‘I love this city’: Former Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath enters Hamilton mayoral race

After weeks of speculation, Andrea Horwath is making it official.

Ontario’s former NDP leader is running for mayor of Hamilton.

“I’ve decided to jump in the race because I love this city. I always have,” she said.

“It’s the place where I get my passion from, and I’ve spent my whole life fighting for and working for Hamiltonians.”

Horwath is holding a news conference across from city hall Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. to announce she will throw her hat in the ring.

Horwath, 59, makes it a three-way contest between main mayoral contenders Bob Bratina and Keanin Loomis.

To join the municipal race, Horwath will resign from her post as MPP for Hamilton Centre, not long after voters re-elected her in the June 2 provincial election.

It wasn’t an easy decision, she says.

“I have a lot of respect for the people of Hamilton Centre and I’m very grateful for all the support that they’ve shown me over the years, but I think I can serve our city just as well, if not better, as mayor.”

With a win, Horwath would return to her political roots, having served as a city councillor in Ward 2 for seven years starting in 1997. In 2004, she made the leap to Queen’s Park and became NDP leader in 2009.

Her political career — in addition to legal clinic work before holding office — gives her a wide breadth of experience to be effective as mayor, Horwath says.

“I’m a collaborator. I always have been and I think that’s what a mayor needs to be. The mayor of Hamilton needs to be the mayor for all of Hamilton.”

Horwath said she’ll release a detailed platform as the campaign progresses toward the Oct. 24 vote but noted the city has “opportunities” and “challenges” alike.

Downtown redevelopment is booming compared to her time on council in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she said.

“I’m thrilled to see the number of cranes in our downtown, for sure. I can remember the days of walking through our downtown when I was a city councillor and wishing, praying that I’d eventually see a crane.”

But it’s crucial to ensure people can afford to live in Hamilton, she said.

“Do we need market housing? Yes, we do, but it needs to be affordable. It needs to be meeting the needs of families, of working people, of seniors. We need supportive housing.”

As Hamilton grows, it’s crucial to address traffic safety amid a “horrifying” rash of fatalities and injuries this year, Horwath said.

“For me, it’s really about making sure that we’re collaborative in our approach, that we bring people in and that we have a city where people trust that the decisions are being made in their best interest,” Horwath said.

“And so some of the issues around transparency and sharing of information, I think we need to address that. We can’t have pride in our city if there is a lack of trust.”

Horwath didn’t go into detail, but the outgoing council has been criticized for voting to initially keep under wraps the full magnitude and duration of a 24-billion-litre sewage spill into Chedoke Creek.

The term also overlaps with council-initiated judicial inquiry into a buried asphalt friction report into the slippery Red Hill Valley Parkway. The inquiry has featured former engineering boss Gary Moore under questioning.

Horwath, alongside fellow New Democrat MPPs, at times has waded into local issues that overlap with provincial politics, including urging council to hold Hamilton’s urban boundary firm in the face of Progressive Conservative government pressure to expand into farmland.

She has also backed the $3.4-billion, Metrolinx-led LRT project — that the province abruptly cancelled before resurrecting with federal support — and called for affordable housing along the route.

Horwath’s competition is Loomis, who joined the race in early May after resigning as CEO of the local chamber of commerce, and Bratina, a former Liberal MP and mayor who filed his papers in June.

So how does she compare?

“Well, that will be up to the voters to decide,” Horwath said. “I have to say it’s important to have people put their name forward, so that’s always a good thing for people to engage in the democratic process.”

Horwath’s entrance into the mayoral race is a “game changer,” says Chris Erl, a political scientist with Toronto Metropolitan University and Hamilton resident.

“I think there’s a craving in the city for a centre-left, progressive candidate who will respect the city’s unions, that will push on important social issues, but still has a strong reputation in the city. So I think she’s going to fill a gap that was needed in the mayoral race.”

Horwath’s base is solid in Hamilton Centre, but like other progressive candidates, rural parts of the city might be her weakness, Erl said.

New Democrats, however, have held down the Mountain (Monique Taylor) and Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas (Sandy Shaw), he noted.

In 2018, Horwath increased the NDP’s seats to 40 from 18, but lost ground this past election, with the party’s numbers thinning to 31 amid a PC majority showing under Doug Ford.

On election night, a teary Horwath announced she’d step down as leader.

“When voters across Ontario looked at her, they may not have necessarily seen what they were looking for in a premier,” Erl said, “but I think it will be very different when it comes to the voters in Hamilton, when they’re looking for a mayor.”

In June, Mayor Fred Eisenberger announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and said it would be “very apropos” for Hamilton to have a female mayor.

Horwath’s decision to run “certainly energizes” the race, says Terry Cooke, who was chair of the pre-amalmagation Region of Hamilton-Wentworth when Horwath was a city councillor.

“Certainly, having a prominent female candidate that is a serious contender also adds a dimension and an interesting dynamic to the race,” said Cooke, who’s president and CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation.

So far, other mayoral candidates include Ejaz Butt, a former taxi union official. Steven Hencze, a mortgage agent, has withdrawn from the race.

Would-be candidates have until Aug. 19 to register at city hall.

Teviah Moro is a reporter at The Spectator. [email protected]

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