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Kevin Werner

Kevin Werner

Why Bratina might be here for a while

Two examples show how difficult it will be to prevent Mayor Bob Bratina from being re-elected in October.

In front of about 400 of Hamilton’s best and brightest, Bratina made a smooth opening salvo in the mayoral campaign with his almost perfect State of the City address. His opening presentation was filled with business-friendly statistics about how Hamilton has “turned the corner” from its rust-bucket days to a modern, diversified city, with low unemployment, and developers seemly finding riches in the downtown core.

He followed up his presentation with a successful question and answer session, confidently answering questions from the audience. Bratina’s only black mark was his odd introduction of amalgamation to the conversation, which caused a few sideway glances from people in the crowd. A subsequent news conference organized by the mayor proved more carnival sideshow than helpful in council’s city building efforts.

Most keen observers noted the gesture was more about politics, with the mayor trying to connect to the people in the suburban areas after promising he would review the amalgamation question during his 2010 campaign kickoff. It’s a promise that has laid fallow for the last three years.

The other example happened recently during the Chinese New Year celebrations at city hall. Bratina has always been a master showman, able to connect with a crowd with his rumbling bass voice, and ability at self-deprecating comments. Few politicians are the equal to him in front of a crowd.

So with the council chambers filled, he surprised people with his ability to speak Cantonese to the mostly Asian audience. They applauded generously and appreciated his gesture to reach out to them in their own language during an important event.

Both incidents are telling in that Bratina, despite the criticism he has taken about being unable to work with council, his past problems with paying his chief of staff and his limited political agenda, the mayor remains popular through out most of the city to residents who don’t live in the city hall bubble. And that is important to note.

Over the last decade, despite the political status quo around the council table, Hamiltonians seem to like replacing their mayors after only one term. Long-time mayor Bob Morrow got turfed because he didn’t understand the suburban voter in the 2000 election; in 2006 Larry Di Ianni barely lost to former alderman Fred Eisenberger, and in 2010 voters had enough of Eisenberger and his stadium fiasco and went with Bratina, who ran a confident, non-threatening campaign. (In 2003 the mayor’s chair was open when Bob Wade decided not to run.)

So it makes Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie’s challenge to Bratina all that more difficult, and some might say complex. While Hamiltonians love to change mayors, what is the reason to send Bratina to the showers? There doesn’t seem to be an overarching issue of the day.

McHattie’s campaign is about offering residents a “different kind of campaign” to voters that will involve social media, and innovative ways to engage residents in city hall decision making. A worthy goal, but is that at the top of most homeowners’ priorities? Most importantly, is McHattie as well known enough in Binbrook, Ancaster, Flamborough, and Stoney Creek, areas that are more likely to vote, than in downtown Hamilton where he is their favoured son?

Adding to the political mix is the possibility of another challenge from Di Ianni, or Eisenberger, or both. There are some people who are determined to oust Bratina at any cost. Another relatively strong candidate will do nothing more than split a vote, allowing Bratina an easy time to the mayor’s chair, which happened in 2010. Di Ianni and Eisenberger beat each other up, while Bratina cruised to victory with 37 per cent of the ballots.

As Bratina pointed out how do you ignore the city’s downtown transformation with it’s the new condo units, the McMaster Health Campus, a new hotel, an unemployment rate at 5.5 per cent, well below the provincial average, crime trending down, and tax increases between the zero and two per cent range?

If McHattie is going to follow in the footsteps of Calgary’s popular mayor Naheed Nenshi, then his “different kind of campaign” will need to include Hamilton’s hard political numbers if he expects to sit in the mayor’s chair later this fall.

Kevin Werner covers city hall for Hamilton Community News

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