Municipal Election 2006

Dresched to Kill

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 6, 2006

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.

Emotive Weasel Words

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".

The Big Upset

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.

Not Business As Usual

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.

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 rusty (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2006 at 14:21:19

The lack of substance in Drescels columns is startling. I recall an e-mail exchange I had with him during the last municipal election, when he referred to Mayoral candidate David Christopherson's arguments as being, 'more mist than clarity' I asked him what exactly he meant by this and his responses were equally vague.

I actually like Drescels style of 'reporting'. It reminds me of the British tabloid style - lots of quips and quirky phrases and most of all - saying what you mean. But he needs to be balanced out. A Jeff Mahoney or Bill Dunphy would almost certainly take a different tack and provide a good counterpoint.

It's interesting that the very approach used to formulate your blog - i.e. by tackling the argument, line by line - is one that is rarely used by Drescel himself. It's OK to say what you mean and say it with flair, but you need to build a coherent argument otherwise you're just making s**t up.

If there's anyone who is guilty of being 'more mist than clarity' it's Drescel himself.

Ben

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By Mike (registered) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 14:28:52

Let's hope the Greco signs signal change. Hamilton can't afford four more years of pie-in-the-sky job-killing, tree-hugging and high-taxes. Let's get the city out of the convention, entertainment, garbage, road maintenance, snow-ploughing and golf businesses and stop competing with tax-paying companies which can provide those services better and more efficiently. My vote goes to the barber! cheers, mike

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 15:05:26

Actually, the Greco signs signal the status quo....another city council 'yes-man' to vote the DiIanni line for more sprawl, urban decay, high taxes, poor services and oh yeah, most importantly - fattening the pockets of developers.

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By B (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 16:59:29

Greco is pro-decay? I didn't see that on his flyer.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 17:23:07

I'm sure you didn't see it on Terry's Cooke's old flyers or Marvin Caplan's. The fact is, anyone who caves into the sprawl development industry is instantly 'pro-decay' since it is urban tax dollars that subsidize sprawl. Obviously nobody campaigns on such a platform, but I really could care less about platforms (ie - lies). The reality is that we can simply look at the track record of everyone on council (and in past decades) and see quite easily where their priorities lie. Downtown and old Hamilton has seen hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from it's neighbourhoods (which, by most people's account could use investment) to subsidize stuff like Meadowlands and south Mountain sprawl. I can't help but be leary of a candidate running with the support of Terry Cooke, Marvin Caplan and others like them. Not because I think those guys are 'bad guys', but because they have a track record. A very clear, and uniformed track record. Like Ryan, I too have helped on Brian's campaign. Today was my last day going door to door and I was quite pleased with how positive people are responding to Brian. I chatted with 3 residents who were very undecided about who to vote for and simply asked them to name some of their priorities. In all 3 cases the results were similar - urban, streetfront retail districts being favoured over big box sprawl. Better means of getting around the city instead of just single occupancy cars. Poverty. The environment and human health (as one nice young woman told me - the media is crazy to portray an 'environmentalist' as someone who only cares about squirrels. It's about epidemics in cancer, obesity, respiratory disease etc...I was going to make this very point, especially after the knowledge I've gained during the past year while my wife successfully battled cancer, but she beat me to it). By the end of each conversation these folks were committed to voting for Brian and shocked that a councilor in Hamilton was actually fighting the sprawl industry and fighting for neighbourhoods. That's what people want. Not a 'Caplan-lite'.

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By King James (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 19:06:27

I don't know anything about the competition, but McHattie has certainly been a positive influence on council. It would be a shame to lose him, especially since Dave Braden won't be back next term.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 22:51:53

I thought Dreschel was being nice on this one, especially compared to some of the stuff he's written about Braden, where you can almost hear him frothing at the mouth.

I think that the boss got to him with a message not to be such an ass, hence the more passive-aggressive approach.

The "shock and awe" rapid deployment of Mr. Tony signs does not seem like a grassroots endeavour, rather an aggressive, orchestrated campaign tactic. I noticed one business originally with such signs, now sporting only those of McHattie.

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By Kath (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2006 at 22:59:08

Um read the column again. Just because Dreschel talks about there being a race, which there clearly is to anyone watching, doesn't mean he's anti-McHattie. He gives credit and criticism to both candidates, noting McHattie's intelligence, skills and trackrecord. Even McHattie himself has said he was surprised by Greco's campaign. You're reading your own bias into his words. Take another read and note he balances both candidates fairly.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 07, 2006 at 09:00:35

Ted, you're right...this piece was nothing like the Braden stuff he does. Let's see, the worst thing he says about Tony is that his speech is jumbled...well, isn't everyones? McHattie on the other hand is branded as a crazy socialist. To be specific - "smoked salmon socialist".

Now, if he had said Tony's support was among "mafia rich pasta eaters", I'd be fine. lol.

Hamilton's media always looks for chances to brand someone a nut-job lefty in order to knock down the vote count. In some cities that would be a compliment, but not here - and Dreschel knows it. It isn't just him...check out the recent CHML story about CAN being a 'left leaning citizens group'. The media doesn't care if that's not true, as long as people believe it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 07, 2006 at 09:56:42

Jason,

To be fair, Dreschel didn't call McHattie a "smoked salmon socialist". He called McHattie's voters "smoked salmon socialists". McHattie himself is "on the side of the lofty angels if not necessarily the grounded realists."

In Hamilton, being a "grounded realist" means doing what the chamber of commerce and the home builders association wants (this is also sometimes called being "politically feasible"), and never mind that the city's affairs are in terrible shape after decades of such "grounded realism" in city hall.

Pie-in-the-sky notions like creating healthy, safe, sustainable neighbourhoods are fine for the "lofty angels", but savvy insiders like Dreschel know that's simply not realistic. I mean, where's the margin for Losani and DeSantis?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 11, 2006 at 17:44:56

Apparently, some members of the Jewish community were offended by the 'smoked salmon socialists' crack and have been calling the Spectator. I am not surprised. The anti-semitic overtones were one of the first things that jumped out at me. I'm sure it was unintentional though. I googled 'smoked salmon socialist' and could find no anti-semitic references. It's actually an Irish term. Still, what an ass.

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By smoke this salmon (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 11:35:49

"smoked salmon socialists" could be a reference to lox, a Jewish dish of cold smoked salmon, usually served on bagels - http://www.jewishrecipes.org/jewish-foods/lox.html

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