By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Even though Bernie Morelli wasn’t present in his customary place around the council table,Hamiltoncouncillors say his spirit was pervasive throughout the chambers.
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, who remained a closed friend to Morelli, says the first time he saw him was in 1982 when he was a high school student. Morelli, tanned, ruggedly built, wearing sun glasses he got out of his convertible so the students could perform an oil change. Merulla looked and exclaimed “Wow, I want to be just like this guy.”
After 32 years of knowing Morelli, Merulla said he still wants to be like him. Morelli, who died earlier this month at age 70 after battling a serious illness, was a very private person, he said. He was no-nonsense, but he was a friend to all, and loved being a politician.
“I will always be honoured that he considered me his friend,” said Merulla. “He will be eternally missed.”
Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins recounted a time he travelled with Merulla and Morelli toMilwaukeefor a conference. After drinking a bottle of wine, in the hotel, Merulla went to sleep. Morelli, said Collins decided to search for a black sharpie, and he eventually found find one.
“When Sam woke up he had a new beard and a handlebar mustache,” said Collins.
Morelli had presented different facets of his life, said Collins. He loved life and his family, he had a passion for his work and representing the people of Ward 3, he talked about Canadian politics, and he was devoted to cooking, always in a battle with Merulla over who cooked the better recipe.
“Seeing his chair empty is difficult,” said Collins.
After Morelli was first elected to council in `1991, Mountain councillor Tom Jackson quickly learned he was a veteran of local politics, and was connected to the right people to get the job done in his beloved Ward 3. Jackson says city hall is a bit lonelier without him around.
“It’s kind of strange walking by his office,” said Jackson.
Morelli helped to launch the popular CYO dinner and Harvest dinner in the city, and he was instrumental in bringing the International Children’s Game to Hamilton, said Jackson.
Morelli should be sitting in his chair while politicians agreed at their Jan. 29 council meeting to start redeveloping the west Harbour, said Jackson. He said Morelli stated that once the west harbour was completed, the next city project should be improving the east Harbour.
“It just doesn’t seem the same right now,” said Jackson.
Mayor Bob Bratina said councillors and staff had to make some “quick” decisions within an hour-and-a-half period starting at 11:30 p.m. the evening Morelli passed away. It was a situation, he said, that few councillors encounter in elected office.
“We were confronted with a difficult situation,” he said.
The day after Morelli passed away, council held a moment of silence for him at the next general issues committee meeting, then canceled the remaining meetings of the week. Flags on all city-owned buildings were lowered to half-staff, a memorial page on the city’s website was put up, and a book was available at city hall for people to sign it.
During the funeral at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, the police had a mounted honour guard, and a large contingent of police officers escorted the hearse.
“(Morelli’s death) shocked us all,” said Bratina. “He kept having these recoveries. We thought he was indestructible.
“This is the first meeting (of the new year) without our friend in body,” added Bratina. “But he is here in spirit.”