When I approached Mayor Eisenberger to appear as a featured guest on 10 Tough Questions, he readily accepted. The Mayor elected to answer all 11 questions I put to him. So here is 10 + Tough Questions with Mayor Eisenberger.
1. Looking back on the history of Hamilton, what community or political leader do you most admire? What is it about him or her that has captured your admiration?
Victor Copps was seen as a man of the people. He was a leader with an aspiration and a vision for this city and understood that opportunity and prosperity should include all people and not just a few! If there is one thing that is clear from my time as Mayor is that we need to stand up for our city internally and externally, nothing good will come from running our city down and nothing but good will come from building it up.
2. What is the most useful piece of criticism you received as Mayor of Hamilton and how has that changed you?
Be strategic was what I was told. It is very easy to get distracted in this position and end up managing the day to day. That is why early on in my mandate, I launched my vision called NEXT Hamilton with five strategic areas of focus:
1. Responsible Government
2. Economic Development
3. Rapid Transit
5. Environmental Sustainability
3. How would you characterize your brand of leadership? Do you think it's working? If you believe it is working, what are indicators that demonstrate that it is?
I think the proof of the effectiveness of my leadership is the results on the ground whether it be the measures concerning integrity, the boost in economic development, our progress on rapid transit, all of these measures started in an environment that had wide gaps in opinion and we were able to establish some consensus moving forward.
I have often described my brand of leadership as the 3cs Collaboration, Cooperation, and Consensus. I have always believed it is better to attempt to bring people into the development of an issue or solution, rather than isolate groups or people and ram something through.
4. You have a difficult role as Mayor. I imagine you receive a great deal of advice from many sources. Some have speculated that you can be stubborn at times and not be as receptive to advice. True? How do you process advice and how much does it influence your position on issues?
I greatly value all the advice I receive and I keep an open mind before making my final decision. I have my principles that ground me, my oath of office as Mayor, and the collectively developed vision and strategic plan to guide me. I believe in process and consultation and am adamant that good public policy can not be created on the fly.
As an example of how I balance priorities and make a difficult decision, I would refer you to the recent Winona Walmart decision: http://mayorfred.ca/posts/view/147
5. During your campaign, your radio ad stated in part “It’s time to give City Hall back to the people”. What did you mean by that and how has this theme developed in your administration?
What I meant - was essentially:
As a City we need to do a better job of engaging Hamiltonians.
That’s why we initiated a budget survey, created a Mayor for A Day program for youth, held open houses at all of the municipal service centers in the former municipalities, even polled people on issues before council and created a citizen’s economic development advisory committee.
I have been an advocate for new innovative methods and technology to enhance our public consultation process. As a City, we need to tap into the creativity of all our citizens
I wanted to restore public confidence in City Hall and refused any corporate or union donations. There is all too often the unfortunate impression that special interests have an inside track to city hall.
6. It was clear that there has been friction between yourself and some councillors, and between councillors. That dynamic continues to play out to some extent. What advice would you have to councillors in terms of promoting a greater degree of alignment, and to the extent that there continues to be some friction, what part of that do you own? What changes are you prepared to make?
I would differentiate between friction and healthy debate. In a functioning City Council, there is always going to be healthy debate especially when there are diverse views, representing different areas of the city.
I would say the vast majority of votes are in fact unanimous - they tend to be lower profile issues that the media tend not to report on. Even on the high profile issues, where there tends to be more debate, we still have examples of Council consensus - look at the votes on the Pan Am Games, Economic Development and the Integrity Commissioner. Also, at Council, I instituted a rotating chair system for the COW portion of the agenda which gives everyone a chance to chair a portion of City Council.
7. Hamilton offers many strategic and geographical advantages, as a city to invest in and to live in. How can we further boost our ability to leverage these features?
We are fortunate to have many advantages over other cities and we have been building on them.
• We are in the middle of the Green belt with rich agricultural production, a $1B agri-business and a “buy local” initiative to support local farmers and provide healthy food for citizens and create a sustainable city region.
• As a City we continue to transition to a post-industrial and more diversified economy.
• Creative entrepreneurs and young artists are attracted to our city for its affordable creative spaces and growing artistic community. This is generating investment to our city and will contribute to the revival of the downtown, waterfront and older industrial areas.
• We also have a significant and important port capacity, an airport whose major utility is the movement of goods around the country and the world. We sit at the crossroads of rail infrastructure and highway truck movements between major border crossings in Niagara and Windsor all of which is the basis of a multi-modal ship, truck, air and rail (STAR) infrastructure we can capitalize on.
• We have world class educational institutions, incredible top notch health care research and treatment facilities, a high quality of life and a growing cultural diversity all contributing to our vitality and vibrancy.
• To further boost these efforts we need to build our reputation as one of the most forward thinking communities. And we are doing that and others are taking notice:
• In its April ranking of North American cities of the future, FDI Magazine, from the Financial Times Group, ranked Hamilton third among large cities in terms of quality of life.
• The Economic Developers Council of Ontario recognized us last year as the most “investment ready” municipality in Ontario.
• Site Selection Magazine, has just ranked Hamilton among the Top Ten Canadian Metros when it comes to attracting new projects and expansions.
8. If you could take back one decision that you made or supported what would that be and why?
There may have been instances in which I wished our debate was more civilized, but I am confident with the decisions I have made as Mayor.
9. One distinct feature of your campaign was to not accept union or corporate donations. Why did you take this position and why was it important to you?
I took this position to give people the confidence that I am working in the best interests of the city and its people and not in the best interest of any special interest group.
10. Beyond the perceptions that some might have in terms of such contributions having the potential to influence councilors, do you dismiss the possibility that those perceptions can be founded on some degree of reality?
I have no doubt that the majority of special interest campaign contributions are intended to influence.
At the municipal level, the concentration of campaign contributions from a single set of interests is extraordinary and the imbalance is systemic. In the 2006 Municipal election nearly half of the money raised by Hamilton candidates came from corporations or trade unions. Of that 77% of the corporate donations and 62% of Union contributions, went to incumbents.
In addition, individuals who own a business or businesses or an individual who heads a union or is involved with one has multiple opportunities to contribute to election campaigns through both their business and personal contributions. Regular citizens do not have the same opportunity. It is about a level playing field for all Hamiltonians
I believe when one source of campaign funding dominates municipal campaigns - and is consistently shown to favour incumbents over other candidates, then there is a need to review the rules. With public confidence in elected officials and democratic institutions in decline, it is incumbent on us to explore every measure to enhance the integrity of the political process.
11. At the end of this term, what mark would you hope to have made as Mayor?
At the end of this term, I would like City Hall to more accountable, open and transparent. Issues like: the Integrity Commissioner, a Council Code of Conduct and campaign finance reform are all part of this.
In addition, I hope that when Hamiltonians look around, they feel a sense of momentum; that the community is moving in the more progressive direction they want. That they can visualize the NEXT Hamilton – an evolving economy, a vibrant arts sector, a rapid transit plan worthy of a 21st century city, a beautiful waterfront, and a greener more environmentally aware city.
Special thanks to Mayor Eisenberger for his service to Hamilton. Your comments on the Mayor's interview are welcome.