October 26, 2010
Yesterday saw municipal elections take place across Ontario, with some interesting results. This isn't a political blog, so normally we wouldn't be overly concerned with them. However, at least one race may have been affected by a CFL issue, and that's certainly worth exploring.
In Hamilton, incumbent mayor Fred Eisenberger and former mayor Larry Di Ianni fell to city councillor and local radio host Bob Bratina. Of course, Eisenberger had been closely associated with the debacle around a new stadium for both the Tiger-Cats and the Pan-American Games. He led the movement to try and put the stadium in a location opposed by the team, which led owner Bob Young to temporarily pull out of negotiations and threaten to leave town. He also wound up in a nasty political fight with councillors over a potential provincial funding agreement that he didn't disclose to council.
On the other side, Bratina was one of the councillors who took prominent exception to Eisenberger's lack of disclosure on his conversations with the province. He was also behind the council move to switch their plans to the first compromise site at McMaster's Innovation Park. That was later relocated to the nearby railyards (pictured above). However, he was not one of the three councillors (Sam Merulla, Margaret McCarthy and David Mitchell) who voted against the west harbour site.
(Update: It's worth noting that according to Wikipedia, Bratina did play-by-play for the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts for a total of 20 years (including over 500 straight games). He's also a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Football Reporters division (inducted in 1998). Thus, he clearly has some pretty strong ties to the CFL.)
There are obviously a lot of issues involved in any election, but it's notable that Eisenberger told reporters he thought the stadium problem was an issue in his defeat. It's also interesting that large parts of the campaigns of both Di Ianni and Bratina apparently focused on blasting Eisenberger's handling of the stadium issue. The media coverage of the election results also centred on the stadium issue, with The Toronto Star saying it "hampered" Eisenberger and The Toronto Sun's Joe Warmington going all-out in a piece headlined "Stadium issue tackles Mayor Fred":
"So much for deciding to go up against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.A post-election opinion piece by The Hamilton Spectator's Howard Elliott also made explicit reference to the stadium, and suggested it may have been the key factor in Eisenberger's defeat:
Lets [sic] just say in this town there is a history that if you have your head down you just might get sacked.
Many a CFLer over a century has learned that the hard way.
And now so has Mayor Fred Eisenberger.
The one-term mayor was delivered a goal-line body blow by legendary Hamilton radio morning man and city councillor Bob Bratina who defeated him handily and by at least 10,000 votes Monday night and will become the new mayor."
"No doubt, the incumbent paid the price for the city's inability to come to a constructive resolution on the stadium issue. It's not particularly fair, but it's political reality, especially in this city."
Of course, there are often myriad reasons for any individual's vote, so it's impossible to definitively conclude that the stadium issue was what cost Eisenberger his job. It certainly seems to have played a role, however, despite recent progress on the railyards plan and the extension that gives Hamilton until February to find a solution. There are still major issues that need to be addressed, though, particularly on the financial side. It's unclear exactly what Bratina plans to do on the stadium front (there have been some suggestions that he wants to explore further alternate sites), but the looming deadline seems likely to give him a baptism by fire. In Hamilton, it seems they have got at least some football in their politics. We'll see if that proves to be a winning combination or not.