DRESCHEL: Baldasaro was king of the political fringe

Opinion Jun 09, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

This city's election campaigns will never be the same without Michael Baldasaro, who sadly died this week at age 67 after a brief bout with cancer.

For decades the pot-smoking bushy-bearded Church of the Universe minister was the undisputed king of Hamilton's political fringe, a forerunner in a field which in recent years has become much more crowded.

Whether sporting his towering Cat in the Hat stovepipe or crocheted Rasta skull cap, Baldasaro's presence and off-beat commentary provided a welcome touch of comic relief which never failed to entertain voters at town halls and candidates' debates.

By my count, Baldasaro ran for mayor eight times, not to mention appearing on who knows how many provincial, federal and council seat ballots.

His final jaunt was in last year's federal election as a Marijuana Party candidate in Hamilton Centre, which predictably was retained by New Democrat David Christopherson. Baldasaro came fifth in a slate of seven candidates, pulling in 348 votes.

But his most successful political outing surely had to be in 1988 when he racked up 7,528 votes in a two-man race against incumbent mayor Bob Morrow.

Though Morrow smothered him with 74,969 votes, Baldasaro not only prevented a victory by acclamation, he provided a valuable relief valve for any and all protest votes.

Over the years I've witnessed any number of people at all-candidates' meetings who began by quietly tsk-tsking his irreverent ways but were soon laughing appreciatively at his sometimes politically incorrect solutions to the problems of the day.

Depending on the issue, Baldasaro could be right wing, left wing or just plain wingy. In his earlier years, he nearly always managed to loop whatever topic was being discussed back to criticisms of Canada's restrictive drug laws.

My favourite personal memories of Baldasaro tend to revolve around his advocacy for the legalization of pot, which the Church of the Universe uses as a sacrament.

As I've previously noted about our election encounters, I fondly recall his brotherly offers of a joint if I ever found myself in need of some religion.

I also cheerfully remember the time Spectator editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay called on Baldasaro at his church in a professional capacity and returned to the office with a tray of brownies made, Baldasaro assured him, by the ladies auxiliary.

Our straight-arrow editor at the time, fearing the police drug squad might break down the editorial page doors at any moment, insisted on throwing the brownies away before they could be sampled and shared.

Along the same lines, Baldasaro once brought a tray of hemp chocolate chip cookies to a meeting of the Spec's editorial board with some of the fringe mayoral candidates. He assured us the psychoactive ingredients had been removed. I took him at his word, but decided to give them a pass.

There was always a clownish aspect to Baldasaro's politicking, of course. But, intentionally or not, it usually played as satire. It's as if his uncomplicated solutions to the city's problems and challenges were deliberately sending up the conventional approaches and boiler plate responses of traditional candidates.

In recent years, others have tried to play a similar outsider role on the political scene, but so far nobody has come close to matching Baldasaro's combination of good humour and human warmth. He really was a unique Hamilton character. We're going to miss him. The king is dead. There is no successor. And the city's political texture is dulled by his passing.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

DRESCHEL: Baldasaro was king of the political fringe

Opinion Jun 09, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

This city's election campaigns will never be the same without Michael Baldasaro, who sadly died this week at age 67 after a brief bout with cancer.

For decades the pot-smoking bushy-bearded Church of the Universe minister was the undisputed king of Hamilton's political fringe, a forerunner in a field which in recent years has become much more crowded.

Whether sporting his towering Cat in the Hat stovepipe or crocheted Rasta skull cap, Baldasaro's presence and off-beat commentary provided a welcome touch of comic relief which never failed to entertain voters at town halls and candidates' debates.

By my count, Baldasaro ran for mayor eight times, not to mention appearing on who knows how many provincial, federal and council seat ballots.

Related Content

His final jaunt was in last year's federal election as a Marijuana Party candidate in Hamilton Centre, which predictably was retained by New Democrat David Christopherson. Baldasaro came fifth in a slate of seven candidates, pulling in 348 votes.

But his most successful political outing surely had to be in 1988 when he racked up 7,528 votes in a two-man race against incumbent mayor Bob Morrow.

Though Morrow smothered him with 74,969 votes, Baldasaro not only prevented a victory by acclamation, he provided a valuable relief valve for any and all protest votes.

Over the years I've witnessed any number of people at all-candidates' meetings who began by quietly tsk-tsking his irreverent ways but were soon laughing appreciatively at his sometimes politically incorrect solutions to the problems of the day.

Depending on the issue, Baldasaro could be right wing, left wing or just plain wingy. In his earlier years, he nearly always managed to loop whatever topic was being discussed back to criticisms of Canada's restrictive drug laws.

My favourite personal memories of Baldasaro tend to revolve around his advocacy for the legalization of pot, which the Church of the Universe uses as a sacrament.

As I've previously noted about our election encounters, I fondly recall his brotherly offers of a joint if I ever found myself in need of some religion.

I also cheerfully remember the time Spectator editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay called on Baldasaro at his church in a professional capacity and returned to the office with a tray of brownies made, Baldasaro assured him, by the ladies auxiliary.

Our straight-arrow editor at the time, fearing the police drug squad might break down the editorial page doors at any moment, insisted on throwing the brownies away before they could be sampled and shared.

Along the same lines, Baldasaro once brought a tray of hemp chocolate chip cookies to a meeting of the Spec's editorial board with some of the fringe mayoral candidates. He assured us the psychoactive ingredients had been removed. I took him at his word, but decided to give them a pass.

There was always a clownish aspect to Baldasaro's politicking, of course. But, intentionally or not, it usually played as satire. It's as if his uncomplicated solutions to the city's problems and challenges were deliberately sending up the conventional approaches and boiler plate responses of traditional candidates.

In recent years, others have tried to play a similar outsider role on the political scene, but so far nobody has come close to matching Baldasaro's combination of good humour and human warmth. He really was a unique Hamilton character. We're going to miss him. The king is dead. There is no successor. And the city's political texture is dulled by his passing.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

DRESCHEL: Baldasaro was king of the political fringe

Opinion Jun 09, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

This city's election campaigns will never be the same without Michael Baldasaro, who sadly died this week at age 67 after a brief bout with cancer.

For decades the pot-smoking bushy-bearded Church of the Universe minister was the undisputed king of Hamilton's political fringe, a forerunner in a field which in recent years has become much more crowded.

Whether sporting his towering Cat in the Hat stovepipe or crocheted Rasta skull cap, Baldasaro's presence and off-beat commentary provided a welcome touch of comic relief which never failed to entertain voters at town halls and candidates' debates.

By my count, Baldasaro ran for mayor eight times, not to mention appearing on who knows how many provincial, federal and council seat ballots.

Related Content

His final jaunt was in last year's federal election as a Marijuana Party candidate in Hamilton Centre, which predictably was retained by New Democrat David Christopherson. Baldasaro came fifth in a slate of seven candidates, pulling in 348 votes.

But his most successful political outing surely had to be in 1988 when he racked up 7,528 votes in a two-man race against incumbent mayor Bob Morrow.

Though Morrow smothered him with 74,969 votes, Baldasaro not only prevented a victory by acclamation, he provided a valuable relief valve for any and all protest votes.

Over the years I've witnessed any number of people at all-candidates' meetings who began by quietly tsk-tsking his irreverent ways but were soon laughing appreciatively at his sometimes politically incorrect solutions to the problems of the day.

Depending on the issue, Baldasaro could be right wing, left wing or just plain wingy. In his earlier years, he nearly always managed to loop whatever topic was being discussed back to criticisms of Canada's restrictive drug laws.

My favourite personal memories of Baldasaro tend to revolve around his advocacy for the legalization of pot, which the Church of the Universe uses as a sacrament.

As I've previously noted about our election encounters, I fondly recall his brotherly offers of a joint if I ever found myself in need of some religion.

I also cheerfully remember the time Spectator editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay called on Baldasaro at his church in a professional capacity and returned to the office with a tray of brownies made, Baldasaro assured him, by the ladies auxiliary.

Our straight-arrow editor at the time, fearing the police drug squad might break down the editorial page doors at any moment, insisted on throwing the brownies away before they could be sampled and shared.

Along the same lines, Baldasaro once brought a tray of hemp chocolate chip cookies to a meeting of the Spec's editorial board with some of the fringe mayoral candidates. He assured us the psychoactive ingredients had been removed. I took him at his word, but decided to give them a pass.

There was always a clownish aspect to Baldasaro's politicking, of course. But, intentionally or not, it usually played as satire. It's as if his uncomplicated solutions to the city's problems and challenges were deliberately sending up the conventional approaches and boiler plate responses of traditional candidates.

In recent years, others have tried to play a similar outsider role on the political scene, but so far nobody has come close to matching Baldasaro's combination of good humour and human warmth. He really was a unique Hamilton character. We're going to miss him. The king is dead. There is no successor. And the city's political texture is dulled by his passing.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel