Is the mayor a bully?

Seemingly out of nowhere, Winnipeg’s mayor has decided to sue a university newspaper and its writer for a column that was published two months ago. – Free Press

The column titled The Local Political Blunder – Sam Katz strongly insinuates that Katz orchestrated inside deals behind a corrupt fire hall tendering process.*

The first question most people would ask is: why is he doing this? It seems counter-productive. Sure, Mayor Sam Katz is entitled to protect himself against defamation like anyone else, but the pros and cons don’t seem to add up in his favour here.

To begin with, the lawsuit breathes new life into an article that went into recycling bins a month ago, and was obscure to begin with.

Maybe this allows him to set the record straight, but with whom? Most of the Uniter’s readers are students who have priorities other than politics — like jobs, exams, booze and sex (not necessarily in that order). This is probably not an important demographic for Sam as he mulls another run for mayor, and in any case suing their school, their newspaper, and a fellow student is not going to endear himself to them.

Meanwhile the whole city is now aware of this article, and gets to watch one of the city’s most powerful people doing battle with a university student.

Does Sam have some other motive?

Is he trying to deflect the spotlight off the Police headquarters fiasco and back on to the fire hall fiasco?

Is he trying to put a chill on other amateur writers (like myself) well in advance of the next election so that we take it easy on him?

Does he even have a case?

The lawsuit states “That the ordinary meaning of the words written by Benoit … Clearly state that the plaintiff is a criminal, had committed criminal acts pertaining to insider trading, belongs in jail and is evil”.

The writer, Josh Benoit, says that Katz is responsible for the fire hall land-swap debacle. As the man in charge of the city at the time it happened, I would say this is a fair statement. Josh then draws a direct comparison to Martha Stewart’s conviction for insider trading. This is where the trouble starts. He doesn’t say that the fire hall swap was an inside job orchestrated by Katz, but he very clearly implies it.

He continues in the next paragraph: ‘You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to picture Katz saying to Sheegl in passing, “Oh, by the way, make sure Shindico gets this deal at any cost”‘. I can’t say if this crosses the line, but thousands of people have probably thought the same thing as they read about the scandal in the paper.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the article is the pinnacle of balanced journalism, and I am certainly not one to speak, but most of what the lawsuit seeks to address is implied and not stated as such. Is that enough, or does a definitive statement need to be made? I don’t know. I’m not a judge.

That picture of Sam in the banner of the article however … that might be worthy of a lawsuit:

68-14-sam-katz-imageEven if Sam has a case, the question remains: why?

The optics of the mayor suing a student who volunteers his time to a campus newspaper is not good. Neither is suing the University that has been one of the keys to downtown revitalization, and by the way has nothing to do with the Uniter publication.

Sam’s strength has always been his charm, his friendly persona and his charisma. He will need to capitalize on those qualities to the fullest extent if he hopes keep his job as Mayor in the fall. However this one act undermines those key strengths by making him appear to be a bully.

Notice that I don’t say that Sam IS a bully. That is unprovable and might be crossing the line. I could get sued for that.


UPDATE 1: I have been informed that the writer is not actually a student of the U of W. Nevertheless, he is a volunteer writer for a student newspaper, and the optics are not good.


UPDATE 2: This happened —>

the genius: @pomoinc on twitter
*The link to the Uniter article and limited excerpts from it are presented to the reader to allow them to form their own opinion of the legitimacy of the lawsuit and to provide context to the discussion. The contents of the article are not endorsed in any way by the writer of this blog, anybody associated with this blog, or anybody who knows or has ever met the writer of this blog.

23 thoughts on “Is the mayor a bully?

  1. Remember Ford and the implication of his comments about Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star. Look how Ford publicly apologized after being served notice of intention to sue [as happened here]. The implied intent of one’s printed statements clearly have an impact on a subject’s reputation.

    We’ll see where this goes.

    • Good point & thanks for the comment. With this being a limited distribution student publication the impact is probably limited as well, thus I question the benefit to Sam.

  2. This strikes me as a major strategic misstep from the Mayor, and not simply because I’m not particularly sold that he has a case.

    This suit sends the message that anyone inclined to criticize him should do so carefully — that the Mayor is more than willing to pursue legal action against anyone who may tread too far beyond fact-based territory in writing about him. Libel-chilling a city’s worth of writers into sticking to the facts, however, only really works as a strategy if those facts aren’t *already incredibly damaging*.

    Deflecting opinion-based criticism, and the occasional outright defamation, is pretty easy; recall how one city protest was far better remembered for an idiot with a Katz-as-Hitler sign than for anything the protest had meant to accomplish. Galvanizing opponents (and he has no shortage of opponents right now!) into laying out factual and carefully-researched arguments, on the other hand, will make any reelection efforts vastly tougher sledding.

    If *I* had to choose between fielding “how did this term-defining major project go $75 million over your guaranteed maximum price on your watch” and “how do you respond to opponents saying you’re a big dumb dummy”, man, give me that second one any day.

  3. The article makes it relatively clear, before that line about stretching imaginations, that it’s talking about the *optics* of the situation, even prefacing it with a Bible quote about abstaining from the *appearance* of evil.

    Somehow, Katz’s lawyer got this from it:

    “The plaintiff states… That the ordinary meaning of the words written by Benoit… Clearly state that the plaintiff is a criminal, had committed criminal acts pertaining to insider trading, belongs in jail and is evil,” – Katz lawsuit, as quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press

  4. Interesting move Sam. If this goes forward, did you think about the fact that you will have to testify under oath? (which is something you can always avoid doing at City Hall)

  5. You touched on one possible motive that I think is it: to put a chill on writers who are considering penning something that would not reflect well on His Worship. Scare tactics! Writers, particular amateur writers, would balance writing something negative about him with possibly having to pay in time and money defending themselves in a defamation lawsuit. Even if you win, you lose.

    On a Black Rod post once, if I recall correctly, it was noted that a past defamation lawsuit against a blogger could have actually opened the door to putting people like the Brothers Shindleman, Sammy, and Sheegl on the stand, under oath. Perhaps this could open the door to that as well (guessing the case would be dropped before it would come to that though).

  6. what i find amusing is that one person has put into words what must be thousands that have already thought to themselves or stated otherwise to friends and/or colleagues

  7. The idea that Sam or others could have to testify under oath is an interesting one. Highly unlikely it would come to that, but it would make for some good theater.

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