When LRT grand­standers meet show­boaters

Press con­fer­ence goes off rails over com­pet­ing voices and fin­ger point­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - Watch a video clip of the news con­fer­ence at thes­pec.com ANDREW DRESCHEL

I didn’t think Coun. Terry White­head could top the LRT Kama Su­tra joke he made at coun­cil this week but it paled by com­par­i­son to the buf­foon­ery his tran­sit news con­fer­ence un­leashed.

I’ll share his coun­cil gag in a bit, but first Thurs­day’s gong show in the foyer out­side City Hall’s coun­cil cham­bers.

The only se­ri­ous news from the me­dia cat­tle call is White­head is “con­sid­er­ing” ask­ing On­tario’s au­di­tor gen­eral to in­ves­ti­gate the cost ef­fec­tive­ness of the $1-bil­lion LRT project.

The Ward 8 coun­cil­lor also in­tends to ask the city clerk if a sim­ple ma­jor­ity vote can now be held on LRT since the prov­ince changed the project by killing the James Street North spur line in favour of plan­ning a har­bour-to-air­port ex­press bus route.

Beyond that, White­head, who’s been pro-LRT, anti-LRT and now some kind of hy­per­crit­i­cal LRT as­ses­sor, com­plained that the prov­ince is mak­ing uni­lat­eral de­sign de­ci­sions and re­it­er­ated his view that the route should go all the way to East­gate Square as orig­i­nally planned.

The cir­cus proper be­gan af­ter White­head fin­ished his re­marks and was ready to scrum with re­porters.

Up to the podium steps hard-line LRT sup­porter Coun. Matthew Green to present a coun­ter­view. Sud­denly things go side­ways.

White­head ob­jects to the Ward 3 coun­cil­lor in­ter­rupt­ing his me­dia event, says he should or­ga­nize his own. Green per­sists. A cha­grined White­head steps aside.

But just as Green is warm­ing up, into the semi­cir­cle of re­porters and cam­eras bursts Ed­ward Gray­don, who ran for mayor in 2010, plac­ing 13th in a field of 15 can­di­dates.

Sud­denly, the hi­jacked news con­fer­ence is hi­jacked again.

“If you don’t want LRT in this com­mu­nity, in 2018 vote for me, Ed­ward Gray­don, and I’ll make this city the best city you’ve ever seen,” he hollers.

“Get rid of this guy,” Gray­don says, point­ing to Green. “Bring this guy in,” he says, point­ing to White­head. “Get rid of ev­ery­one. Vote for me and you’ll be the hap­pi­est damn city in the world.”

Gray­don steps away, Green con­tin­ues. Gray­don re­turns, arms wav­ing, folded an­tiLRT sign in hand. Green says he’s vi­o­lat­ing elec­tion cam­paign rules. Gray­don says that’s not im­por­tant. Green’s as­sis­tant tries to steer Gray­don away.

Just as Green notes that no­body on coun­cil has ever moved a mo­tion to give the $1 bil­lion back to the prov­ince, Gray­don springs back.

“Here’s a mo­tion,” he says. “Get rid of Matthew Green. He’s a ter­ri­ble politi­cian. You’ve got to get rid of him. You’re only go­ing to make the city great when I’m in.”

Green starts de­bat­ing him, asks for se­cu­rity and then backs away from the podium, re­peat­ing Gray­don is vi­o­lat­ing mu­nic­i­pal cam­paign laws. Se­cu­rity leads Gray­don away. I later asked Gray­don why he did it. “I couldn’t re­sist,” he said. “I feel that Matthew Green didn’t give (White­head) the proper due and re­spect he needed.”

Af­ter it was over, I asked Coun. Doug Con­ley who was watch­ing the fi­asco from the side­lines what he thought about it all.

“What­ever the out­come is, we’ve got to do (LRT) prop­erly and with some in­tel­li­gence, not just grand­stand­ing,” he said.

Grand­stand­ing is the word for it. Show­boat­ing works too. White­head’s news con­fer­ence was mea­gre and gra­tu­itous. Green’s dis­rup­tion was po­lit­i­cally ar­ro­gant and im­ma­ture. Gray­don was their ca­per­ing neme­sis. At least, says Con­ley, it was comic re­lief. Speak­ing of which, it’s time for White­head’s coun­cil joke, the one topped only by Thurs­day’s tom­fool­ery.

Ap­par­ently, Mayor Fred Eisen­berger re­cently ac­cused White­head of hav­ing more po­si­tions on LRT than the Kama Su­tra, an an­cient Hindu text on love and sex­ual po­si­tions. White­head told coun­cil­lors he didn’t know about the book.

“But when I did look into it,” he said, “I want to make it clear that I do have one po­si­tion. And that po­si­tion is … fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and en­sur­ing that our tax­pay­ers are not at risk.” It’s funny but it’s also a lit­tle wor­ri­some. I mean, what if they’re sud­denly send­ing in the clowns to dis­tract us from an un­fold­ing dis­as­ter?

The cir­cus proper be­gan af­ter White­head fin­ished his re­marks …

Andrew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

Former may­oral can­di­date Ed­ward Gray­don in­ter­rupts Coun. Matthew Green as he speaks about LRT at City Hall.

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