It may be the first time in living memory that a mayor of Hamilton was elected without the financial and institutional backing of local industry. Larry Di Ianni, who amassed a $200,000 war chest, lost by a squeaker to Fred Eisenberger, who ran on a thrifty platform of integrity and accountability and refused to accept corporate or union donations.
The pundits will sift the sand and shake the bones in their efforts to discern just why Eisenberger won - or why Di Ianni lost - but one thing is certain: the wads of money provided by the DeSantis family and LIUNA were not enough to get their candidate elected this time.
Neither was the slavering endorsement of the city's only daily newspaper, which appeared stunned at the results. Last night, the Hamilton Spectator offered a peek behind the curtain when its breaking news featured an article titled, "It's Eisenberger in upset victory" with no accompanying text (apparently they were speechless).
The description on the link to the article read, "Favourite incumbent Larry Di Ianni lost in a historic upset tonight. The final count at 10 p.m. was 54,110 for Eisenberger and 53,658 for Di Ianni."
Um, whose favourite? Not the voters', apparently.
My own favourite nugget in today's Spec coverage was the article by Wade Hemsworth and Eric McGuinness in which they wrote, "[Terry] Whitehead said Di Ianni probably went down in defeat due to the campaign financing issue created by Dundas bookseller, Joanna Chapman."
Newsflash: Joanna Chapman did not "create" the campaign financing issue: Larry Di Ianni did when he broke the law. Chapman just happened to notice it after John Milton posted an article on Hamilton Indymedia that broke the news in 2004, several weeks before the Spec noticed. The Spec's policy of blaming the whistleblower did not work this time.
It remains to be seen whether Eisenberger will keep his promise to rein in sprawl, promote smart growth, create a bus rapid transit system, redevelop the city's brownfields, and promote waterfront development and the arts as part of "a broader city renaissance". However, one thing is clear: Eisenberger is not beholden to the usual suspects who have been managing this town for years.
One more thing: Di Ianni has never been dishonest about what he stands for. He is an avowed champion of sprawl development, highways, and air transport. If he was re-elected, groups like Raise the Hammer would be in the uncomfortable position of trying to persuade him not to do what he promised.
With Eisenberger, we will be in the much more comfortable position of trying to persuade him to keep his promises.
Another developer-funded campaign that failed to deliver was "Mr." Tony Greco's campaign against incumbent Brian McHattie for ward 1. McHattie, who by nearly all accounts has done a tremendous job of balancing the need to respond to local community issues as well as larger city-wide planning, defeated Greco two to one in yesterday's vote, despite Greco's slick, well-funded campaign.
Greco received $750 from LIUNA Local 837 and $500 from Cooke Capital Management, Terry Cooke's company, among other corporate and individual donations. He was able to afford a blitz of glossy lawn signs, a mass mailout of campaign flyers, and even a professional robo-call system asking voters to support him. He also boasted endorsements by Cooke, former ward 1 councillor Marvin Caplan, who McHattie defeated in 2003 and who seems to have nursed a grudge ever since, and former Westdale alderman Mary Kiss.
McHattie, by contrast, continued his 2003 policy of refusing corporate or union donations, and relied instead on over 50 volunteers to go door to door (I was one of those volunteers). An attempted smear job by Spec columnist Andrew Dreschel seems to have backfired, as it offended many undecided voters with insults about "smoked salmon socialists" even as it galvanized McHattie's supporters.
This may be the beginning of an historic era in Hamilton, a time when the city can finally shake off the dead weight of its parasitic property speculators and start functioning as a city again, not a playground for greenfield developers.
Finally, for those who followed the campaigns and participated by voting, this is not the end of citizen engagement but the beginning. No matter who sits in the mayor's chair, this city needs the steady guidance, constructive criticism, and justified praise of an engaged public to make real strides toward revitalization.
Eisenberger and the councillors will be under constant pressure from the Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association, and their assorted hangers-on to maintain the kind of business as usual that has made them so wealthy.
The nascent democratic institutions starting to spring up in Hamilton - groups like Citizens at City Hall, Hamilton Community Action Network, Hamiltonians for Progressive Development, and Raise the Hammer - need to get organized, reach out further to engage the public, and keep the pressure on our elected leaders to resist inertia and move this city forward.
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