, she said that cooperation and partnerships with the other levels of government would be necessary to secure a better share of the revenue because "for every dollar, that we raise, in revenue through taxes in Winnipeg, we only have six cents to administer on our own."




Strange Bedfellows

The two most popular and effective local politicians around, to hear our mayoral candidates tell it, are still Gary Doer and Glen Murray.

If you had been taking a shot for every time Judy praised the legacy, such as it is, of ex-Mayor Murray, then you would only be sobering up right around now. Not only did she attribute every successful major project of the past half a dozen years directly to the influence and work of Murray -- a claim you can evaluate for yourself -- but she also openly declared her intention to pick up the New Deal framework exactly where Glen had left it before he decided that this whole Mayor thing wasn't really his scene. Katz, in the meantime, was yearning for a concurrent but different set of good ol' days entirely; it did not go unnoticed around the room that Katz credited all cooperation with the province on projects to "former Premier Doer", multiple times throughout the night, but laid blame for any disagreements or delays in funding on the current provincial administration.

(Oh, man, that reminds me -- I had this awesome Gary Doer post planned out, I've gotta finish that thing.)

So the lifetime NDP representative misses and touts the work of the federal Liberal MPP, and the insists-he's-not-a-Conservative incumbent misses and touts the work of the NDP ex-Premier. Neither Doer nor Murray could be reached for comment, on the grounds of both getting good jobs and leaving the province without so much as a look back over their shoulders. Mind you, that pretty well is our definition of success around here, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the locals are still latching onto their coattails.

Dan Lett Highlight

Dan Lett as a political forum moderator is terrific, because his natural speaking voice just sounds completely tired of your bullshit, and he popped in with some pretty high-quality Lettisms throughout the evening.

"The other people at the microphone are growing roots here. We'll try to move a little faster."

When an audience member fiddled helplessly with the microphone stand, trying to get it to go higher: "I think you're going to have to take it off." A beat of silence. "The, uh, the microphone."

To both candidates, on their downtown development ideas: "I'd like to say that there were some bold ideas in your answer. But, there weren't."

And to Judy, asking her about the very real possibility that her longtime political affiliation may be a liability in negotiating with the Feds: "How exactly are you going to a better job of negotiating with a government you've been sort of booting around in Ottawa? You don't think the Prime Minister's office is going to remember, that you were sitting across the way in office?"

"You know what," she responded after a pause, "I think that the Conservative Government, uh -- and it may change -- whether it's Conservative, Liberal, or NDP, will know my record in working collaboratively--"

"--that's your long-term plan, is a change of government in Ottawa?"

And that got a pretty solid laugh from the crowd. But my favourite Lett moment of the evening was when he specifically managed to subtly ruffle both candidates with a single question, which I thought was pretty funny.

"There's been a couple of references to the award-winning downtown plan by the Winnipeg Parking Authority," was his opening segue. "I think, Judy, you've acknowledged that you've borrowed heavily from that plan--"

And you could see Judy just jolt at that, like she was worried that the wording would sink her, so she tried to jump in quickly with "Well--", but she never got the chance to correct Lett's phrasing because he was still finishing the rest of the sentence.

"--but when exactly was the plan delivered to you, Mayor Katz, and what was sort of the action plan when you received it?"

"There is no plan that's gone through the process. So I don't have a plan," Katz said, looking quite prickly and not sounding particularly convincing or particularly pleased with the line of questioning. "That's number-one", he added, because he is Sam Katz.

"You didn't receive anything from the Winnipeg Parking Authority?" Lett prompted again.

"No," he insisted.

(Keep this in mind, this becomes important later.)

Katz seemed pretty adamant in his answer, and the discussion around the Parking Authority shifted soon afterwards when 92.9 KICK FM's Kim the Traffic Reporter took the open mic to bring up the Phillip Fletcher case and a variety of other WPA shenanigans.

Kim quickly read off a lengthy and wordy summary of the show's saga with the Authority thus far, including one term -- SOA, special operating agency -- that the Mayor would have to stop and explain to the audience afterwards. So another funny Lett moment was right after she had finished reading her piece, and had laid the extended inquiry on the entire panel at once, because there was about a second and a half of dead silence from the entire room before Dan Lett kind of shrugged to himself and looked to his left.

"Uhh..." he prompted, "...Sam?", pretty much for lack of a better option after this new development.

Both candidates got to talk about how the Parking Authority should theoretically be accountable (and isn't), and the discussion moved along. So, yeah, Lett was pretty good in his role.

And that Parking Authority draft plan wasn't out of the picture. Oh, no, not yet.

Bartley Kives Highlight

Earlier in the day Kives had publicly expressed his intentions to spend this debate as a pure observer, noting specifically that "I'm not asking Q[uestion]s" this time around. But sometimes -- and I'm sure we've all had this happen to us before -- sometimes you just run into bullshit that you absolutely can not let slide, and when Mayor Sam Katz claimed repeatedly to have never heard or been told anything at any point about the WPA's proposals, you could tell just from seeing Kives appear at the mic that his bullshit-ometer had gone completely off the scale at that one.

(He seemed pretty sure that Katz had seen the item, a confidence that turned out to be based on... Kives himself having shown Katz the item.)

The following is transcribed as accurately as I could, cribbing from the stream archive to supplement my notes, and despite a lot of chronological overlap between the two dialogue sets I think this is a reasonably accurate reconstruction:

"Bartley, are you here as reporter-Kives or private-citizen-Kives?" Cloutier asked Kives when he reached the open mic.

"Reporter-Kives," said reporter-Kives. "Earlier today, Mister Katz, we were talking about this parking study, I showed you a draft of that parking study -- I'm not sure if it's the full draft -- are you sure you've never even heard of this draft, say around March, in an EPC meeting?"

"Mr. Kives," Katz began, "for whatever the reason may be, there've been many occasions when you have gotten a report before anybody in any committee has gotten it, and then you've written about it in the paper and then asked us what you think. It's not the first time it has happened. So the answer to your question is, no, I'm afraid not."

"You don't remember getting a presentation even verbally? From--"

"--I just told you, I've never seen that report, that's on the record, Bartley--"

"--not even the information in that report? You--"

"--I've never seen that report, Bartley, I told you that, you can ask it a hundred times--"

"--and you--"

"I've never seen it! But what I would like is to get your sources, so they could leak it to me before you get it!"

So Kives sort of shook his head and, needless to say, walked away unconvinced. Cloutier sure seemed to get a kick out of it, though; "I haven't seen that since Ross Rutherford," he announced to Bart over the mic as he left. "Good for you."

Peanut Gallery Highlight

The young woman in line behind Kives took the microphone quite hesitantly after the whole exchange went down.

"I... hate to follow a professional," she began.

I wasn't in the right spot to hear exactly what it was that someone in the back blurted out, but I'm reasonably sure it was something along the lines of "You're not."

Dan Lett laughed pretty hard at that one.

Richard Cloutier Highlight

Most Twitter accounts of Cloutier's earlier stints as moderator had been less than flattering, but he did a fine job here in moving proceedings along and in shutting down the longer-winded open-miccers.

"Ma'am, you have a question?"

"Actually, I have more than one. I have been hung out to dry for quite some time, Mister Cats, I have been--"

"[Sigh.] Okay, cut her mic."

Cloutier also tended to serve more as the straightman to Lett's wryer banter, providing a fine balance between the two; Richard's big zinger for the night was after both candidates claimed to have been dancing at Cyclovia, when he helpfully added that "I can vouch that I've seen them both dance on various subjects over the years."

But his moment that stuck with me most was during a transition between two of the ten questions selected for the event when, abruptly and apropos of seemingly nothing, Cloutier just turned to the Mayor and jumped in with:

"Just before we go anywhere -- where's the waterpark at? I get asked that all the time! 'Where's the waterpark?' Mayor Katz! Where's the waterpark at? What's the holdup here?"

It took me a second to make the mental connection that -- wait a minute, what the shit -- even the CJOB rep is clowning on Katz at this point. And Sam might have had the same thought, because he hastily stammered for a while that he's been trying to get it done, that the city is in negotiations again with an (unidentified) partner, and that the (ugh) "world-class" waterpark is indeed coming.

"After the election!" Cloutier blurted out, suddenly and strangely loudly.

"Well, I mean. Unless you think one can be built in three weeks," Katz sniped back.

"I just thought," Cloutier elaborated, "that it was tendered, and it was years ago, I know there were differences; it just amazes me that sometimes things happen -- after the election! JudyWasylyciaLeis," he then added immediately afterward, simultaneously managing to move the event along speedily and completely block any chance for Katz to respond. I mean, it's entirely plausible that they're buddies and Cloutier's just screwing with him, but it was still a pretty weird scene.

My Personal Highlight

I operate largely on the assumption that nobody knows who in the stone hell I am, and I'd say this assumption is accurate a good, oh, ninety, ninety-five per cent of the time. So when a few different people actually recognized me and approached me after the end of the program to mention how much they enjoy Winnipeg Cat, I was pretty much just like "whaaaaAAAAA" and then probably spooked them with my jittering because I was operating on two hours of sleep and six or seven cups of coffee that day. Sorry, folks! I am very glad that you like my work, and I did not mean to unease you with my overcaffeinated sleep-deprivation madness. Thank you for the kind words.

There are supposed to a few more debates yet, and hopefully I'll be able to make it out to at least one of 'em; most of them are either scheduled for standard business hours (including one that the Chamber of Conference wants $55 for -- dream on, fellas) or taking place deep within broadcasting headquarters, so we'll see if anything works out. And if anyone out there has been considering going but continually deciding against it, let me assure you that you should totally go to one if you have the opportunity. Trust me, there's plenty of entertainment value in them! You just... need to know where to look.

In conclusion,


Winnipeg Reasoning said...

It was nice to meet you that evening, James. You didn't unease me or seem weird at all! I was also quite hopped-up on caffeine... it was free at the forum, so the Ukrainian and Winnipegger in me had to make the most of it.

Enjoy both your blogs and Uptown column, keep up the great work!

Jenn said...

There's a book cover that looks exactly like that poster, and it's driving me crazy trying to remember the title. It's something fairly recent, contemporary lit, I think by a female author.

Anonymous said...

Ferris Buller's Day Off