The race for the seat in Point Douglas features a one-term incumbent facing off against two political newcomers who say they’re unhappy with how the ward has been represented.
Vivian Santos won the seat in 2018 after serving as the ward assistant to her predecessor, Mike Pagtakhan.
Mayor Brian Bowman appointed her to the Winnipeg Police Board, but she resigned after failing a security check due to her association with an alleged drug dealer.
She also served as acting deputy mayor, but Bowman removed her from that role over her refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The controversies around Santos have affected her performance as councillor, said business owner and current police board member Moe ElTassi.
“It’s obvious that there’s negativity surrounding why Vivian Santos had to leave the police board, but what’s really unfortunate is that Vivian couldn’t represent the residents, and the residents suffer, because she couldn’t represent them in that capacity,” said ElTassi, who has taken a leave from the police board to run in the ward.
“People are saying at the door that they want a more effective leader for point Douglas, and I believe I am that choice.”
Santos declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
In an email statement, she said she has “worked with the residents of Point Douglas and developed an excellent working relationship with several community groups, associations and other grassroots organizations in the neighbourhood.”
Former real estate broker Joe Pereira said his dissatisfaction with Santos’ performance also motivated him to run.
“I feel the ward is being ignored by the current councillor, and there’s a lot of work to be done, especially downtown with addictions and homelessness,” he said.
Crime and homelessness
Both Pereira and ElTassi say crime and homelessness are major issues in the ward.
“I know that crime has taken off. It’s more visible than ever. Homelessness is a very big issue,” said ElTassi.
The Point Douglas ward, despite its name, does not include all of the neighbourhoods of Point Douglas. It stretches west from the Red River in South Point Douglas, sweeping across the Exchange District and a wide swath of the North End, then swinging northwest into the neighbourhoods of Inkster Gardens and Tyndall Park.
According to Winnipeg Police Service statistics, the majority of calls for service come from four wards in the core: Point Douglas, Daniel McIntyre, Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry and Mynarski.
In Point Douglas, however, the number of calls in 2022 dropped compared to the previous year, down 6.5 per cent from 2021.
Violent crime in the ward remained relatively flat, going up 1.4 per cent in June 2022 compared to last year, while non-violent crime rose more sharply, up 22.8 per cent in June.
If elected, ElTassi said he would push for more support for neighbourhood patrol groups, and would like to see more police patrols in the neighbourhood.
Santos clashes with Bowman
Since being ousted from her role as acting deputy mayor, Santos has been a frequent critic of Bowman.
At a forum with all Point Douglas candidates in the Exchange District, Santos was asked about her opinion of the outgoing mayor.
Santos replied that she thought Bowman was a “nice person,” but a “shitty leader.”
In a video of the forum posted on YouTube, Santos said their conflict began when she voted against the budget in December 2020, which she said she did because she wanted more money to tackle homelessness and fund parks and recreation services.
CBC has asked Bowman’s office for comment.
Pereira struggled with addiction
Pereira’s career has been marked by allegations of fraud. In 2021, the Manitoba Securities Commission banned him from acting as a real estate broker after he took thousands of dollars from potential tenants in 2018, spent the money on personal expenses, then blackmailed them to deter them from further pursuing refunds as he moved to Portugal.
Pereira said he was struggling with addictions and unresolved trauma. Now that he has been sober for two years, he said he wants to use that experience to tackle the issues facing the ward.
“I truly believe that I’m the right person at the right time because yes, I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve been an addict,” he said.
“I have compassion and the empathy and now the knowledge to address this first hand with first-hand knowledge.”
Candidates don’t live in ward
None of the people running for Point Douglas currently live in the ward. Santos and Pereira both live in Old Kildonan, while ElTassi lives in Transcona.
ElTassi has spent much of his life in the ward while working at his father’s company, Peerless Garments, and if elected he promises to open a community office in the ward.
Pereira said he intends to move into the ward.
Despite the challenges the ward faces, ElTassi said he hopes to have the chance to represent the people who live there.
“I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of the ward and I’ve seen how it’s changing, along with the rest of the city,” he said.
“Point Douglas has just got so much potential,” he said.
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