Municipal Election 2006

Can't Buy Me Love

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 14, 2006

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.

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 oldcoote (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 10:33:52

Excellent post Ryan. My wife also volunteered for McHattie. I'm very happy to see him re-elected.

As for Eisenberger, I was surprised to see him win, and although I voted for him, I do believe it was more of an anti-Larry vote than a pro-Fred vote, as Dreschel suggested.

I'm looking forward to the next 4 years.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 11:07:21

I voted for Fred too. It was an anti-developer, pro-integrity vote.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 11:40:26

I think anytime a current politician gets beat it's partially a vote against him and for a new guy. In this case, the new guy didn't take union or corporate donations, so we know he can show up at work and just do his job. I'm very pleased with Hamiltonians not buying into this Spec crap that somehow Joanna Chapman was the 'bad one' in the whole donations court case. It's sad enough that she had to do all that and spend so much money to simply aid democracy. The province or each city should have auditers and ethics commissioners who check this stuff immediately.

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By (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 11:46:10

You know, not all business is bad. Business brings much needed jobs and money to the city. Business pays taxes - this helps to keep our property taxes down.

Yes, we have to control urban sprawl but lets WORK with the developers and business community not crap all over them - eventually we will NEED them...

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By Tony (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 12:09:50

Well, I hope everyone is happy. We are back to the Bob Morrow years of Hamilton. It was during Fred's watch that this city is what it is today.

These big bad developers are the ones that made Halton and Peel regions the leaders they are today while Hamilton went into a nosedive decay. Unfortunately, many residents of Hamilton cannot shake their underdog mentality. They want to back a looser because he does not support business. Ask yourself this question: Why are so many people leaving Hamilton to go to work? Like it or not, this is the modern world, more roads, more industrial parks. The days of downtown office buildings are gone, especially in a city like Hamilton.

Aside from complaining, I have never seen the "Anti-Sprawl" or "Anti-Development" groups ever put up money for any significant projects downtown. You can't sit on the sidelines and expect other people to change things.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 13:11:09

I think the comment "why do so many Hamiltonians have to leave this city to go to work everyday?" says it all - after 25 years of the DiIanni's, Cooke's, Wades and Caplans of the world we are worse off. Less jobs, while the Golden Horseshoe prospers. That's what I call continually voting for the losers.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 15:00:41

It's the underdog mentality that says Hamilton can only succeed with "more roads, more industrial parks". From this perspective, Hamilton just can't do better than reliance on roads for transportation and heavy industry for our economy.

The problem is that heavy industry has been in decline in Hamilton for years, with drastic consequences for some parts of downtown. I'm proud of the industry we have here, but we face tough times ahead if we rely on it for economic growth, with the growth of Asia's manufacturing sector especially.

Building roads has also not improved the lot of most of Hamilton's citizens, that I can see. The Linc helps me get to Carmen's a little quicker when there's a function I need to attend, but do we have hard numbers indicating what kind of economic benefit Hamilton has reaped from this roadway?

Hamilton would do better focusing on improving the quality of life in the city to attract new investment by quality companies, and it makes more sense to look to the future for economic growth: technology, education and biosciences are all areas that the city already excels in.

Look at the remarkable success of Research in Motion, based in little Waterloo. Are you telling me Hamilton can't attract businesses like RIM? I come across Hamilton businesses every day in the technology and design sector that are poised to be world-beaters, a rise that would be easier with a little more help from the city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 15:45:28

you're right on.

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By tybalt (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 15:52:57

The problem is not business but property speculation - making money by buying farmland cheap, getting it rezoned, building sprawl houses on it, and getting the city to provide you with essential infrastructure to service the sprawl houses you built.

Exactly, and the key to that statement is that speculation isn't business. When the city controls its development policy (i.e. the dog wags the tail) development occurs in a way (and at a pace) that benefits the city as a whole. When developers control city development policy (i.e. the tail wags the dog) the developers ensure that they benefit first.

It's not anti-business to want to eliminate the power developers have over City Hall. In fact, it's pro-business... because existing businesses in the city will benefit from development priorities that take their needs into account. Mega-project greenfield development lines the pockets of the few businesses (often ones that don't exist yet) at the expense of the many businesses in the city, each of which is hurt everytime a giant new far-flung suburb-and-big-box development is created.

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By tybalt (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 15:58:34

As far as "businesses like RIM" go, though, businesses like RIM aren't attracted. They are created. RIM wasn't "attracted" to Waterloo, it was born in Waterloo. And it was born there because Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge have forward-looking growth plans that embrace the broad base of technical knowledge at their local universities.

Successive Hamilton mayors and councils have spent too much time trying to create megadevelopments and lure megaprojects to Hamilton, when what the city needs is more business growth. The city's never done one iota for helping IT businesses grow... what Braden said about the city's relationship with McMaster is right on. We would have been (and still can be) a biotech leader with the right kind of government involvement!

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 16:02:01

From the Globe and Mail:

"Canada's manufacturers are turning up the heat on Ottawa to help them out of their deep economic troubles, but the wish list is surprisingly timid given the extent of their woes.

That's probably because there's little that the federal government can do about the underlying cause of most of their troubles, economists say."


"Manufacturing in most developed countries has been under intense pressure for the past few years because of the rise of cheaper competition in China, but Canada faces some unique issues, Mr. Porter said. In the short term, Canada is particularly exposed to the slowdown in the U.S. economy, he said. In the medium term, the quick appreciation of the Canadian dollar is a serious issue other countries' manufacturers don't have, he added."

Why not invest more in local businesses that are not as vulnerable to these issues? Jack Santa-Barbara's piece on Community Economic Development makes a compelling case:

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 16:07:42

Tybalt, I completely agree re. RIM. Note that I said (that was my anonymous comment above) that:

"I come across Hamilton businesses every day in the technology and design sector that are poised to be world-beaters, a rise that would be easier with a little more help from the city."

I'll give you a concrete example: Factor[e] Design Initiative on James Street ( This small design studio is booming and it does business with some very large companies in North America and Europe. They are poised to grow quickly and with the right incentives it could be a lot easier for them.

If the hundreds of millions that have been spent on bailing out big corporations and building megaprojects in this city were diverted to companies that are already humming along - companies that are the future of our economy, not the past - we could see great things in this city. We already are.

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By tybalt (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 16:27:14

Thanks, Adrian.

Anyway, on the more general topic of business growth, none of these strategies work unless there is one key factor in place... the city must be a pleasant place in which to live, and a pleasant place in which to work. Unless and until Hamilton can make strides on that part of the equation, it will not experience growth. From a regional point of view, Hamilton is perfectly placed to provide a great quality of life to its citizens. It falls short of doing that, but that can be remedied with careful attention to the factors that drive the image of a city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 16:42:26

I nominate Tybalt to be head of our Economic Development Corporation under Eisenberger. You're bang on. nobody is anti-business. Believe me, the builders and developers will still make tons of money building new projects in this city....speculation is the killer. They make so much on that, it's insane. And the harm it does to the city and city coffers is insane. Balance urban and suburban taxes and completely close off the urban boundary for the next 30 or 40 years. What what will happen. The builders, developers and retailers will start re-inventing streets like they have in Montreal, Toronto and Portland. New projects with an urban feel with be built as the city implements design guidelines and pedestrian-friendly guidelines to manage new growth so we don't get big box crap in the urban lower city (too late for Centre Mall by the sounds of it). I have no problem with businesses making money. I just hate how city hall has chosen a select few to make gobs of it, and told the thousands of business/property owners on King, Main, York, Cannon, Barton, Parkdale and Kenilworth that they don't matter. The fact is, they are the future of our city. Not paving over more quality farmland.

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By Thanks (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 17:36:44

This is a great discussion to come upon after being upset by one of Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel's comments about Eisenberger today:
"Though he's seen in some quarters as environmentally greener than Di Ianni, it's important to remember one of Eisenberger's other campaign promises is to run the city like a business."
He makes it sound as though being "green" and being business-like are somehow at odds with each other.
Glad to see not everyone's convinced of this!
Let's make sure our council (and columnists) know it too.
Thanks for the great discourse!!!

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 19:13:08

if you can change Dreschel's mind you deserve a medal or something. Either that or you're a world-class hypnotist.

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By sitting in a tree (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2006 at 10:02:01

Jeez, did you see Andrew Dreschel's love letter to DiIanni in today's speculator? C'mon guys, go rent a hotel room!

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By voter (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2006 at 12:38:14

I'm cautiously optimistic that this election is, really, the beginning of change in Hamilton. I changed my vote after reading Raise The Hammer blogs the day of the election. I had planned to vote for one of the "smaller" candidates agreeing with many of his opinions. But it was evident to me while reading the RTH blog that Eisenberger might actually defeat DiIanni, and so I voted for him, though I'm not sure how different his policies are from DiIanni's.

Eisenberger narrowly defeated DiIanni, but DiIanni lost the election by more than 10,000 votes, including those that went other candidates. I think it's important to recognize that. Many of them were protest votes.

I'd like to suggest that the vote against DiIanni was more a vote against incompetence than corruption. DiIanni could have made the campaign contributions scandal go away very easily and early in his administration's tenure simply by distancing himself from management of his campaign. Instead he chose to vilify Joanna Chapman. DiIanni needed to re-unite the city after pushing through the Red Hill Creek Expressway, but failed to do so, at times appearing mean spirited and vindictive when dealing with protesters. DiIanni could have had a major downtown development to crow about in this past election, but instead decided to tear down, rather than re-build, the Lister Block, which is now still the eyesore it was when he was first elected. DiIanni fumbled uncertainly when Counsellor Mitchell tried to use his influence to escape a traffic ticket. Clearly censure by city council was the thing to do, or risk spreading the idea that city police were corrupt.

This list goes on and on, but the point is that misdeeds reflected the lack of any skill at advancing economic development in the current business climate. Instead council fell back on the standard procedure: when X doesn't work, apply a bigger dose. When expressways did not deliver economic prosperity through the last three decades, the problem cure is to "complete the system" and build more. If this had worked, DiIanni might still be mayor, but no new industry has expressed serious interest in appearing at the end of his rainbow. Only Maple Leaf Foods made inquiries, and quickly reconsidered given international economic conditions (the Canadian dollar rose.)

Mostly, DiIanni made the mistake of believing his own press. He had the business money and the only paper in town behind him, so how could he lose.

I believe Eisenberger discovered, part way through the election that this was no longer a single medium town and that the motly collection of disaffected lefties that no-longer valued the opinions of the Spectator editorial board composed a significant and growing communications sector. I believe that he shifted his campaign strategy and ideas to appeal to that sector part way through his campaign. And it worked. Just enough for him to narrowly win. I am pleased with that.

I'm hoping that the guy who was competent enough to see this change in community communications will be sharp enough to support the tenuous growth that these media represent during his tenure at city hall. I despair that large local business institutions may have yet to discover that cities and city-building have changed in recent decades, and that new challenges require new solutions, even new businesses.

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