Municipal elections in Hamilton have traditionally been reaffirmations of the status quo, especially when it comes to ward council races. Mayors may be vulnerable; as evidenced by Hamilton having changed mayors in every municipal election since 2000; but ward councillors, once safely elected to a second term, tend to be invincible. There are a number of reasons, but low voter turnout is certainly a primary cause. In the 2010 election just over 40 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. When incumbent vote totals are compared to the number of eligible voters in the ward—the average councillor actually was only supported by 23 percent of his or her constituents. The number of candidates running in any ward will affect the percentage of support garnered by the winner. So in the case of Ward 2, Jason Farr was elected with only 8.27 percent of the eligible vote in a race that attracted 20 candidates. In fact, Lloyd Ferguson was the only incumbent who topped 30 percent of eligible voter support and just barely at 30.46 percent. Four councillors were elected with less than 20 percent of the available vote—Morelli, Clark, Johnson and Partridge.
With the next election more than a year away, there has already been a surprising amount of pre-election activity. Already three candidates have declared they will run or are likely to run for mayor—Mayor Bob Bratina, Ward One Councillor Brian McHattie and former Mayor Fred Eisenberger. In addition Lloyd Ferguson is considering a run. In Ward Three Bernie Morelli has departed from his normal practice of waiting until well into the election year before declaring his candidacy. This comes amid rumours of some possible high-profile competition. Popular Tiger Cat Marwan Hage’s name gets mentioned as a possible candidate. Candidates aside, there is some grassroots activity at play. The Hamilton Civic League got started in 2009, a bit too late to be a factor in the 2010 election. Since then, however the league has been active organizing members. Their mailing list is now over 800 and they have 1400 facebook followers. Currently the league is conducting an online voter survey which they hope they can use as a reliable barometer of voter mood and compare it to the voting record of individual councillors.
Civic League President Larry Pomerantz said this approach was successful in Guelph, where the mayor and 7 councillors were turfed in 2010. “People have to stop voting on name recognition,” Pomerantz says. “We don’t care who is in office, but we want to make sure the voters have the right information so they can ask the right questions.” People interested in talking the Civic league survey can access it at www. civicleague.ca. People who work on federal and provincial campaigns may play a role at the municipal level albeit in a non-official role. Vito Sgro, a prominent Liberal official in Hamilton says campaign workers will likely help individual candidates in selected wards, unless there is a provincial election underway. “And they won’t necessarily be Liberals— just good candidates.” Sgro says he does not fully agree that incumbents are unbeatable. “Any campaign that is properly organized, adequately funded and most importantly, with enough volunteers can be successful even against an incumbent.”