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.
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