By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Tributes are flowing in for long-time Hamilton councillor Bernie Morelli, calling him a political statesman, mentor, and friend.
“I’m going to personally and politically miss him,” said Mountain councillor Tom Jackson, as the longest current politician at 25 years, who served with Morelli on council since 1991 when he was elected to Ward 3.
“His legacy will live on. He had some special loves and policing was a special love for him. Seniors was a special love.”
Councillors at the Jan. 15 general issues committee meeting solemnly held a moment of silence for Morelli. A bunch of red roses had been placed at his council seat. The city lowered its flag to half staff, and on its website Morelli is being remembered with memorial.
Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire, and the Hamilton Police Services Board, which he had be on for nine years as a member and chair, praised Morelli for his passion to the community.
“Bernie held a commitment to public safety and maintained the focus of making Hamilton safer for all citizens.”
Morelli began his political career in Hamilton as a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School trustee in 1988. He was elected Ward 3 alderman in 1991, and re-elected each year with little to no opposition even after the amalgamation.
Morelli passed away at his home Jan. 14. He was 70.
Morelli had taken a leave of absence from his political duties last spring due to a severe illness that involved his kidneys and septic shock. He spent a month in the hospital. He returned last August to a rousing welcome by city staff and councillors, with well-wishers rushing to talk to the veteran politician.
He told the Hamilton Community News at the time he was even thinking about running for re-election, even though his family was trying to persuade him to step aside.
“I still love doing this,” he said. “When you love something, you don’t want to give it up. I don’t think I can.”
Jackson, who had a close relationship with Morelli, once told his friend he couldn’t represent the inner city as well as Morelli did.
“It takes a special breed of person to represent Ward 3, to absorb the challenges and needs of the inner city,” said Jackson.
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, a close friend to Morelli, who along with another friend, Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, helped out with the issues within Ward 3, said “each of us not only grieves at the passing of a tremendous individual who has given so much to so many but also for the loss his family suffers.”
Former Ward 8 Hamilton alderman Don Ross who served six years with Morelli was shaken by Morelli’s passing. He saw him last month and Morelli was in a good and generous mood.
“I will miss him,” said Ross, who postponed filing his papers to run for mayor until next week out of respect for Morelli. “He was a great guy, someone to look up to.”
Hamilton’s last two mayors praised Morelli on twitter for his commitment to the community over the years.
“Very saddened to hear that Bernie Morelli passed away,” said Eisenberger. “We began our careers together in 1991. He has served our city with honour.”
Larry Di Ianni expressed his “deepest sympathy to the family of councillor Bernie Morelli. His passion and dedication to Hamilton are his extraordinary legacy.”
Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie served with Morelli for 10 years beginning in 2003 and benefited from his experience and expertise in dealing with people.
“Know how to do your job as a professional and to connect with people and work with each other as colleagues, to build consensus with your fellow councillor, that’s what I learned from Bernie,” said McHattie.
McHattie used to joke with Morelli about his wardrobe and how impeccably dressed he always seemed to be. One time, said McHattie, Morelli asked if he wanted the same shirt he was wearing at the time.
“He comes in the next week with a shirt for me, a big golf shirt which I wear to this day,” said McHattie. “We lost a great Hamiltonian.”
Prior to entering politics, Morelli spent 25 years working at Dofasco in the marketing and product department. He also was a lecturer at McMaster University. He received a master’s degree in business administration.
Morelli was a protégé of long-time federal Liberal and political heavyweight John Munro, and learned quickly the inner workings of politics during the Trudeau administration.
One of Morelli’s long-time goals of building a seniors’ centre in downtown Hamilton similar to Sackville Hill Seniors Centre on the mountain finally became a reality when the city agreed last year to build a $17-million recreation centre in the Pan Am precinct area. Late last year Morelli also helped to finalize a deal for the city to buy a 10-acre parcel of land for a new $8-million outdoor sports facility. Both projects were hailed by councillors as Morelli’s legacy for the community.
Ward 11 councillor Brenda Johnson recalls Morelli telling her she had to run for council.
“’You would do a good job’,” said Johnson who heeded his advice and was elected in 2010. “He was always there when I needed advice. He was always there when I needed a mentor. He was always good towards Ward 11 residents. It’s like grandpa died today.”
Mountain councillor Scott Duvall called it a “sad” day for Hamiltonians, but he wanted to remember the good times he had with Morelli. Duvall would play a few jokes on Morelli, until finally he confessed to Duvall “Ya got me.
“Bernie and Henry (Merling, who past away late last year) were the best of friends,” said Duvall. “He was one of the people when you are stuck and you needed advice he was one of the guys you went to and he would give it to you straight. I will miss him.”
Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead met Morelli while working for former Hamilton mayor Bob Morrow prior to amalgamation.
“I have seen over time Bernie adapting to changes and becoming more of a statesman,” he said. “He had a lot of wisdom. He was the go-to guy for advice.”
Whitehead said his relationship with Morelli expanded when he was selected for the Police Services Board. He saw that Morelli commanded respect from the service, and provided needed teaching lesson to him.
“I know when he is in heaven, he will be wearing the chairman’s hat, making sure there is law and order because that is what he was all about.”
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.
Morelli is survived by his three children, including son Mark, a Hamilton Police officer.
For additional tributes to Councillor Bernie Morelli click here.