Mayoral race gets down to business

By Andrew Dreschel

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Labour Day is over.

People are back from vacation. And the real municipal election period has now begun.

Among the 10 nominees running for mayor of Hamilton, the big names on the slate remain fixed at three — Councillor Brian McHattie, Councillor Brad Clark, and former mayor Fred Eisenberger.

That’s not to say the others — Crystal Lavigne, Ejaz Butt, Michael Baldasaro, Mike Clancy, Nick Iamonico, Phil Ryerson and Ricky Tavares — won’t be heard from on the campaign trail.

And a latecomer or two may yet enter the field before the Sept. 12 registration deadline for the Oct. 27 ballot.  (Photo above: L to R Brian McHattie, Fred Eisenberger, Brad Clark)

But as it stands right now, McHattie, Clark and Eisenberger not only enjoy the built-in advantage of strong name recognition, they’re well out of the gate with fundraising, volunteer, and campaign activities.

That’s to be expected, of course, since they’ve all played and won the election game before.

McHattie, who has represented Ward 1 in the west end for 10 years, stole a march on everyone by formally launching his campaign at the end of January and streamlining his platform into five key themes — stronger neighbourhoods, more open government, healthier environment, more jobs, smarter growth.

Since then, he’s been endorsed by the Hamilton and District Labour Council, soldiered more than halfway through his 100-day tour of Hamilton’s neighbourhoods, and plans to open his headquarters on Main West between Ray and Pearl streets this week.

If along the way it seems McHattie, 54, has gotten more attention than his opponents, it’s probably because he has, thanks to very active social media support and talking points such as dropping his boycott of the Red Hill Parkway.

But that doesn’t means McHattie’s name rivals have been dozing. Clark, a former Ontario Conservative cabinet minister who has represented Stoney Creek’s Ward 9 since 2006, has laid some solid campaign foundations.

RELATED: Pull the plug on Hamilton LRT: Mayoral candidate Brad Clark

In May, Clark conducted three telephone town halls in which he claims a little more than 25,000 residents participated.

In July, he opened his first headquarters on Upper James just south of the Linc. He’s now opened others in Dundas and on Main East in the lower city, with a fourth planned for Stoney Creek. That suggests both a healthy volunteer base and war chest.

From his town halls and communicating with residents at festivals and fairs, Clark has honed four key issues — spending tax dollars wisely, providing better municipal services, creating high-paying jobs and “celebrating” Hamilton’s distinct communities, an apparent appeal to suburban voters.

Clark, 54, intends to make individual policy statements as the campaign progresses. He’s releasing one Wednesday at his Dundas office on Cootes Drive.

Eisenberger, a preamalgamation Ward 5 councillor, was mayor from 2006 to 2010. He lost his re-election bid to Bob Bratina, who is now seeking the federal Liberal candidacy in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.

Eisenberger also unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2000. Like the other big names, his campaign website is up and running and he’s been busy recruiting volunteers and funding support.

His headquarters is at Mohawk and Upper Wentworth and he’ll officially launch his campaign in the next week or two.  He intends to roll out policy statements as the campaign progresses, partially with an eye to preventing his opponents from lifting ideas or picking them apart.

Though he hasn’t done any door-to-door canvassing yet, Eisenberger, 62, has shown his flag at numerous festivals and events. His main issues are economic development, job creation, service delivery, and tackling Hamilton’s whopping infrastructure deficit.

Given some obvious policy overlap between the Big Three, this race may very well come down to issue emphasis and personal temperament. In other words, which candidate is the best leader to steer council and guide Hamilton to the next level.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

adreschel@thespec.com 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel

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