Whitehead bails, Sgro bides his time
Hamilton’s mayoral race still short of contenders but that could change
Now that Fred Eisenberger has officially filed his nomination papers for re-election as mayor in the October vote, let’s check the status of other potential contenders.
First off, scratch Terry Whitehead. After giving the prospect of running for the top office due consideration — including tapping information from a pollster and focus group — the west Mountain councillor is taking a pass.
The reasons will probably be music to Eisenberger’s ears.
Whitehead says his research metrics suggests Hamiltonians by and large feel positive about the city’s trajectory, which makes it difficult to take on an incumbent mayor.
From low unemployment rates to downtown revitalization, from the city’s $43-million budget surplus to its AA-plus credit rating, Whitehead believes the community is feeling too confident to pay much heed to arguments about needing to switch leaders.
Given that perceived state of affairs, Whitehead figures even Eisenberger’s unblinking support for LRT wouldn’t be a pivotal issue.
“When you have a positive outlook on what’s happening in the community, it’s very difficult to come in and say we need change.”
Whitehead even praises Mayor Fred with a faint damn. He says Eisenberger may not inspire people, but he’s sound and nondivisive.
“People feel he’s safe, a safe person to park your vote with.”
It turns out Whitehead also faced a personal obstacle to throwing his hat in the ring: His spouse was against it. “My wife never wanted me to take on the mayor. We have two children about to go into post-secondary education and we want to deal with those issues first.”
So that leaves the Ward 8 councillor trying to figure out whether to run for re-election to council in the new Ward 8 or new Ward 14, both creatures of the new ward boundaries imposed on the city by the Ontario Municipal Board.
On to Vito Sgro.
Sgro is a chartered accountant with virtually no name recognition but a resume that includes stints as director of the Hamilton Port Authority, Ontario Infrastructure Corporation, and former HECFI board.
In political circles, he’s best known as a formidable Liberal campaign organizer and former president of the Hamilton East-Stoney Creek federal Liberal riding association.
Back in January, Sgro said he was seriously considering running for mayor. He still is. But for strategic reasons he’s waiting for the smoke to clear from the June 7 provincial election before showing his hand.
That suggests Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford’s offer to let Hamilton spend the $1 billion for LRT on other infrastructure projects is a factor in his thinking.
As, no doubt, will be NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s bombshell declaration to The Spectator’s editorial board that if council rejects LRT, it can still keep the money for other transit-related projects.
Sgro won’t say he’s against LRT. “I’m not anti-anything. I’m pro-everything. I always look at the positive side.”
But if he does run for mayor, Sgro says he’ll have four or five big issues that will clearly separate him from Eisenberger, transit being one of them.
“My priority is to make sure Hamilton has the No. 1 locally-run transit system in the province.”
Sgro doesn’t buy Whitehead’s assessment that Hamilton’s upswing makes challenging Eisenberger a daunting prospect.
“Campaigns matter,” he says, adding a strong well-funded operation with fresh ideas can help neutralize the advantage of incumbency. “Stay tuned. This could be fun.” Speaking of fun, if Sgro or someone else with the ability to marshal campaign dollars and volunteers doesn’t enter the race, at least Eisenberger won’t have to debate himself.
Edward Graydon, who placed 13 in a field of 15 candidates in the 2010 mayoral race, has already registered.
And deamalgamation advocate Roman Sarachman says he intends to run if he fails to capture the Flamborough-Glanbrook riding for the Trillium Party in the provincial election.
Based on past mayoral races, other unconventional candidates are almost certain to emerge.