By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina’s future is loaded with possibilities after a "lifetime" of municipal politics.
He is considering a run for federal office, which could possibly happen next year. And he is preparing to write two books about Hamilton, one about municipal politics, and the other a history of the city for young people. He might even try to finish his university degree, if he has the time.
“It’s not in my DNA to do nothing,” said Bratina, who March 14 announced he won’t seek re-election. “One of the things I want to do is write a couple of books, one will be about Hamilton politics, the other one I’m really keen on a history book about Hamilton for young people, grades three, four, and five.”
Bratina, who was first elected Ward 2 councillor in 2004 to replace the departing Andrea Horwath, says he already has the title of his political book “The Trouble with Hamilton.” “It’s about why we were in such decline (as a city) for so long,” he told about 30 people who turned out for the Flamborough Chamber of Commerce’s round table event March 18 at the North Wentworth Arena.
In a presentation that was reflective of his years as mayor, and showcased a personal perspective, Bratina says even knowing the criticism, and scandals that awaited him, he would still have run for mayor in 2010.
“It has been a learning experience,” said Bratina, who surprised the political establishment by disposing two former mayors, Larry Di Ianni and Fred Eisenberger, the incumbent in the race in the process of his winning campaign.
“You can’t learn without making mistakes so if I made mistakes I learned from them,” said Bratina. “And if I have a future political career I certainly will be better equipped to deal with things that come along. Really, I’ve had a lifetime the last four years and 10 years. Ten years is along time, especially in the world of municipal politics and perhaps most especially in the world ofHamiltonmunicipal politics.”
But if he does enter federal politics – Bratina has been linked to seeking the nomination for the federal riding of Hamilton Centre – he wants to talk it over with his wife Carol, who has endured the media attacks and suffered for it.
The mayor leveled his harshest criticism against the local media that he says over the years have said “terrible things” about him.
He pointed out the Hamilton Spectator on its website still has a poll asking people to rate his years in office.
“They have been running that for days,” said Bratina, who says every day he opens up the newspaper to see people writing about him. “How did I become this rotten person?” he says.
But looking over his four-year record, Bratina says he can rest easy because he’s proud of his accomplishments, which include the GO Transit station project at James Street North, a new Pan Am Stadium, downtown re-development, including the McMaster University Health Campus, an average tax increase each year of 1.5 per cent, while also seeing a city with a 5.9 per cent unemployment rate, lower than the provincial average.
“Most of the votes of council supported all the position I wanted, so I’m a happy camper.”
He does worry as he leaves the municipal stage about the city’s rising debt level for large scale projects, such as building a $100 million addition to city hall. It’s the top concern the next mayor has to wrestle with, he said.
“We are locked into a number of very expensive projects for the city, frankly projects I didn’t necessarily endorse,” he said. “The next mayor will have to face the challenge of keeping the taxes low.”
As mayoral candidate Brian McHattie listened, along with Flamborough councillor Robert Pasuta, Bratina offered up some advice to futureHamiltonmagistrates.
He said a mayor does more than engage in debates at council meetings. He is a wise sage of the community, the person “who tells the story of the city to as many people as possible.”
Bratina, for instance, was late to the Flamborough event because he attended a memorial to two Albanian youths who were aspiring police officers but recently died in a car accident. He started to cry when the father of one of the youths hugged a photo of his son and told him the mayor was at his service.
“That is something you don’t see in the council chambers,” said Bratina. “Yet that’s what mayors do if they are doing their job properly how to participate in as much for the city as possible. I’m hoping my successor will carry that ambition, that energy. It takes a lot out of you.”
Later, Bratina said he wants to focus on a couple of issues during his remaining time in office. One is to getHamilton’s financial share from the Canada Build’s infrastructure fund.
But more importantly, Bratina says he will become the championing of building a Niagara to Greater Toronto Area highway from Fort Erie to Hamilton, despite the provincial government’s reluctance to spend any money on such a project.
“That is a true building block for Hamilton,” he said. “It’s doable. We have a good gathering of mayors, we have a charter. I know the province is reluctant on that right now. I think there is a good argument to be made (for it). I will spend a lot of my time trying to make it happen.”