Winnipeg’s next mayor loves jazz, hates putting up Christmas lights and plans to raise your taxes

Winnipeg’s next mayor is a former pastor who is known by some of his closest friends and family as a genuine, patient man — who also got very familiar with the penalty box while playing junior hockey as a teen.

Scott Kitching has known Scott Gilllingham, who was elected as Winnipeg’s new mayor on Wednesday night, since he was six years old and living in the southern Manitoba town of Carman, where Gillingham was born.

Kitching said while Gillingham is known for his quiet demeanour, “that wasn’t the Scott you saw on the hockey rink.”

“He wasn’t a goon, but he certainly racked up a lot of penalties, which is opposite to what you see now as a former minister and one of the most kind, gentle people you see,” said Kitching.

“He wasn’t afraid to muck it up in the corners.”

Scott Kitching has known Gillingham since he was six years old. He says people would be surprised at how many penalties Gillingham got while playing junior hockey. (Kristin Annable/CBC)

Gillingham narrowly defeated his closest rival, Glen Murray, and nine other contenders in Wednesday’s mayoral race. Gillingham — who had served two terms as a city councillor and was chair of city council’s finance committee — positioned himself in the race as the fiscally responsible choice.

“Holy smokes, what a night,” Gillingham told a cheering crowd as he began his victory speech Wednesday evening.

“I want to be clear to everyone who voted for me and everyone who did not, that I intend to serve regardless. I didn’t run to settle for status quo, I did not run to defend status quo, I ran because I believe Winnipeg can try harder and govern smarter and can deliver faster.”

Gillingham, who was first elected to city council in 2014 and won the St. James seat again in 2018, was a longtime member of outgoing Mayor Brian Bowman’s inner circle as part of his executive policy committee. Prior to that he spent as a 22 years as a Pentecostal pastor.

Before entering civic politics, her ran provincially in 2011 in St. James for the Progressive Conservatives, but lost to the NDP’s Deanne Crothers.

Gillingham also briefly flirted with running for leadership of Manitoba Tories in 2021.

Gillingham, shown here in a 2019 photo, is a former chair of city council’s finance committee who positioned himself in the mayoral race as the fiscally responsible choice. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Gillingham resigned from Winnipeg city council’s executive policy committee, as well as his job as council’s finance chair, in April, ahead of what he said was a “very likely” run for the mayor’s seat.

Pledged to raise property taxes

He kicked off his campaign in May, with a pledge to build infrastructure and restore the city’s urban canopy.

“Too much of our political history has been about making big promises and setting big targets and making big announcements, without first building the strength to deliver those promises,” Gillingham told the crowd in May.

Over the next five months, he told Winnipeggers he would raise property taxes by by 3.5 per cent next year and increase frontage levies by $1.50 per foot, which would raise the equivalent of another 2.6 per cent property tax hike.

He also promised to fast-track the widening of Kenaston Boulevard, appoint himself to Winnipeg’s police board to increase oversight and  send outreach workers instead of police to low-risk mental health calls.

He was endorsed by three councillors, all of whom were re-elected: Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), Janice Lukes (Waverley West) and Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan). 

Gillingham is the father of two children, including a 26-year-old daughter who describes her dad as the “most selfless person” she knows.

But he doesn’t like putting up the lights on the Christmas tree, says Hannah Gillingham.

Hannah Gillingham, 26, describes her father as the most patient person she knows — except when it comes to hanging up Christmas lights. (Kristin Annable/CBC)

While he’s a patient father and loves Christmas, that doesn’t extend to putting the lights on the tree, she said.

“It is something he could do without,” she said. “He kind of turns into the Grinch then.”

He’s also a longtime lover of jazz music, and that’s what he played on his way to the victory party, said Hannah — at which point his fate was up in the air.

The results in the close race — which Gillingham won with 27.5 per cent of the vote over Murray’s 25.3 per cent — weren’t clear until the final polls had reported, around 10 p.m.

“Tensions were a little high, and the talk radio was off and the jazz was bumping in the car,” said Hannah.

During his victory speech, Gillingham took the time to thank his 90-year-old grandfather, who was at the party at the Clarion Hotel Wednesday night, and stood alongside Gillingham throughout the entire campaign.

Gillingham’s 90-year-old grandfather, Gordon Alder, has helped his grandson throughout his political career, but never thought he’d see him become mayor. (Kristin Annable/CBC)

Gordon Alder helped his grandson by putting together signs — something he said he has done every time Gillingham has thrown his hat into the political ring.

“I never ever expected to have my grandson be the mayor of Winnipeg,” said Alder.

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