One Year Later: Eisenberger' Mayoralty So Far

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 16, 2007

On the first anniversary of Fred Eisenberger's election as Mayor of Hamilton, Spec City Hall columnist Nicole MacIntyre asks her Hall Marks readers to share their opinions about how Eisenberger is doing so far.

Inevitably, the comments turn mostly around comparisons between Eisenberger and former Mayor Larry Di Ianni, who had a very different leadership style. Since Eisenberger was elected partially because he's not Di Ianni, it simply makes sense to compare the results of the two mayors in the context of their their respective leadership styles.

Di Ianni: With Him or Against Him

Di Ianni had fixed positions on the major issues facing the city and wasn't prepared to brook dissent over those positions. He was arcane in his dealings and unyielding in his political battles.

Consider as an example the contentious Aerotropolis boundary expansion, which was included by default in all six GRIDS long-term planning proposals.

When I asked Di Ianni why Hamiltonians weren't allowed even to consider a future without Aerotropolis, he answered that "it wouldn't be honest" because he had no intention of not proceeding with it.

I asked why the city had to expand the boundary before conducting the studies on whether it's a good idea to expand the boundary, and he answered, "My hunch is that it's desirable; otherwise, we wouldn't even have launched the studies."

It took an OMB appeal by Hamiltonians for Progressive Development and the Ontario government to get the horse back in front of the cart on that issue.

This was characteristic of Di Ianni's leadership style, which tended to split the city into a false dichotomy of supporters and obstructionists.

When I asked Di Ianni about peak oil, he dismissed it as fearmongering and insisted it would not affect the future viability of expressway- and airport-oriented economic development.

(Just a couple of years later, oil futures are trading for nearly $100 a barrel and oil industry analysts warn that prices are only going to keep getting higher and more volatile as global production rates strain to meet growing demand.)

Quite simply, the old assumptions don't work any more, but Di Ianni was unwilling to rethink development business as usual.

This may have been strong leadership on Di Ianni's part, but it's not necessarily the kind of leadership Hamilton needs as it struggles with economic and ecological problems that represent a genuine discontinuity with the previous century of cheap energy, abundant land and steady outward growth.

Eisenberger: Less Drama, Slower Approach

Eisenberger, by contrast, is less forceful, less belligerent, and less divisive. His approach is to work cooperatively to get 'buy in' from stakeholders (on staff and in the community) rather than ramming his policies home.

His evolving position on light rail is a good example. Instead of coming out swinging with something like, "I'm determined that Hamilton will have a light rail line before I'm done," and colliding headling with council and the departments of public works and EcDev, he started by changing the Bus Rapid Transit office to a Rapid Transit office (dropping the word "bus"), securing a budget from council for a staffer, and arranging to have Hamilton included as part of the GTAA (it wasn't originally).

He has since come out publicly in an interview with RTH saying that he supports the idea of light rail, but as far as I know, he still hasn't presented any public proposals to staff or council.

I often wish his approach was more forceful, but I'm reminded that the institutional departments of our government are not yet ready for light rail. Public Works is still preoccupied with traffic flow (though that has been changing slowly) and EcDev is still preoccupied with 'shovel ready' greenfields.

A slower approach looks a lot less impressive from the outside. It doesn't rack up a checklist of promises or accomplishments. It's especially infuriating for citizens and grassroots organizations who are already conceptually 'ahead of the curve'.

So far, it's too early to tell whether his approach will deliver in the fullness of time, but early attempts at pushing harder have had mixed results.

Eisenberger was soundly defeated when he proposed demolishing and rebuilding City Hall instead of renovating. It was a bizarre choice on which to take a firm stand, though Eisenberger maintains he will be vindicated in the long run as renovation costs continue to escalate.

By contrast, his more recent proposal, to convert Gore Park into a pedestrian plaza, has generated some much-needed public discussion and prompted a closer look by staff and stakeholders alike.

Unfortunately, the Downtown BIA has a longstanding affection for angled parking on the Gore. Whether Eisenberger can eventually bring Kathy Drewitt and co. on board will be an important test of his ability to realize his vision.

Collaboration and Consensus

So far, his leadership style seems to be at odds with the grandiosity of his vision: a transformative change encompassing "the transition to the knowledge-based economy, the urban renaissance as exemplified by our downtown-waterfront district, and the modernization of our transportation infrastructure."

In his most recent interview with RTH, Eisenberger asked, "Is it going to be the car oriented community or a people oriented community? I choose the later. The question is, how do we get there?"

Again, he maintains that an approach based on collaboration and consensus stands a better chance of getting there than the bare-knuckles "blood sport" (in former Spectator editor Dana Robbins' words) that has long prevailed in Hamilton politics.

As Eisenberger put it, "We must get processes in place to give people the opportunuty to collaborate. That's a new word in Hamilton. Consensus has not been part of the political framework."

As anyone who has been on a committee knows, consensus takes time. It's not exciting and doesn't produce a lot of newsworthy fodder. In the execution of its minutiae, it's far from inspiring, which can lead to disappointment and cynicism from both participants and observers.

At its worst, it produces policy pablum: superficially innovative but ultimately conventional and humdrum. It takes a careful combination of visionary dynamism and honest engagement to produce truly inspiring collaborations.

There's a lot to be said for simply getting the trains running on time. However, the price we pay as citizens for the glamour of authority and certainty can be steep.

Ultimately, if Eisenberger can really foster a political culture of openness, collaboration and consensus, that would be a transformation in itself.

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 jason (registered) | Posted November 16, 2007 at 16:35:59

I'm sorry, but I really think he just needs to clean house at city hall. Toss everyone out and get a new team of bright minds that aren't fixated on raising bus fares, building more sprawl on great farmland and refusing to sack up and face the realities of getting rid of our downtown carnage alley's - Main, Cannon/York, King etc.... The old boys club may not be in power anymore, but they still wield the power from behind the scenes.

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By Reality (anonymous) | Posted November 16, 2007 at 18:00:33

Mayor Fred may not have been the first pick of the 'old boys club', but he's still their puppet. Just ask his squash buddy -Terry Cooke

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By West end Observer (anonymous) | Posted November 16, 2007 at 23:40:05

Just as I suspected, RTH is the official brown-nosing organ of Mayor Eisenberger.

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By Cal DiFalco (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2007 at 00:31:38

The truth is, neither extreme really works. Being too forceful or too relaxed are prone to fail. There is a balance in the middle that should be the default posture, with an agile ability to pounce on either side of the extremes when necessary.

But, the finishing touch is charisma, the ability to convey and support compelling arguments and sheer determination. Those are things that can't be taught. Either it's in you or it isn't.

Anyone can have ideas. Exceptional people translate them into deliverables while sharing in the journey.

Cal caldifalco@cogeco.ca

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By markalanwhittle (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2007 at 10:11:54

Fred has been less than inspiring for good reason, unions. Like three employees who are mewmbers of the carpenters union holding the whole city for ransom and adding huge costs to the sewage treatment plant improvements.
Staffing costs are the biggest cut of the pie. The more they get the less for worthy projects.

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By West End Conserver (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2007 at 15:23:43

"Just as I suspected, RTH is the official brown-nosing organ of Mayor Eisenberger."

Andrew Dreschel, is that you?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 19, 2007 at 11:08:23

Someone made the comment on another post that if Dreschel hates you, you must be on the right track. Seems the reverse is also true.

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By Larry Di Ianni (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 13:41:44

Ryan, as usual your antipathy comes through. You have lied before about me in this blog and now you exaggerate the truth. (ask me if you need an example of this.)
I sought consensus on ALL the major issues. In fact before I published the 10 goals I had for my three year term, I went to staff and Council privately to see what they wanted the Mayor to work on. I also had a list and modified it according to Council and staff input.
When I chose an issue to go after (and I didn't lose any votes in three years) it was after much consultation and discussion. You feel I was confrontational because I disagreed and still disagree with your rose-coloured view of the world.
Secondly, my response to you on Aerotropolis was that ALL of the staff reports for decades and Council position even before me favoured working with the Airport and its surrounding employment lands. To suggest that this wasn't a reality would not have been honest.


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By Larry Di Ianni (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 13:48:42

Sorry, also on Climate Change. You would know that I was one of the strongest supporter on Council supporting the Kyoto Accord even though criticized by the main media at the time. I also supported enhancing public transit, creating a pedestrian mall at Gore, creating an energy department in the city etc etc etc
What I refuse to do even today as we are approaching the $100 per barrel cost of oil, is to believe that we must stop everything. I believe in action; and I believe in strong action, but we should also plan for jobs and economic growth in the city. If you have read Gwynn Dyer's recent essay on this topic, his views match mine very nicely.
As you know I am a candidate in the next Federal Election and my party, the Liberal Party under Stephane Dion will have a very sustainable plan to address climate change and the rising cost of fossil fuel as well as environmental sustainability. M. Dion with his emphasis on the economy, the environment and Social causes capture very nicely the spirit of what I tried to work on in my elected life.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 20, 2007 at 15:11:51

Mr. Di Ianni, I think there are very few of us who think that we "must stop everything" as a response to climate change, rising oil prices and the other challenges ahead of us in a less energy-rich world. The real fight is to ensure that everyone is educated about these possible challenges so that we can make informed choices about the development paths we take. We can't focus our resources on one path - it may turn out to be a dead end.

That being said, it is clear from your recent blog posts that you truly believe that highways and airports are going to be the major drive of the economy in the future. If you truly believe that rising oil prices are a real danger, then I do not understand how these types of development can be considered sustainable? Their very existence and continued maintenance rely almost 100% on abundant affordable energy.

Hamilton is geographically blessed. There is a huge potential for us to easily reach the intensification goals set out by the higher levels of government if only we'd spend the time, effort and money to develop our existing land instead of sprawling ever outward.

None of us wants to "stop everything". We all want to see the city develop. We all love Hamilton. But what we really want is for the city to step back and take a fair and balanced look at ALL of our alternatives instead of working under the assumption that the airport is our golden egg. We want to see honest evaluation of many alternatives. We want to see alternatives that include aerotropolis, as well as those that don't.

How about looking at an investment strategy that focuses on enticing high tech firms to open up shop downtown? Projects like the Innovation Park are going to be the things that truly move us forward. This is just one example of a future which is independent of the aerotropolis.

Please understand that those who oppose the RHVP, those who oppose aerotropolis, those who oppose the cloverleaf at clappisons being built to service a big box plaza -- those people do not oppose ALL DEVELOPMENT. Some may be more interested in seeing McMaster develop a greater presence in the core. Some may be passionate about investigating a light rail line to replace the beeline buses. Some may be obsessed over developing tourist attractions and hotels, and building infrastructure to support them.

None of us wants to put the brakes on development. We also don't want to just point the car down a one way street and hit the gas either -- because once we run out we'll be alone in the middle of nowhere and it will be our own fault.

On a side note, I think it would be a great idea for you to start up a comments section on your blog. I would love to hear the opinions of all of your readers. We all may be able to open each others' minds up just a bit :-)

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 15:22:32

well said Sean. I live downtown and don't oppose 'all development'. What I (like many others) oppose is the fact that urban tax dollars are spent almost exclusively on cloverleafs to a new walmart and new highways to more sprawl etc.... stuff like Gore park piazza and light rail and moving the CN railyard always stay in the idea phase. There's never the money or political will to actually invest in our urban core because politicians are too busy trying to get re-elected by catering exclusively to the suburban sprawl builders. Heck, I could care less if we kept sprawling away around Hamilton - just have those builders and residents pay for it themselves (that doesn't happen though because in a true free market economy nobody would be stupid enough to develop sprawl on their own dime).

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By hamerhedd (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 15:29:49

Oh pulease. If that even is Dianni and not some joker wtih a screen name, the worst you can accuse Ryan of is being too serious sometimes.

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By Larry Di Ianni (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 15:44:44

It really is Di Ianni. I agree with a lot of what permalink has said, but I also believe that we need to take advantage of our opportunities. If you are interested in my thoughts on this, please go to www.chrisecklund.com and follow my link.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 17:13:01

Hi Mr Di Ianni!

I'd say Sean took the words out of my mouth, except he expressed himself far more eruditely than I could.

I don't have much to add to what's already been said, except to say that I've read your blog and I find your comments here far more interesting as you are responding and engaging directly with your fellow citizens (who as you can see, are just as passionate and informed as you are). If you allowed comments on your blog as was suggested, it might be more compelling. But if you're not ready to go there, feel free to show up here often. It's been a great discussion.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 20, 2007 at 23:14:30

Real Di Ianni or not, I stand by my comments. I just don't understand why that "permalink" dude keeps flip-flopping on the issues ;-)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 21, 2007 at 09:41:23

And wouldn't it also be nice if those citizens who wish to weigh ALL the evidence weren't demonized and marginalized.

As far as I'm concerned, the willful dismissal of the evidence for peak oil, as well as the calculated dismissal of the citizens who espouse it, make it very difficult for Aerotropolis proponents to argue that they truly have the longterm interests of our city at heart, and don't merely wish to line the pockets of a few as quickly as possible before the full effects of peak oil are felt.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:57:18

You're running for federal office Larry? Don't you worry all these snide blogs and comments are going to come back and nip you in the tukus?

Also note to Dion: you want to clean up the image of Liberals ... so you take on the only mayor in Ontario to be convicted of campaign finance violations? Conservative majority, here we come! :P

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 21, 2007 at 14:58:36

Yeah, and so much for Dion's green image.

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By Larry Di Ianni (anonymous) | Posted November 21, 2007 at 17:51:11

Well, I am proud of my record, including taking responsibility for mistakes not made by me directly but made on my return. Others made those same errors but were not persecuted. I know that there will be those wanting to use that strategy again. And I know who they are. We'll see whom Hamiltonians support in East Hamilton Stoney Creek.
As for getting in touch with me directly, if you read this week's blog once it's posted, I talk about that. If you want to send me an email, please do so. ldiianni@cogeco.ca
I will be glad to address any of your questions as frankly as I can.
As far as RTH is concerned, I will make it part of my reading and will weigh in if appropriate. I do enjoy reading people's opinions especially when I disagree with them.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2007 at 12:28:30

Thanks for responding here, I appreciate the discussion.

Along these lines, I must request once more that you consider adding a comments feature to your blog posts. It will make the reading much more interesting, and a healthy discussion is a good way to open lots of eyes to all sides of the story. Without the discussion side of things, it's too easy to be blinded by our own opinions (and as you know, we all have very strong ones)

Thanks and we'll wee you in your comments section next week ;-)

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By Objective (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2007 at 19:14:16

I just read through the thread. I voted for Fred. But today's Spectator and the recent events of Fred's inaccessibility are having me feel sorry for the choice I made. He is a major disappointment. He is confused and weak. Three more years? the pain!

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