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By Rob (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2012 at 11:30:59

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Home > News > Local > Is Merulla Hamilton’s shadow mayor?

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Andrew Dreschel Fri May 18 2012 2 10 Recommend
Is Merulla Hamilton’s shadow mayor?

MERULLA In the absence of strong political leadership from Mayor Bob Bratina, Andrew Dreschel writes, it looks as if Sam Merulla may be fulfilling the role of shadow mayor.
Hamilton Spectator file photo
On the previous city council, it was Tom Jackson who stepped up to compensate for Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s ceremonial and directional deficiencies, particularly during his unsteady early days.

This time around, in the absence of strong political leadership from Mayor Bob Bratina, it looks as if Sam Merulla may be fulfilling the role of shadow mayor.

While Bratina is consistently missing in action on the council floor, Merulla is increasingly taking a leading part in setting the agenda with motions, proposals, and initiatives.

To be sure, council as a whole is co-operating like never before in order to fill the vacuum left by Bratina, whose shaky ability to move the yardsticks was further undermined by the Peggygate scandal.

But it’s doubtful whether any other councillor can rival Merulla’s rushing record.

From the HECFI audit and privatization option to censuring Bratina for his nose-stretching comments on the controversial pay hike to his chief of staff, it was Merulla who led the damn-the-torpedoes attack.

This week he came out swinging against provincial cuts to Ontario Works benefits, a followup foray to his motion calling on the premier to impose a moratorium on the plan.

Last week he won support for an air quality task force to probe pollution in industrial neighbourhoods.

His successful push to expropriate the crime-ridden City Motor Hotel came on the heels of his drive for a hotel/motel licensing bylaw.

And he’s taken a leading role in support of more open and transparent government.

It was Merulla’s motion to make public the cost of the Red Hill Valley Parkway lawsuit.

It was Merulla who picked up on the suggestion from the Ontario ombudsman to record in camera meetings to simplify potential investigations.

The downloading weight, the infrastructure millstone. His fight card goes on and on.

Make no mistake, the Ward 4 east end councillor hasn’t suddenly turned into a statesman.

Approaching his 12th year on the job, Merulla is as brash, showy and, arguably, unruly as ever. At times he even seems manic. By his own admission, his emotions sometimes “get the best” of him.

But the weaker the mayor, the greater the scope for individual councillors to have an impact.

Personally, Merulla doesn’t think he’s doing anything differently than in the past.

“I’ve always struck my neck out on any issue I believe in, regardless of what the repercussions might be.”

He does, however, think it’s easier to advance social causes these days because of a swing to the left on council and in the community — at least in the inner city where the provincial and federal New Democrats reign supreme.

Still, there’s no question that in the face of Bratina’s bunkered and controlling style, the 24/7 media savvy Merulla has become the go-to spokesperson on almost any city issue.

Legislatively, he isn’t permitted to speak on behalf of the city, but he’s always willing to speak his mind.

Frankly, it’s an open question whether Bratina would have been censured if Merulla hadn’t come out so strong and fast against the mayor’s duplicity.

As one reader said to me, “He’s the only one who had the balls.”

Bratina may have little sway on council, but he can intimidate some. Merulla isn’t one of them. He’s never afraid to mix it up. He can’t be buffaloed and he’s always ready to ramp it to the next level.

So, is taking on Bratina for the mayor’s chair in his cards?

People have suggested he should run, but the problem is he doesn’t want the job. “It’s simply not in me.”

Probably wise. His name recognition may be second to none, but Merulla is a quintessential inner city councillor who’d gain little traction in the affluent enclaves of Ancaster and Flamborough.

Besides, he clearly doesn’t need to run against Bratina to overshadow him politically.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. 905-526-3495

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