Early Life and Business Career
Sam Katz was born in Rehovot, Israel in 1951. His parents, Chaim and Zena Katz, were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada when Katz was still an infant. Katz grew up largely in Winnipeg’s working class North End.
Katz completed an economics degree at the University of Manitoba. Shortly after graduation, he moved to Brandon, MB, to open a clothing store – beginning a career as an increasingly high-profile entrepreneur in the province.
Katz went on to helm several entertainment and live production companies that saw him bring big name musical acts to Winnipeg, from rock bands to Broadway musicals.
In 1994, Katz became president and CEO of the Winnipeg Goldeyes Baseball Club. Several years later, he orchestrated the construction of the city’s downtown baseball stadium, now called Shaw Park, to house the team.
Katz is married to Leah Katz and has four children, including two daughters from his first marriage to Baillie Burke.
2004 Municipal Election
An outsider with little experience at city hall, Katz was a last-minute candidate and was criticized for a platform light on details. His slogan was, "I like results. I like Sam." Katz promised small property and business tax cuts and modest improvements to city services such as community policing. His campaign, and later his mayoral office, were managed by political organizers active in the federal and provincial Conservative parties.
On 22 June, Katz won a landslide victory against eight candidates, including four former city councillors. He became Winnipeg’s 42nd mayor, and the city’s first Jewish mayor, with 43 per cent of the vote.
Katz's first major move as mayor was to cancel the first leg of Winnipeg’s planned bus rapid transit system, one that had been debated for decades and was approved and funded under previous mayor Glen Murray. Instead, Katz redirected millions in federal and provincial infrastructure funds to community clubs. This sparked the resignation of the city’s transit director and threw the fate of the city’s proposed rapid transit system into limbo for much of Katz’s first and second terms.
During his first term, Katz also launched an initiative to cut red tape at city hall, and froze property taxes.
With few serious challengers, Katz easily won re-election in the 2006 municipal election with 62 per cent of the vote. During his second term he presided over funding deals to rebuild or expand major city roadways, and saw approval of the city’s first police helicopter.
The 2010 general election marked Katz’s toughest campaign yet — a head-to-head race against former New Democratic Party (NDP) MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. With the aid of experienced Conservative campaign staff, Katz ran on his record and pledged to deal forcefully with crime. Wasylycia-Leis, aided by union and NDP support, promised to limit property tax increases to two per cent a year.
Katz won a third term with 55 per cent of the vote, versus 43 per cent for Wasylycia-Leis.
In his third term, Katz oversaw the city’s first property tax hike in more than a decade, as well as a plan to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team. This period was also dominated by conflict of interest and corruption allegations that would dog Katz’s final term and beyond.
On 20 June, 2014, as questions about several city hall real estate deals were mounting, Katz announced he would not seek a fourth term.
Since 2012, a series of complex land and development deals involving Katz as mayor, his close friend who served as Winnipeg’s top city administrator, and several local construction and development firms, have prompted a number of critical reviews of the projects by outside accounting/consulting firms, as well as an ongoing RCMP investigation.
Among those deals was a land-swap involving a new fire-paramedic station built on land the City did not own. In 2013, a review by Ernst and Young found a Winnipeg development company with personal and business links to Katz had an unfair competitive advantage, and that the project was badly mismanaged. No criminal wrongdoing was found in this case.
Scrutiny was later focused on the city’s new downtown Winnipeg Police Service headquarters, a renovation project dramatically over-budget and bedeviled by allegations of corruption. Shortly after Katz’s departure from the mayor’s office in 2014, the RCMP began an investigation into corruption allegations surrounding the project. As of May 2017, no such allegations had been proven in court.
After leaving the mayor’s office, Katz returned to his various companies and his former post as president of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The baseball team won the American Association championship in 2016.
Although public, media and police scrutiny of real estate deals made during his administration continue to make headlines, Katz has kept a low public profile beyond the ballpark.