Want to be mayor? You'd better have $200K - or be famous

Want to become mayor of Hamilton? Apart from whatever talents you have, you'll need to get your hands on $200,000 to run a campaign.

Mayor Bob Bratina spent $135,342 in 2010

Experienced campaigners say it costs at least $200,000 to run a decent campaign for the mayor of Hamilton. Most put in thousands of their own money, and even that doesn't guarantee a win. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Want to become mayor of Hamilton? Apart from whatever charisma, talents and great ideas you may have, you'll need to get your hands on about $200,000 to run the kind of a campaign that can get you elected.

That's how much people who have been involved in city campaigns say a mayoral hopeful would need to get the word out in all the necessary ways — advertising, billboards, phone calls, brochures. Unless you are already famous.

It costs a whole bunch of money.- Former mayor Larry Di Ianni

If you have name recognition, they say, you can get away with less. But most agree you need at least six figures, preferably $200,000.

Despite that acknowledged target, many candidates in recent years have failed to raise that much and many have dipped into their own savings to help achieve their political aspirations.

"A mayoralty campaign budget, in my opinion, should be about $200,000," said Mayor Bob Bratina, who spent $135,342 in 2010 and won, partly because of his long career in broadcasting.

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It takes about $200,000 to run “a very good campaign,” said Larry Di Ianni, who has run for mayor three times since 2003.

And $300,000 buys you “an excellent campaign. That’s just the way it is at that level.”

You ask people to give you money.- Mayor Bob Bratina

Drina Omazic was Fred Eisenberger's campaign manager in 2010. She also estimates a candidate would have to spend around $200,000 to have a decent shot at mayor in 2014. Eisenberger won in 2006, spending just $59,000.

"A mayoralty campaign is city wide," said Omazic, who is running for council in Ward 3. "If you look at campaigns at the provincial or federal level just in the riding, they’re spending around $80,000. And a mayoralty campaign is bigger than that."

Based on financial statements for the last municipal election in 2010, none of the top three contenders spent less than $100,000 to mount their campaign, and large portions of it was their own money.

Bratina spent $135,342 when he won the seat in 2010, and about $40,000 was his own money. Di Ianni had the heaviest bill at $226,632, about $80,000 of which came from his own pocket. And Eisenberger, a former mayor, spent about $100,000, $40,000 of which was his own money. 

“It costs a whole bunch of money,” said Di Ianni, who came third in the 2010 mayoral race and has put an estimated $160,000 of his own money into mayoral campaigns since 2003.

'Instead of buying a cottage...I use money to finance campaigns'

“I’m not a wealthy man. But instead of buying a cottage up north or a condo in Florida, I use money to finance campaigns.”

Of all the returns, the candidates spent the most money on advertising and the second highest on salaries, which includes a campaign manager, assistant and temporary employees who make phone calls.

The majority of the money still comes from fundraising. Campaigns identify potential donors to court. Candidates also hold various fundraisers, commonly barbecues, dinners and other social events throughout the campaign.

Simple put, Bratina said, "You ask people to give you money." 

While the public campaigning will start in earnest after Labour Day, candidates and their teams have been working for months behind the scenes to get money. Fundraising will continue through the next two months, and the amount available as the campaign goes on will affect key decisions.

With contribution limits set at $750, candidates have to find hundreds of donors—individual, corporate and union—to support them.

When Di Ianni endorsed Fred Eisenberger earlier this summer, one of the important benefits for Eisenberger was being able to tap into Di Ianni's list of donors from previous campaigns.

Where the money goes

 In 2010, Di Ianni spent $76,234 on advertising, which included billboards and print and radio ads. He spent $73,279 on salaries and benefits and professional fees. He suspects much of this includes money he put into doing robo-calls and telephone town hall meetings.

The blanket phone calls were the most expensive part of his campaign, he said. But they were worthwhile because it brought new places to put election signs, on which he spent $25,219. Callers also contacted receptive residents on election day to make sure they got out to vote.

Bratina spent $38,013 on advertising and $8,050 on signs. He had zero salary costs, in part because his wife Carol was his campaign manager.

Eisenberger, who raised the least because he shunned corporate and union donations, spent $64,723 on advertising and $3,365 on signs. He also had zero expenses listed as salaries and professional fees.

Under city laws, mayoral candidates can spend up to $308,312.45. Some spend far less than that, but they pay at the polls. 

Perennial candidate Michael Baldasaro, for example, spent $622.44 of his own money to run for mayor in 2010, although is financial statement doesn’t say how he spent it. He got 2,892 votes.

Mahesh Butani spent $211, $200 of which was the nomination filing fee and $11 to register a domain name for his website. He got 950 votes. Kenneth Leach spent $1,619, $452 of which was on signs.

Hazel McCallion gets an easier ride

Money doesn't necessarily directly correspond with votes, said Renan Levine, an elections expert with the University of Toronto. But name recognition does. And the more money a candidate has, the more they can get their name and message out to the public.

That's why there are rare candidates who don't spend heavily and still win, he said. But electors recognize them so strongly that they already know their message. Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion falls into that category.

“She didn’t fundraise. She didn’t have to campaign,” he said. “Everyone knew who Hazel was. The main reason you’re spending money is to let people know who you are and what you stand for.”

They don't want to spend their own money, but they do

Most candidates enter elections vowing not to put their own money into the campaign, Di Ianni said. But in the heat of the campaign, the desire to win causes them to make unexpected decisions.

“What invariably happens is you run short on signs, or people are saying ‘Where’s this information?’ and you end up buying signs or brochures,” he said. “You tend to go into your pocket a little more than you want to.”

“I knew in each of my elections that I was going to make personal contributions, but I superseded what I wanted to.”

Here’s a breakdown of what major candidates spent in recent campaigns, according to their audited financial statements, with the number of votes they got in brackets:

  • Bob Bratina: $135,342.34 (52,684, or 37.32 per cent of the vote)
  • Larry Di Ianni: $226,632.32 (40,091, or 28.4 per cent of the vote)
  • Fred Eisenberger: $99,926.38 (38,719, or 27.43 per cent of the vote)

Here’s a breakdown of 2006:

  • Fred Eisenberger: $59,560 (54,110, or 43.21 per cent of the vote)
  • Larry Di Ianni: $236,359.43 (53,658, or 42.84 per cent of the vote)


  • Larry Di Ianni: $368,522.99 (70,539, 50.92 per cent)
  • David Christopherson: $167,446 (54,298, 39.2 per cent)

The municipal election is Oct. 27. The candidates for mayor are Coun. Brad Clark, Eisenberger, Coun. Brian McHattie, Baldasaro, Ejaz Butt, Mike Clancy, Nick Iamonico, Crystal Lavigne, Phil Ryerson and Ricky Tavares.


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