At the end of each year, politicians do what is called the year end interview. They are one-on-one interviews that focus on the year that was as well as issues for the upcoming year. Pretty much everything is fair game which can make it tricky for some politicians. Knowing how to handle this type of interview can be the difference between this headline “Still plenty of work to do for Doer” and this one “Mayor weathers toughest year”.
This week, we’ve seen a perfect example of a master at work (Doer) and a PR train wreck (Katz). Both are Free Press interviews. Sammy, please take notes there will be a test at the end.
Four examples of do's and don'ts:
1. The opening question (Katz):
Free Press: I'll start with a softball. What do you consider your biggest achievement this year?
Mayor Sam Katz: Stage 1 of rapid transit, I consider very positive. The fact the (Canadian) Museum of Human Rights will finally be starting up. A state-of- the-art indoor soccer facility... and also some of the projects we've brought to fruition for our recreational facilities. And I guess one of the big ones is the initiatives we brought forward under urban aboriginal strategies for youth.
First question (Doer):
Q: First off, one of the big issues hanging over your head is the vote tax.
A: Well, it really isn't hanging over from last year because I didn't bring it in until the spring, but the big issues last year were, were we going to get our population up to 1.2 million? And we did that. And the other big issue that we said we would want to achieve this year is going ahead with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. That was my year-end interview last year. Both those items we were able to achieve.
I think looking at going ahead, we have concerns we raised about maintaining the integrity of banning union and corporate donations for funding of political parties. We also have the issue of unfettered partisan mailing being paid for by the taxpayers, which we would argue is equally accountable for political parties, and then the issue of a portion of partial public funding for political parties. So we said everything is on the table.
Sammy you got a softball question to start. Pretty hard to screw this one up. Doer, you on the other hand got a loaded question. You managed to get some positives in your answer but you also answered the initial question without sounding defensive. Good job both of you. Extra points for you Gary.
2. Answering a loaded question (Katz):
FP: What would you consider your biggest failure this year?
Katz: Off the top of my head, I can't think of a specific failure, per se. If there's one that you have in mind, please let me know.
FP: You had to change what you wanted to do with Upper Fort Garry.
Katz: I didn't change what I wanted to do with Upper Fort Garry. I wanted to make sure these people had a real plan. I didn't have any plan for Upper Fort Garry. The city had already approved a needed apartment complex there, which I think is terrific. This other scenario came forward and for all intents and purposes, all I did was basically broker a deal between the developer and the Friends of Upper Fort Garry.
Answering a loaded question (Doer) see question 1.
Sam, this question isn’t that difficult to answer. Next time try something like “There have been some challenges this year as we have been faced with an economic downturn but despite this we’ve managed to accomplish a lot”. It’s called turning a negative question into a positive. Sure, you aren’t really answering the question but you don’t really have to. See Doer was able to do this. And Sam, next time please don’t give the reporter the opportunity to frame your answer and name your failures.
3. Conflict of interest (Katz):
FP: Do you think the Riverside Park Management issue changed Winnipeggers' opinions of you?
Katz: No, I don't think that issue did. I think the way the media might have represented it did, but as you know, I can't control that. If (only) everybody had just looked at the facts and if the media had reported the facts (of) what this issue was all about, which was an improper assessment. Even the department came forward and said that.
But as you know, it's nice to get headlines. That wasn't the way it was written. That wasn't the way the majority of people really got the impression. But if you looked at the facts, this was a real simple scenario, and it should have been that way.
FP: With all due respect, when I moved beyond the assessment issue and tried to talk about the relationship (of) the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Riverside Park, you didn't want to talk about it.
Katz: As I've said before, there is no (relationship). When you're talking about one entity versus another, we all know, quite often, you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and that's exactly what I believe happened there. I also believe there were innuendoes made which were totally inaccurate, yours included, where you implied that directors of Riverside were getting paid, which was absolutely untrue as well.
FP: I didn't imply that.
Katz: The way people read it, that's what they interpreted from the story that was written, even though they had been on the record before saying there was no truth to that. But you know, another story, another year. Who knows what next year will bring.
Conflict of interest (Doer):
Q: The big rumour is that you're going to become the head guy at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
A: No, that would be a conflict of interest. There was a rumour. I'm funding the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I'm advocating for funding. I've always respected the fact this is great for Manitoba. It is a federal cultural institution. It's not private like it was before.
Sam, you’ve made many fatal errors here. You attacked the reporter’s credibility, you sounded negative and defensive. Sam, getting into a fight with a reporter is not a good idea. Doer, you on the other hand acknowledged the issue and simply answered the question.
4. Ending the interview (Katz):
FP: Is there anything else you would change about this year?
Katz: I just wish, at some point in time, councillors would show a little more integrity or credibility on the floor of council. I can't tell you the number of issues where I've received criticism, whether it's a Coun. Gerbasi or Thomas or Vandal, and what they're criticizing is exactly something they did a few years ago, the exact same way. It's like every time we try to do something, there's criticism, no matter what we do.
I'd like to see councillors do the right thing. And in my opinion, these people are not doing the right thing. They're hypocrites. They're not telling the truth.
FP: I was trying to end this on the warm and fuzzy.
Katz: That was warm and fuzzy.
Ending the interview (Doer):
Q: There are a lot of big projects coming up in 2009. In your mind, what's the most important?
A: A lot of the projects are going to be small, under-the-radar projects. A lot of what we're going to do is just sit down with businesses that are successful that are not going to fail and try to work out business plans with shortening credit if we can to try to make a difference. I'm spending a lot of time and our government is spending a lot of time with small companies, medium-sized companies and big companies that have a shortage of credit from banks. They're going to do well. We're not going to put money into companies that won't do well. That in itself is tough because those are real people, real families and real communities, but most of what we're going to do is the stuff that's not going to be on the front page of the paper.
Sammy, you were asked an open ended question; that’s a politician’s dream, run with it. You could have taken this a number of different places and talked about some of the positive things going on at Silly Hall. Instead you used this to attack other council members; calling them hypocrites and liars. Sam…please listen…this is important. Voters don’t want to hear you bitch and moan about how the other kids don’t play nice with you in the sandbox. It’s the holiday season, we want nice thoughts, we want to feel good and warm. Now repeat after me. Hypocrite is not a good word for a story that will run at Christmas. Now go write it down 10 times on the black board. Doer, you can go for recess.