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Morelli was mentor and 'grandpa' of Hamilton city council

City flags flew at half staff and the council chambers fell silent Wednesday morning as Hamilton city hall grappled with the death of Coun. Bernie Morelli. His funeral is set for Monday

The long-time councillor mentored many city hall politicians over the years

Brenda Johnson, Brad Clark, Judi Partridge, Brian McHattie, Maria Pearson and Tom Jackson remember Bernie Morelli 3:38

City flags flew at half staff and the council chambers fell silent Wednesday morning as Hamilton city hall grappled with the death of Coun. Bernie Morelli.

Visitation and funeral:

Visitation 
P.X. Dermody Funeral Home, 1919 King St. E.
Saturday, Jan. 18 and Sunday, Jan. 19
1 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.

Funeral
St. Patrick's Catholic Church
Monday, Jan. 20
10:30 a.m.
Interment: Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

The city had originally scheduled a general issues committee meeting for 9:30 a.m. Instead, it ended up being a short moment of silence to remember the long-time Ward 3 councillor, who died on Tuesday at age 70 after a long battle with cancer. The rest of the meeting was postponed until Jan. 22.

City flags will fly at half staff this week, as will Hamilton Police Service flags. Mayor Bob Bratina suggested any Hamiltonians flying flags at home do the same.

Tears flowed from councillors and staff at city hall on Wednesday. City politics are “an extended family,” said Coun. Brenda Johnson of Ward 11.

Morelli returned to city hall in August after a two-month sick leave. "My health and family is No. 1," he said. "But this is my life. I haven't changed that." (Julia Chapman/CBC) (Julia Chapman/CBC)

“You have the crazy uncles and you have the grandpas, and you have the fun-loving sisters and the cousins who put their heads down and motor through,” she said. “He was the grandpa. You’d come to him for advice and he’d give it to you straight.”

Morelli’s death, she said, brings “an awful feeling. Your grandpa died. That’s what it feels like.”

Morelli, who worked for Dofasco for 25 years, was first elected to council in 1991. Before that, he first served as a trustee for Ward 3 for the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

He also served as a council appointee on the police services board from 1994 to 1997 and was chair in 1996. He joined the board again in 2000, serving as chair from 2000 and 2009. He became chair again in October and was still in that role when he died.

Morelli, left, joined friend and fellow councillor Sam Merulla in December to announce a new $8-million sports facility in the Pan Am precinct. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Morelli’s failing health was no surprise around city hall. He missed several meetings in the last few months as he battled illness.

He took two months off last summer and returned in August. While he stayed mum about the nature of his illness, “I’m looking good. I’m feeling good,” he told CBC Hamilton.

“My doctors, when they read this, would say ‘What is he doing?’ But it’s in my blood.”

Morelli’s final council meeting was on Dec. 11, when the visibly weakened councillor appeared long enough to move a motion to build a new $8-million sports facility in the Pan Am precinct. It was deemed a legacy project for Morelli, who received a long standing ovation.

'Huge hole' left at city hall

Coun. Tom Jackson is the only council member to serve longer than Morelli. The late Ward 3 councillor’s legacy includes the sports facility, the future development of waterfront lands at Piers 7 and 8, and his quest to make his predominantly low-income ward a safe place for families, Jackson said.

“A lot of the good restoration that is happening now, he was a part of and led and saw to fruition that are works in progress now, his spirit will see to conclusion.

Morelli, right, and Merulla confer during a council meeting last year. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“A huge, huge hole is going to be left here at city hall, and God rest his soul.”

Jackson said he will advocate for Morelli to be remembered in a prominent and high-profile way.

Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP and leader of Ontario's NDP party, issued a statement Wednesday touting Morelli's legacy.

"I served on Hamilton city council with Bernie for just over two terms and, although we didn’t always agree, he was always a passionate advocate for his Ward 3 constituents," she said.

"Bernie was a true friend and advocate for Hamilton. We will all miss him greatly."
 
The police services board will discuss the issue of a future chair at a meeting on Tuesday, said vice-chair Coun. Lloyd Ferguson.

'Too early' to talk about Morelli's successor

Ferguson said news of Morelli’s death too fresh to even think about if he’ll run for the chair position.

“It’s too early to talk about that,” he said.

Flowers were placed at the empty chair of Coun. Bernie Morelli on Wednesday. The card read "In our thoughts and prayers." The long-time councillor died on Tuesday after a lengthy illness. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Out of respect for those mourning Morelli, council will not deal with the issue of the vacated seat until February, said spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos.

“Staff are reviewing the legislated options respecting a vacated council seat and will be presenting options at a future general issues committee,” he said in an email.

Morelli is survived by three children. One of them, police officer Mark Morelli, made national headlines in December when a video of him calmly arresting a hysterical woman went viral.

The city has set up a book of condolences on the first floor of city hall.

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