Entertainment and Sports

Big Bob Bratina

After 41 years in radio, Bob Bratina should be ready for retirement. So why did he dive into the cutthroat world of municipal politics?

By Kevin Somers
Published November 08, 2006

Considering how much of my money they get, I had never spoken to a politician until interviewing Brian McHattie for the last issue of Raise the Hammer. It was a positive experience, so I decided to try and track down Bob Bratina for this one.

Bratina, Ward 2 councillor and CHML morning man, agreed to meet and we convened at his City Hall office.

Because he's a councillor, I've often seen his mug shot in the paper or on an election sign. As a commuter, I know his voice; Bratina has been doing the morning gig at 900 CHML with Shiona Thompson for seven years and, although I never see a bus or billboard promotion, they enjoy top rating for the time slot.

While we were shaking hands, I was struck by how tall Bratina is; my imagination had put his familiar face and voice on a much smaller body. When I said so, Bratina replied, "I get that all the time."

We had just begun when he commented that it was unusual for me to be taking notes rather than recording. I find most interviews like slow pitch or Disney Land; not really real. Conversations unencumbered by a predetermined trajectory or recording device often provide a better insight.

Besides, I prefer simplicity and when I told Bob I was a Luddite, he smiled and said, "So am I." I generally like Luddites, so we were off to a good start.

Bratina was born in Hamilton and grew up in the east end. Blessed with an efficient mind, he remembers things said or written in fine detail. He also plays "about eight" musical instruments, and has "about twenty" at home.

When asked which one he preferred, he thought for a long time then said, "The piano, you can do more with it," and his hands took off playing air-piano.

Bratina also strikes me as having boundless energy and someone who thrives when things really get going. The walls of his office are covered with an eclectic collection of papers and pictures, which he jumped up to point out and discuss frequently.

He showed me a copy of an open letter to the mayor of Hamilton from 1956 decrying the conversion of King and Main from streets into one-way, four lane, super highways. We agreed that the tradition of automobiles trumping all else is longstanding in Hamilton, but is no longer valid. There's also a large map of ward 2 and Bratina talked about the varying characteristics and needs of every corner of his constituency.

Bratina has been in radio for 41 years, but two years ago, when he could having be thinking about leisure and retirement, jumped full-time into politics, where the battles are often fierce, personal, and dirty.

When I asked him why he bothered, he said, "I want to see a good outcome for the city," and spoke of a pivotal moment. While visiting Berlin, Prague, and Vienna he was struck by what a city could be: clean, efficient, beautiful, interesting, pedestrian, bike and life friendly; a place people were proud of. His hometown of Hamilton has the potential, so Bratina decided to fight for it.

Revitalizing the city must begin in the core and Bratina, like many of us, would like to see less sprawl and better use of the core. The suburbs reign right now and overcoming that mentality is formidable. Some of the clashes have been big and public with Bratina often in the thick of it all.

There are smaller fires to put out, as well, so the work is never ending, but Bratina is enjoying the experience and running for another term. Obviously grateful for an opportunity to do good and feed the machine, he smiled and said, "I like it because I'm learning all the time."

As every CHML listener knows, Bratina has a wry, wily sense of humour. When we were leaving his office, he pointed to a campaign poster for Richard M. Nixon that hangs on his wall. The caption at the bottom, below the smiling Dick, reads, "A vote for honest government." The irony was stark and rich and we laughed as we left Hamilton's City Hall.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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