Mayor Fred Could Take a Page from Di Ianni Style

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 13, 2009

If you've been following my comments about Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, you'll know that I tend to think he's a good guy who mostly has the right ideas about what Hamilton needs but is constriained by the Canadian "Weak Mayor" system in which the Mayor is only a single vote in Council.

Yet given this constraint, there's a lot to be said for the ability to work the system within its confines.

It's just bizarre to me that Mayor Eisenberger made no vocal defence of the City Hall glass lobby proposal during Wednesday's meeting, observed the other members of council vociferously trashing it, and then meekly voted to support it against the overwhelming opposition of all his peers.

This sort of behaviour really makes him look ineffectual - not merely because he can't get council to vote along with him (which is bad enough) but more importantly because it makes him appear completely out of touch.

A similar thing happened when he proposed naturalization of the Linc/RHVP median and couldn't muster up even one member of council to second his motion.

Why isn't the Mayor doing his homework with the other councillors? Eisenberger could learn from former Mayor Larry Di Ianni's policy of sitting down with each councillor before pushing an issue to find out a) whether he had the numbers to move ahead with an initiative, or b) whether enough holdouts could be shifted to squeeze out a win that a contentious initiative was worth pursuing.

I would also argue that Eisenberger should be doing a lot more direct outreach with the community - and bypass the mainstream media the way he did during his sleeper election campaign - so that the other members of council face increased and more organized public pressure to pass more of his progressive legislative agenda.

As US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of the sweeping New Deal reforms that arguably ushered in the middle-class postwar era, famously said to community organizer Saul Alinsky, "Okay, you've convinced me. Now go on out and bring pressure on me!"

Instead, Mayor Fred is mostly silent (I'd say I receive at least ten press releases from Councillor Sam Merulla for each press release I get from the Mayor's office), and then comes across as somewhat haphazard and arbitrary in the causes he promotes.

Again, I think he's a decent, honest guy, has a generally sound understanding of urban policy and is quite good at doing the behind-the-scenes work with staff and other governance bodies (like the federal government) that is helping lay the groundwork for his progressive agenda.

For example, he is encouraging the city to come around gradually to provincial definitions about the size and scope of the Airport Employment Growth District. A stubborn refusal to play by provincial rules could cost us a lot in provincial support for our growth plans, so this is crucial to our long-term economic viability.

However, the public gets to see little of that. Without the political savvy to manage unwieldy meetings and squeeze majority support out of our fractious council on more issues, what remains is a perception that he just can't lead.

That's unfortunate, because I think he does represent a real improvement in net terms on the previous term. Di Ianni was fairly effective at getting council to do what they were pretty much going to do anyway. Eisenberger, by contrast, has had at least sporadic success at moving council out of its status quo legislative comfort zone.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted February 13, 2009 at 13:25:59


That's Hamilton, get used to it.

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By Six (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2009 at 13:55:34

You've a point. A little discussion before hand would also have allowed Mayor Fred to hear what others have to say: there was too little wow in that wow factor to carry the idea. I think that was evident from the discussions here on RTH. In other words, a little less leadership and a little more consultation and representation might have saved Mayor Fred a major embarrassment.

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By Concern (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2009 at 20:18:02

Mayor Fred is a honest man and stands for what he believes in. I don't see it as a negative. At least if he loses the next election he'll know that he didn't compromise his values, beliefs and integrity. His problem is his staffers, he needs them to sell his ideas, he is only one person. He has rookies on board. I had such tremendously high hopes and then I saw who he picked for staff.

Unfortunately, he is out of his league with the likes of some of the councillors. He's too honest, good and non-confrontational. It is like herding cats with this group, they are there for themselves only. It is nice to have continuity but sometimes I firmly believe there should be caps on Council terms.

I've heard many times one councillor always refering to his time in the private sector and then heard (whether or not true) he was a blockbuster video store manager, come on, give me a break the City is a $1.2 billion corporation not a video store.

One that has been nothing but a politician who worked for a former politican. All he does is repeat things that others say and use the word "context" in every sentence.

One is a glorified disc jockey that is very parochial and lives in the past.

One is totally arrogant and believe he knows more than anyone else and "has been there done that" because he was a provincial politician.

One is a washed up construction guy. One has been around since the beginning of time. One is a total loud mouth, only about himself and a career politician.

How can we let these people make decisions on our behalf, how can we pay them to do so? It is sad.

Ryan, please don't hold DiIanni up to the light even though he is backing a downtown project. He was/is not good for this city in my opinion (and the voters).

Everyday I become more disillusioned and have considered moving, Sadly, I'm not sure if it is better anywhere else. If I could afford the pay cut I would run in the next election. My problem is that I'd put the good of the City before my ward. At least we have Fred, Dave, Russ, Margaret, Maria, Brian, Scott, Tom and Rob. They are not perfect but at least make sense most of the time.

Hopefully, 2010 brings a major shake up to restore our faith.

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By SaneIthink (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2009 at 09:00:19

Concern should leave town if he is that unhappy. In the last election Hamiltonians chose mediocherity over action. And if people bothered to check the record theyd probably see that. All the bellyaching in the world or asking fred to do this or that wond' change the fact he just dosesnt seem to have the ability to get anything done. he never had a job in his life before this one having failed at everything before what made us think he could do it now.

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By H Magazine (registered) | Posted February 14, 2009 at 11:30:01

For those unhappy with the current council and the direction that the city is going in....please consider attending the talk we are planning with the Guelph Civic League on March 19th (location TBA). These folks helped to oust the last bad gov't in that city. They worked hard to get citizens engaged with their city and will tell us how we may be able to do the same. Less than two years until the next election...what kind of city do want to live in?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2009 at 15:48:15

as bad as this council is, I'd still take it over the previous council. Hopefully we can actually see more change across the board in the next election. We desperately need it.

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By Historian (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2009 at 05:14:29

Ryan, did you know that Saul Alinsky spoke to the old Left Labour Caucus in the Rainbow Room back sometime about the mid sixties? I believe that he was with the UAW then and was the guest in Hamilton of Harry Greenwood,
an icon and the best Labour official of the last half century.

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By Lucky7 (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2009 at 08:39:59

I will have to take the author at his word that Fred has 'the right ideas'. One certainly can't get the sense of these ideas from watching the mayor's laconic presentations either in person as I have done several times or on television. I'd say rather than inspring confidence this mayor puts one in a trance. Hamilton can do better and deserves better.

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