Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday November 11, 2000
Our endorsement is a call for dramatic change; The Spectator’s opinion
At the outset of this municipal election campaign, this newspaper argued there was an urgent need for meaningful change in local political leadership. We argued for a new political style that would help heal the rifts created by amalgamation. We called for political leaders who have a fresh vision, not rooted in parochialism or tied to the stale, unproductive political culture that has hobbled Hamilton and diminished its reputation and potential.
Now, in the final days of the campaign, we renew that call. It is more apparent than ever the new City of Hamilton needs and deserves a new mayor, someone who stresses collaboration and consensus and can make citizens from all corners of the new united city feel like they belong and have a role to play in making our community a better place to live and work.
Among the credible candidates for Hamilton’s mayoralty, Bob Wade best fits this bill and, in The Spectator’s view, is the best choice for mayor.
We make this endorsement in the full knowledge that public opinion polls, including our own, suggest incumbent Bob Morrow enjoys a significant advantage over Wade, Fred Eisenberger, John Munro and the rest of a crowded field. If the municipal election were held today, Morrow would probably emerge victorious.
The reason Morrow remains the choice of most voters, up until today at least, is that he is far and away the best known of the candidates. How could he not be? Morrow has been mayor for 18 years and in public life for nearly 25. He is a fixture. Ask 100 Hamiltonians if they’ve ever met him and chances are most will say yes. He’s a tireless participant in the symbolic and ceremonial aspects of the mayor’s job. Some people have said his campaign this time around is a shambles, but we beg to differ. The reason Morrow’s campaign isn’t better organized is that it doesn’t need to be. The man has been campaigning since the last time he was elected.
Let us also say this about Bob Morrow: In no way are we attempting to diminish his contribution to this community over his many years in public service. He deserves credit and respect for his civic patriotism. He is Hamilton’s longest-serving mayor, and the fact that he is not the best choice to lead for another three years does not tarnish his legacy of loyalty and love for his community.
But what about Morrow’s record? According to him, it’s fine. Yes, Hamilton has a few problems, he’ll say, but is headed in the right direction under his capable stewardship. Like many politicians who have a similar nature, Morrow loves to take credit but isn’t equally keen to take responsibility. Point out the lack of progress on downtown redevelopment, and he’ll deny that’s true and label you unfairly negative. Lament the damage caused by crushing taxation inequity, and he’ll blame the provincial government. Criticize him too much and you may find yourself on the receiving end of one of his infamous near-hysterical tirades, which are usually followed by apologies. In the end, you either see things his way or you’re wrong. And after 18 years in the mayor’s office, Bob Morrow says everything is fine.
We don’t agree.
Hamilton is at a crossroads. To begin with, the Hamilton of 2001 will be an entirely different city than it is today. The store clerk in Stoney Creek, the realtor in Ancaster, the truck driver in Dundas, and the farmers in Flamborough and Glanbrook are equal partners in this new city. They need and deserve a leader who is credible, trustworthy, team-oriented and, above all, endowed with common sense.
When Wade was mayor of Ancaster, he spoke out against amalgamation because he felt he had to reflect the prevailing will of his constituents. When it became obvious that one-tier government was inevitable, he quickly accepted reality and was among the first suburban politicians to declare his determination to make the new city work. Along with his council colleagues, he has helped make Ancaster one of the most prosperous communities in Ontario.
Wade is not charismatic. His political persona is best described as steady, calm and low-key. If he has a considerable ego, it’s not obvious. Wade’s strength is in his track record of efficiency and cohesive leadership and in his ability to bring people together. His platform stresses communication and consultation more so than any other candidate’s. There is little doubt that Wade would put the unity and progress of the new council and city ahead of his personal political ambition and parochial preferences.
Paradoxically, the same qualities that make Bob Wade the best choice for mayor at this time in Hamilton’s history make him a somewhat lacklustre campaigner, which may explain in part why he is lagging in opinion polls. But to be fair, that is also due in part to his team’s decision to make their big push in the very final days of the campaign, which means all election polls including our own were completed before Wade’s major thrust was launched. For the record, we’re not sure that was the best strategy, but that’s another discussion.
What of the other candidates?
John Munro has spent more time condemning all the incumbents than setting out his own vision. He wants your vote because of his history as a federal politician with a track record of securing benefits for his city. He says he can be as effective at getting money from Ottawa and Queen’s Park now as he was then, but offers few specifics. And his style of hyper-aggressive, angry criticism is an unseemly throwback. Notwithstanding his commendable record of public service, Munro’s platform is more about what others have done wrong than what he’d do right.
Fred Eisenberger’s candidacy has been one of the few pleasant surprises of the campaign. Although he presents as somewhat aloof, Eisenberger is the most intellectual of the candidates. His policy ideas, such as offering taxpayers the option of speeding the cleanup of Hamilton Harbour if they’re willing to pay more for water, are creative and direct.
Perhaps because he was a dark-horse candidate from the start, he seems the most fearless. He is also the most individualistic, and that has a good and bad side. As mayor, he’d be less likely to take part in the sort of backroom cronyism and deal-making that have been such a part of Hamilton’s political culture on Morrow’s watch. But we wonder if his track record and personal style would limit his ability to bring the new council together, to build bridges and reach consensus.
In the end, Eisenberger’s strengths and weaknesses are, regrettably, academic. He has been hobbled by a relatively unsophisticated campaign organization and limited money. Much as he is eminently worth hearing and considering, it’s unlikely his message has been widely heard or understood. Eisenberger has a lot to offer and given his relative youth, we hope he remains in the public arena because he clearly has much to contribute.
In many ways, Bob Wade is Bob Morrow’s opposite. Morrow is smooth, fast on his feet and prone to rambling responses to direct questions. He frequently substitutes his well-honed politica l instincts for substantive discussion and policy. Wade is not as eloquent, but he’s not prone to overblown hyperbole and bluster, either. He’s calm, rational, thoughtful, reflective and focused.
These are qualities that can bring unity and productive action to the first government of the new City of Hamilton. And that’s why Bob Wade is the best choice for mayor. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, A1, 11/11/2000)