Hamilton·Hamilton Votes

Andrea Horwath endorses Fred Eisenberger in Hamilton's mayoral race

Ontario's NDP leader has taken the unusual step of endorsing a candidate in Hamilton's mayoral race — in favour of incumbent Fred Eisenberger.

Bob Bratina has endorsed Vito Sgro, who says Eisenberger is 'dragging (out) his politician buddies'

Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader, has taken the unusual step of endorsing Fred Eisenberger for mayor. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Ontario's NDP leader has taken the unusual step of endorsing a candidate in Hamilton's mayoral race — in favour of incumbent Fred Eisenberger.

Andrea Horwath announced her support for Eisenberger near city hall Friday morning. It's her first time as party leader getting involved in a municipal election, she said. But "that's how important I think this election is."

"There is a lot on the line for Hamilton in Monday's municipal election. Too much is at stake for Hamilton Centre families, and for the hometown I love, for me to stay on the sidelines. That's why I am wholeheartedly endorsing Fred Eisenberger for mayor."

Horwath, a Hamilton Centre NDP MPP, has long supported light rail transit (LRT) in Hamilton, which Eisenberger also supports. Eisenberger's competitor, Vito Sgro, is running on a "stop the train" platform.

Horwath says Hamilton is also at a critical juncture when it comes to issues like jobs and keeping housing affordable. "We need an experienced hand at the helm."

Horwath is the latest politician to wade into the race in a week of flying endorsements.

Bob Bratina, Hamilton East-Stoney Creek Liberal MP, has endorsed Sgro, who is a long-time Liberal campaign organizer. Bratina has long opposed LRT.

"I've known Vito Sgro for more than 20 years," Bratina said in a statement. "His success in private business, his extensive knowledge of the political process at all three levels and his passion for Hamilton makes him the best candidate."

Three sitting councillors who oppose LRT endorsed Sgro this week — Judi Partridge, Terry Whitehead and Robert Pasuta — have also endorsed Sgro. Partridge is running again in Ward 15 in Flamborough. Whitehead is running in the newly drawn Ward 14. Pasuta isn't running again.

Eisenberger has endorsements from NDP MPs Scott Duvall (Hamilton Mountain) and David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre), former mayors Larry DiIanni and Bob Wade, former Flamborough mayor Don Granger, former MPP Ted McMeekin (Liberal) and former MP John Bryden (Liberal), as well as several unions.

"Tomorrow we'll release another series of great supporters not only for my vision for the City of Hamilton, but for LRT," he said Friday. "They can't possibly all be wrong.

'Out of touch with voters'

"So my question is who do you trust? All these great organizations and great leaders in our community, or an individual who has one note, one issue, and is doing transit planning on the back of a napkin?"

Sgro dismissed Horwath's support for Eisenberger Friday.

"Fred is out of touch with the voters," he said in a statement. "I am not surprised he's dragging his politician buddies out to rattle the chains for him.

"This election is about the voters and not his collection of LRT pushing politicians."

Peter Graefe, a McMaster University political scientist, says Horwath wading in isn't particularly out of line. Premier Doug Ford's recent municipal government interventions — he reduced the size of Toronto city council and cancelled regional chair races — has "moved the goalposts."

Not a surprise

Endorsements "make a difference when they're unexpected, or for someone who hasn't stood out from the pack," he said. 

"I don't think anyone who's been following local politics would be surprised that Andrea Horwath is endorsing Fred Eisenberger over Vito Sgro."

As for LRT, the previous Liberal government committed $1 billion for Metrolinx to build an LRT system from McMaster University to Eastgate Square as part of an eventual city-wide rapid transit network.

The new PC government says Hamilton can use that $1 billion for approved transit and/or infrastructure projects.

Metrolinx is about two years and more than $100 million into Hamilton's LRT project, but council has yet to approve a legally binding master agreement.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca