Municipal Election 2006

Narrow Vision

Between the cult of predestination in the city's main newspaper and the deafening silence of some candidates, it's difficult for voters to make informed decisions.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 06, 2006

After Dave Braden withdrew his candidacy for Mayor, I agonized that there would no longer be much in the way of choice from which voters can choose.

Normally, the last minute consolidation that takes place in municipal elections sees high-profile candidates with similar platforms pool their resources after the less popular candidates withdraw; in this case, the one high-profile candidate with an alternative platform dropped out while the two candidates with similar platforms stayed in the race.

However, this election is not just a contest between incumbent Larry Di Ianni and challenger Fred Eisenberger. Another five candidates - Michael Baldasaro, Diane Elms, Steve Leach, Gino Speziale, and Martin S. Zuliniak - are also running, and perhaps one or more can step into the breach and offer a real alternative.

Raise the Hammer sent the following question to the mayoral challengers:

What distinguishes your platform from Di Ianni's? What specific policies do you advocate that offer a real alternative to that of the incumbent?

By our publication deadline early Friday morning, exactly two of the six challengers had taken up our offer to explain what they stand for.

Diane Elms replied in detail with an essay on two main differences between her platform from Di Ianni's, and Steve Leach sent a brief reply that referred us to his website. (Steve Leach is not related to RTH contributor Jason Leach.)

While this may make for easier campaign reporting on the part of your humble editor, it does not bode well for the quality of the campaign itself.

Diane Elms

In her reply, Elms argued that her candidacy differs in her "approaches to leadership and to fiscal responsibility."

Leadership

Elms believes Hamilton should be turning to its citizens for solutions to city problems, not "more studies and consultants." The mayor "should be someone who listens to the people" and takes their ideas to city staff; and who also communicates "expert information from city employees back to the people." Elms believes the current state of city council meetings is "the total opposite."

Elms further believes the mayor should not have a "personal agenda" but should be focused on what is good for the entire city. She questions why the mayor's office needs a $900,000 annual budget, and asks why the city pays $486,443,000 in city employee wages "if the mayor cannot trust their knowledge and information".

Fiscal Responsibility

Elms also raised concerns about the city's "enormous debt load", which totals over $3 billion. She identified the Red Hill Valley Expressway as a major component of that debt, and argues that the city "cannot get involved in any, and I mean any, new major projects until we get our house in order [emphasis in original]."

She points out that the city cannot even meet its infrastructure commitments in existing neighbourhoods. The property tax base must keep the city running and pay for new projects; taxes "are never going to decrease unless drastic change happens."

Elms also suggests that a candidate's "past and present campaign spending habits" indicate how that candidate will manage the city's finances as well. "You cannot spend what you don't have. That is the simple truth."

Steve Leach

Leach did not reply directly to RTH but referred us to his website. The following is taken from the section of his website titled, "What I Promise."

Smart Transit

Leach wants to increase public transit usage without "increas[ing] the density of our existing residential neighbourhoods against the will of these communities" through infill. He believes "people move into their peaceful, low-denisty neighbourhoods for a reason" and deserve to preserve the neighbourhood character.

Instead, he advocates ensuring that new residential developments "include transit friendly portions." He would also permit "strategically-located communities to decide, democratically, whether or not they wish to be car or transit centred."

For communities that choose to be car centred, Leach would "vigorously enforce" density by-laws so residents can "enjoy the kind of peaceful, suburban lifestyle they bargained for." For transit centred communities, he would work to provide to those residents "the kind of amenities and conveniences" that people who choose high-quality density expect.

He also wants to restore electric trolley buses to Hamilton.

Tree Planting

Leach points out that Hamiltonians have identified tree planting as "the single project that could make Hamilton great," and wants to "give Hamilton the greatest tree cover of any Canadian city of its size." Toward this end, Leach advocates moving Hamilton's aerial electrical grid underground.

Planning

Leach calls the past 30 years "a sort of dark age" for urban planning, arguing that real estate developers have had free rein. Leach decries what he calls "fragmented development," where each new building project is "divorced form its surroundings." He believes this leads to "weak communities."

He believes Hamilton should stop trying to lure business with "expensive infrastructure improvements" and instead "focus on the basics: building a community in which people really, really want to live."

Cooperative Development

Leach believes urban revitalization is impeded because each individual property owner has little incentive to improve a run-down building if its neighbours aren't being improved at the same time. He wants to "end this vicious circle" by facilitating "cooperative redevelopment" where entire neighbourhoods decide to renovate their properties at the same time.

He also believes an cooperative approach can help Hamilton's manufacturing sector, which is beset by high commodity prices, competition from cheap imports, and competition among themselves. Leach wants to "gather groups of local businesses together, and help them organize, to jointly develop new products and markets."

Digging for Alternatives

So there you have it. The other candidates - Eisenberger, Baldasaro, Speziale, and Zuliniak - did not return our inquiries. Brother Baldasaro, of course, is the perennial candidate, and seems to register his candidacy mainly for a lark. We can only guess at what the other candidates believe and advocate.

It's easy to criticize mainstream media outlets like the Hamilton Spectator for deciding early on which candidates to take seriously and which to ignore.

In the case of Diane Elms, who appears eager to share her ideas, and of Steve Leach, who at least acknowledged our query and has made his platform available, this charge appears valid. The Spec makes a self-fulfilling prophecy when it decides to ignore them.

That is a great discredit not only to the candidates themselves, but also to voters, who deserve real alternatives in a democracy and depend on the newsmedia to help them make informed political decisions.

However, for the other candidates, who don't appear to have websites and who won't respond to media inquiries, they have only themselves to blame when election day arrives and voters don't have a clue who they are.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2006 at 21:20:50

So Mr. Leach would like to bury Hamilton's power lines (yeah no sweat) then go string up more lines for streetcars. I don't get it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 06, 2006 at 23:58:06

enforce low density bylaws??? I don't think that's really necessary. Take a look around....I didn't realize Upper James or Golf Links Road were considered 'peaceful, tranquil' boulevards.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted October 11, 2006 at 18:57:12

who on earth will i vote for?? is hamilton in such dire straits that best we can get in the way of candidates is diianni and eisenberger? i'll vote for neither. i just can't decide whether to vote for the woman i've never heard of, the pot smoker or the dude who wants to bury everything...low density bylaws?? who comes up with this stuff? i'm also sick of the spec and will no longer support that rag. that is all.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2006 at 12:42:56

i'd like to elaborate on what i said yesterday. when i spoke of hamilton being in dire straits i speak only of its financial state and its leadership, not an overall state of being. never have i been more excited about hamilton's future than i am today...but where are all these young, intelligent, forward-thinking activists that have evolved in recent years? is there no one that will step up and give us someone to vote for? i guess it's the money. hell, i'd fire a few bucks at a good candidate. throw me a bone here!

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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 13, 2006 at 14:46:00

You may be surprised by the quality of the vision the 'pot smoker' has for this city. I know I was surprised. This might come out in the next issue of RTH.

Let me put it this way: I bet you could do a hell of a lot worse than Mr. Baldasaro for mayor. And in fact we probably will.

I'm willing to bet, for example, that Mr. Baldasaro would have thought about the people going hungry in Hamilton before he was swayed by the moneyed interests in the city who support new subdivisions on prime agricultural land.

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By citizen (registered) | Posted November 11, 2006 at 01:16:41

Adrian,

It's a shame that Mr. Baldasaro presents himself in such an unelectable manor. The man is informed and lucid, he is just unable, or unwilling to present himself in an electable form --it must be all that pot--.

I honestly thought I needed to go home and have a shower after seeing Di Ianni at a debate.

I like Leach's idea of burying hydro lines, but it's really not a priority, nor do we have the money for it.

We good do worse than having Eisenberger as our new mayor.

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