Mayor Bob Bratina won’t run in this fall’s election. But if he did, he says, he likely would have won.

Bratina announced on CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Friday morning that he’d step aside amid rumours of plans to run for the federal Liberals next year. Bratina is stepping aside to pursue other interests, not because he doesn’t think he’ll win, the mayor said afterward.

“As far as I know, from some of the surveys and polls that have been done, that I would have a very good chance of winning the next election,” said Bratina, who has been mayor since 2010.

“So…from an egotistical point of view, yes, I could do it again. But I have to get beyond ego and consider what’s best for myself and my family, and what other things I want to achieve in life.”

A former broadcaster, Bratina was elected as a councillor for Ward 2 in 2004. In 2010, he rallied strong support from Hamilton’s suburbs to defeat incumbent mayor Larry Di Ianni and former mayor Fred Eisenberger.

There have been highs and lows to Bratina’s mayoral term. Among the high points the mayor cited: two new hotels in downtown Hamilton, a new stadium and lease agreement with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and a new GO train station at James Street North.

But Bratina has also had a sometimes-fractious relationship with council. In 2012, council voted to censure Bratina over his assertion that staff gave his chief of staff a 30-per cent raise. The city’s integrity commissioner investigated him after tense words with city manager Chris Murray, and councillors such as Brian McHattie have said that Bratina hasn’t accurately represented council’s preference for LRT.

“Bob’s style as mayor has been to not be engaged with council and to do his own thing,” said McHattie, who is running for mayor in October. “So that will probably play a factor in people’s memories.”

But history will likely look favourably on Bratina’s mayoral term, McHattie said. “Over time, things do tend to be remembered in a positive way rather than a negative way.”

'Tremendous' accomplishments

Bratina didn’t want to talk about his conflicts with council.

“I’m not going to elaborate on any of that,” he said.

“It’s just tremendous what we’ve been able to accomplish, and council almost unanimously on every incident has come together.”

Bratina is pondering a federal run, but he’s a long way from deciding. He wouldn’t name a riding, but he lives in Hamilton Centre, the riding currently represented by NDP MP David Christopherson.

Christopherson ran for mayor in 2003. Bratina wouldn’t speculate on whether the MP might make a mayoral run in the fall.

'Let's give him at least a day in the sun'

Former councillor Don Ross, Crystal Lavigne and Michael Baldasaro are also running for mayor. Eisenberger has not filed his nomination papers but also plans to run.

Di Ianni, a vocal critic of Bratina’s mayoral actions, held back his criticism on Friday.

“Let’s give him at least a day in the sun,” Di Ianni said. “The day of punditry will come.”

He’s skeptical that Bratina would have won the election. But he applauds the mayor’s early decision to step aside.

“It’s always courageous for a sitting politician to know when it’s time to hang it up,” he said. “Most of us are hung up on before we decide to hang it up.”

Mayor's race is wide open

Bratina’s announcement makes this a “wide open race,” Di Ianni said. And it’s renewed questions about whether Di Ianni will run again.

Di Ianni is non-committal about it for now, but “at the very least, I owe people the respect to give it some thought,” he said.

It doesn’t change Eisenberger’s plans. He will register as a candidate soon.

“I commend him for his service,” Eisenberger said. “The mayor’s job is a difficult job.”

Running against Christopherson for MP would be challenging, Eisenberger said. “He would certainly be stepping into a challenging riding.”

Christopherson as mayor?

Di Ianni doubts Christopherson will run.

"I don’t think David Christopherson would run for mayor and he probably knows better than I do why he shouldn’t."

Ross says it doesn't impact his campaign.

"Bob’s time on council was a bit rocky, as we all know, and I'm sure Bob would agree," he said. "He focused on what he believed in, as I’m sure he’ll continue to do until the end of his term in October."  

The Hamilton Centre federal Liberal riding association has struck a candidate search committee, and is currently talking to potential candidates, president Anne Tennier told CBC Hamilton. She wouldn't say who had been approached so far.

As for Bratina as a potential candidate, "he’s certainly got lots of name recognition. There's no doubt about that," she said. "He’s lived in the city for a long time.

"There are a lot of good people that I expect will be interested."

Bratina said after his radio appearance that he’s saved $1 million in the mayor’s office over three years. 

Bratina would have had a shot if he ran again, says Peter Graefe, a McMaster University political science professor. And much of the drama around the council table doesn't register with the average voter.

"There are a lot of people who don’t follow city politics all that closely who have seen a city growing under his mayoralty, who have seen their taxes not go up much and thought maybe he’s been a good caretaker," Graefe said. "He had a shot at being re-elected."

Here is Bratina's entire statement about leaving office:
 

I’ve had the honour and privilege of being the mayor of one of Canada’s great cities, the City in which I was born, the city I love, Hamilton Ontario. By any measure this term of office has been a tremendous success, one of the most productive in the modern history of Hamilton. At the time I became mayor there was no site approved for the Pan Am Stadium nor was there sufficient funding in place. Council was completely split on the issue of area rating, the taxation imbalances that resulted from amalgamation.

McMaster had changed its plans to locate a medical school in the downtown core. There was no firm commitment by the Province on GO Train service to a new railway station at James Street North. We faced difficult contract negotiations with our public service unions and had not reached agreement to proceed with the Randle Reef project which would clean up contamination in the harbor. All of these issues were resolved in short order, and with overwhelming support by Council, and tireless professionalism by staff.

Our union agreement as an example avoided a strike, set the pattern for the entire province and gave us four years of labour peace. We’ve just concluded a 20 year lease with the Tiger Cats which by all accounts is the best deal ever between the team and the City. Of course there were many fractious debates along the way but we as a Council always came together with good decisions for the people of Hamilton.

This Council also got a handle on the problem of steadily increasing property taxes. As we began the term I suggested an approach I called “Zero Sustainable” which meant keeping tax increases as close as possible to zero, without impacting on the level of service our residents expected. The position statement I created going into contract talks with our unionized work force was Fair Compensation, No loss of services, Zero tax Impact. With this year’s budget we will have averaged the Second lowest tax increase of all large Ontario Cities….about 1.5 per cent per year.

That’s lower than inflation, and the lowest since the New City of Hamilton was created. I have tried to lead by example in respecting the tax-payer. My office spent less money than any mayor since amalgamation, averaging 30 per cent less than the council-approved budget, a total of about one and a half million dollars savings over the term and on an annual basis lower than any mayor’s office in the past 14 years. I have devoted the past ten years of my life to the service of my city. In that time I have never missed a council meeting. My last real vacation was a trip to Europe in 2004.

All of this has required some sacrifice by myself, but as well by my remarkable staff and of course my wife and family. I believe that ten years of public service should show tangible positive results, and I honestly feel that I have achieved, with council, significant benefits for our residents.

With all this in mind I have decided I will not stand for re-election as mayor of the City of Hamilton. I will leave City Hall at the end of this term knowing that I am passing on to the next mayor a city that has turned the corner and regained its confidence. We are a city on the rise and positioned to regain the prominence among Canadian cities we once enjoyed.

My only regrets involve my wonderful staff who have worked so efficiently, effectively and economically for the residents of Hamilton, and those other individuals within City Hall who provided the support and encouragement I needed to meet the objectives I had set for myself and for the City. There is still much to do before the end of this term which will keep me busy as mayor.

We have to conclude the 2014 budget process, and press senior levels of government for infrastructure funding. There is also urgency around the transportation of dangerous goods through our neighbourhoods. My decision today will allow me to give my full attention to the demands on the office of mayor without the distraction of an election campaign.

What the future holds remains to be seen.