COVER

CALGARY’S TOP HAND

JOHN HOWSE February 15 1988
COVER

CALGARY’S TOP HAND

JOHN HOWSE February 15 1988

CALGARY’S TOP HAND

COVER

Calgary newsman Ralph Klein was not joking in 1980 when he gave his CFCN TV newsroom colleagues the scoop that he intended to contest the coming Calgary mayoralty election. Exercising their news judgment, the co-workers did not take him seriously. An angry Klein phoned The Calgary Herald with the bulletin, and his story made that afternoon’s paper. On Feb. 13, more than seven years later,

Mayor Klein and the paper will be more than vindicated. The exnewsman will join Gov.

Gen. Jeanne Sauvé, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch and an array of local, national and international dignitaries to open the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics before 60,000 spectators and an estimated two billion TV viewers. “I forgive them,” says Klein, 45, thinking of his former colleagues. ‘T am really still a newsie at heart.”

Popular: Re-elected to a third three-year term in October, 1986—with a striking 92 per cent of the vote in Alberta’s largest city (population 640,450) — Klein is among the most popular mayors in Calgary’s 113-year history. Since first taking office, Klein has wielded his ever-increasing plurality like a sword, cutting through the city’s once-omnipotent bureaucracy. Indeed, between 1982 and 1984 Klein presided over the city’s first mass layoff of civil servants, affecting some 600 employees. During his tenure, the city’s economy has ridden a roller coaster of heady expansion, then recession and now gradual recovery, in large part mirroring the vagaries of international oil prices. Through it all, Klein has travelled the world, tireless-

ly promoting the attractions of his home town. “But the highlight is the Olympics,” Klein told Maclean's in a recent interview in his cluttered office on the city hall’s main floor. Said Klein: “The Games top everything.” Promoter: And for the mayor, the Olympics represent the ultimate opportunity to promote the city to a captive audience of tourists, television

viewers and media representatives from around the world. “Certainly, these Games will be a sporting success, but I want them to be a good focus for the entire city. Most people already know about our chuck wagons, but, really, very little else,” said Klein. “We are more than a cow town. The Olympics are our chance to show we are an energy and financial capital as well.” Klein’s office is festooned with stick-

ers that simply state “February 29,” a constant reminder that life will go on the day after the $l-billion Olympics end. Said the mayor: “We have to keep the enthusiasm going. We don’t need to worry about the Games. We’re ready. After they’re over, there is going to be a psychological letdown. People will say, ‘Let’s do it again next year.’ But realistically, things like Olympic Games only come once in 40 or 50 years.” Proud: Klein, a veteran of 17 years in public relations and television and radio reporting prior to his surprise election victory, is taking full advantage of the unique opportunity offered by the Olympics. He proudly lists the week’s media interviews that ranged from The New York Times to The Toronto Star. “Can you believe the guy from Forbes magazine never had had a caesar before?” asks Klein, shaking his head. The bloody J caesar, reputedly first concocted in Calgary, is a drink comprising vodka, and clam and tomato juice. Added Klein: “I’m never asked who is going to win the ladies’ downhill at Nakiska. Reporters want to know about this city. They are astonished that such a large and dy^ namic place exists west of Toronto. They are he's? coming curious. This is I our chance to tell the I world we are a major zplayer in North 1 America.”

Calgary-born, Klein grew up in the city’s working-class Tuxedo Park neighborhood with his grandparents after his parents divorced. After graduating from high school, Klein married in 1960 and studied administration and accounting at a local commercial college. Three years later, at age 21, he became public-relations director of the Alberta division of the Red Cross, and took a journalism course sponsored by The Calgary Herald. That same year,

his three-year marriage ended in divorce. Klein and his second wife, Colleen, whom he married in 1972, have five children ranging in age from 14 to 26—two by his first marriage, two from Colleen’s first marriage, and one from their own.

In 1966 Klein went to work as director of public relations for the Calgary United Way Fund. In 1969 CFCN, the city’s highest-rated news station, hired him as a newsreader for its radio division. He later moved on to TV reporting until running for office.

As a TV reporter, and now as the mayor, Klein liked to relax at the St. Louis Hotel basement beer parlor near city hall. Then, as now, he was joined at the St.

Louis by reporters and cronies. That gives rise to criticism that he pays too much attention to his “Kitchen Cabinet.”

Explains the mayor:

“They are basically friends, good friends.

We swap around jokes and ideas. Calgary is an extremely open city.

That is in part due to me. If I am one thing, I am open and accessible.

If that’s the mayor’s style, then that will be how the city is.”

Personal: But even friends of the fun-loving Klein were surprised by his election in October,

1980, after a heated and often-personal campaign against incumbent—and establishment favorite —Ross Alger. In the years since, Klein’s folksy style of leadership has helped Calgarians weather the economic turbulence. Indeed, during the 1986 election campaign a rival mayoralty candidate discovered Klein and aidermen enjoying alcoholic beverages during a council meeting dinner break. After the incident made the local news, Klein donned a T-shirt bearing the inscription “Thank God I’m human.” And a supporter hired an advertising aircraft to haul a message across Calgary skies proclaiming “Ralph we love u just the way you are.”

Klein’s easygoing style and attitude reflect the outlook of his city. But the mayor was anything but laid-back in the early 1980s over what he thought was a growing misconception about Calgary. Angered by media reports that Calgary was on the ropes, in 1986 he convinced a number of his friends in

the oil industry to hold a fund raiser at the Calgary Petroleum Club. The event raised $75,000 and, with a matching sum from the city, Klein launched a nationwide media campaign to tell Canadians that there was more to Calgary than bankruptcies, layoffs, cancelled oil-sands plants and negative population growth. Says Klein: “We were getting the daylights kicked out of us nightly on The Journal and daily in The Toronto Star.” One reason may have been Klein’s statement in 1982 that blamed the rising crime rate in the city on “creeps and bums” who migrated from Eastern Canada during the oil boom.

Klein’s subsequent image-burnishing campaign may have helped alter the national perception of Calgary, but now the city’s economic buoyancy is due in large part to the massive construction projects and influx of funds generated by the Games. Still, the city is burdened by a $1.5-billion debt, largely accrued by the city’s costly expansion of services to new subdivisions developed during the late 1970s boom. But says Klein: “Our ability to service the debt is sound. It is huge, but we cut in half the $3-billion debt we anticipated in our 1980 five-year budget.” And he is proud of the city’s continued Standard and Poor’s AA credit rating. “Our tax base is sounder than it was three years ago,” he says. “We have been prudent in protecting our re-

serves. We have $70 million in cash and a healthy land bank of industrial property.”

And according to the mayor, the end to the period of expansion helped strengthen Calgary’s sense of community. “During good times we had trouble hitting our United Fund goals,” says Klein. “When times got tougher, people understood more what it felt like to need. The community started looking after its own people.”

Party: Klein, who recently turned down an offer to run for the leadership of the Liberal party of Alberta, is looking after himself of late. Through a daily exercise program, he has

trimmed off 23 lb., which has reduced the stocky politician’s weight to 188 lb. The leaner look is appropriate for the spotlight that will focus on Calgary this week. Says Klein: “Look, the Olympics should be our greatest party ever. If they are not, we have missed the point.” If the point is missed, it will not be Klein’s fault. “My style enables me to walk from the St. Louis to the Ranchmen’s Club,” he said, “and feel comfortable doing it.” Starting on Feb. 13, in his unique way, Klein will play host to the world and hobnob cheerfully with European royalty—all the while keeping an eye out and a handshake ready for voting Calgarians.

—JOHN HOWSE in Calgary