Last week, it was his defence of the Spectator's policy of ignoring "fringe candidates"; this week, it's a smear job against Brian McHattie. Yes, folks, Andrew Dreschel, Hamilton's Court Scribe, is at it again in the pre-election crunch, hamming it up for the powers that be.
Before I go any farther, let me put my own cards on the table: RTH is not endorsing candidates, but I personally support Brian McHattie for ward 1. I think he's doing a tremendous job as a progressive councillor trying to do good work in a regressive city structure that is geared to deliver a friendly environment to developers.
His style is unfailingly polite, respectful, and non-confrontational. Instead of the vicious, brass-knuckle fighting that normally characterizes political struggle, McHattie tries to persuade people to look at problems differently.
He works closely with the three community councils in his ward and always attends their meetings. He doesn't dominate them or force his will upon the residents of Ward 1, but explains the issues as well as he can and then listens closely to his constituents.
McHattie is sometimes criticized for not coming down harder on those nefarious university students who have been in the news so much of late, but he recognizes that the issue is complex and that any solution that actually works is going to have to accommodate some conflicting interests. That means taking it step-by-step and working closely with the various parties, not simply beating on the students.
Futher, McHattie accepted no corporate or union donations for his 2003 campaign, and is accepting none for this one. That leaves him at a strategic disadvantage, because he simply has fewer material resources than an opponent who receives donations from corporations that don't like Brian's kind of oversight or accountability.
That means his signs are smaller and arrive more slowly. It means his campaign depends on volunteer organizers and canvassers (I am one of those volunteers) instead of mass mailouts. It means he doesn't get the benefit of shout-outs from the mayor, accolades from the city newspaper, or celebrity endorsements from local businesspeople and ex-politicians.
It means he has to deal with smear jobs by Andrew Dreschel, who has criticized McHattie almost continuously for the past three years (with one notable exception - more on this below).
Dreschel is highly skilled in the use of weasel words to drive home his views without presenting much in the way of evidence or even a clear argument, and his chops are on full display in today's column. Dreschel tries to nudge the reader toward his point of view through the use of connotation. Emotive words beat neutral words, and neutral words get a bump with emotive adverbs and adjectives.
Today's attack is nothing if not sophisticated. Dreschel jumps in by claiming that the signs for Tony Greco are "everywhere," Greco's campaign is "exceptionally strong," and McHattie is "running scared."
He goes on: McHattie is a "rookie incumbent" who "uncharacteristically fired off a flurry of media advisories" as a way of "tooting his own horn" last week. The timing was "convenient if not desperate" [emphasis added].
No one has actually polled ward 1 residents, but "Greco himself thinks he's neck and neck with McHattie", and that's good enough for Dreschel, who calls this "probably a fair assessment" after acknowledging he has no information on voter preferences.
In the absence of any such data, Dreschel cites "conventional wisdom" to determine that Greco has "strength on the ground" and a "depth of support in the community".
Dreschel suggests "there could be a big upset in the making" on election day. In fact, McHattie's presence on council is the "big upset", and a Greco victory would restore the status quo of business-friendly councillors giving the Chamber of Commerce and the Home Builders Association just what they want.
Dreschel denigrates the kinds of people who would support McHattie, calling them "smoked salmon socialists" and saying McHattie is "usually on the side of the lofty angels if not necessarily the grounded realists."
He doesn't need to mention whether those "grounded realists" include people like Dreschel himself, who, to take a single example, has long advocated the LIUNA plan to demolish and rebuild the Lister. Dreschel has never missed an opportunity to denigrate the building, calling it "the eyesore in the core", "the derelict downtown landmark", "skid-row building", and "a canker on the core's already scarred skin".
Back in April, Dreschel called the upcoming council vote on LIUNA's demolition plan "the moment of truth between purists and pragmatists."
Dreschel has long maintained that there was no way to preserve the Lister Block and that McHattie was "open[ing] a can of worms" trying to save the building by appealing to the Ontario Government.
Suddenly, the "can of worms" that McHattie's appeal to the "lofty angels" opened has produced a resolution that gives the preservationists a restored building, gives the investors an economically viable business plan, lets Council save face by avoiding an embarrassing provincial designation order, and even saves the city some money.
Even Dreschel had to acknowledge that the new deal looks good, although he stopped short of admitting that his "pragmatism" and "realism" turned out to be neither.
Agreements like the new Lister deal are definitely not business as usual in Hamilton, a city where no quarter is asked, and none given. This is also why I respect McHattie's politics so much: he not only has a different idea of how the city should develop, but also a different idea of how the city should conduct its business.
McHattie offers the best response to bullying: not cowering in fear, not bullying back, but a quiet, dignified appeal to the better nature of his opponents, an ongoing challenge to find ways to work together and solve problems instead of forcing stubborn confrontations.
It's no wonder some of Hamilton's powerbrokers want to see him lose.
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