Eisenberger hearing Jackson’s footsteps

The Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada)
July 28, 2007 Saturday
Final Edition

Eisenberger hearing Jackson’s footsteps

by Terry Cooke, The Hamilton Spectator

"Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you." — baseball
great Satchel Paige

With more than three years to go before the next municipal election,
the number of potential challengers for the mayor’s job is growing.
The names of Marie Bountrogianni, Brad Clark, Lloyd Ferguson and Chad
Collins wouldn’t begin to exhaust the list of prospects. And just for
fun, let’s add the name of business mogul- philanthropist Mark
Chamberlain.

But Fred Eisenberger should pay special attention to east-Mountain
Councillor Tom Jackson. Jackson has quietly positioned himself as the
politician most likely to frustrate the mayor’s aspirations for a
second term and succeed at the political version of Survivor that
promises to play out over the next couple of years.

Jackson may be better prepared than others for what lies ahead
because he is a consummate survivor in life and politics. Jackson’s
father arrived in Canada after having been orphaned in the Armenian
genocide. The name on his passport read Missag Toumajian. Canada in
the 1950s was not a place of opportunity for people with strange
names and dark skin, so he reinvented himself as Ernie Jackson.

His son, Toros Toumajian, became Tom Jackson so he could have a
fighting chance in their new country. Starting kindergarten, Tom was
fluent in Armenian but couldn’t speak a word of English. Perhaps
because of that initial handicap, he learned to develop relationships
easily with people from all walks of life. Those abilities would
serve him well in his chosen career as a politician.

A McMaster grad who worked at Stelco before owning a pair of Second
Cup stores, Jackson was first elected to council in 1988 in his
second attempt for public office. He has polled among the highest
vote totals of any councillor across the city in every election
since.

Jackson suffered a setback when he ran on Hamilton Mountain for
Stephen Harper’s Tories in the 2004 federal election (along with
Eisenberger, who ran for the Tories in Hamilton East) but bounced
back last year to win big — again — municipally.

Jackson has more finely tuned political antennae than any member of
council, including the mayor. He is an old-fashioned populist with an
uncanny nose for public opinion. Jackson’s support spans many parts
of the constituency. His following includes an unconventional but
potent mix of social conservatives, suburban ratepayers, cops and
ethnic minorities.

The most visible sign that Eisenberger has started looking over his
shoulder came last month, when he threw his media adviser Ian Dovey
over the side and restructured his office in an attempt to impose
some administrative discipline. Less than a year into a four-year
term, the mayor wisely recognized that his political honeymoon is
over, with little accomplished and no clear agenda.

Even more troubling for the mayor is a recognition that the coalition
that got him elected has unravelled, leaving him without a reliable
political base. The critical first year of his mandate was spent
chasing fringe issues, like an anti-idling bylaw, that siphoned
energy from the things that will surely define the next election: a
healthier local economy and taxes.

Look for the mayor to sharpen his focus to a few key issues come the
fall as he attempts to recapture lost momentum.

Negotiating a permanent solution to downloading, driving economic
development, redeveloping the West Harbour and landing an NHL team
will likely consume Eisenberger’s attention as he readies himself for
re-election.

Jackson, on the other hand, will wait patiently in the wings to see
if Eisenberger falters. He thinks the race will be won by the
challenger with the fewest enemies and least self-inflicted wounds.

Having spent much of his life preparing for just this kind of test,
Tom Jackson’s survival instincts will make him a contender worth
watching.

Freelance columnist Terry Cooke is a former Hamilton-Wentworth
regional chair. He is president of Cooke Capital Corporation.

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