Election digest: Sgro criticized for missing debate

Sgro criticized for missing debate

Disappointed members of Hamilton's black community still have questions for Vito Sgro after he skipped a rare mayoral candidate debate Tuesday.

The Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association hosted the debate at its centre on Barton Street East night ahead of the fast-approaching Oct. 22 vote. Seven of the 15 mayoral candidates showed up for the forum.

But the most notable absences included Paul Fromm — a self-identified white nationalist who was deliberately not invited — and Sgro, who told organizers he was unable to attend because of a conflict.

"I am utterly disappointed … I am distressed," said event moderator and association president Evelyn Myrie, who told about 50 debate watchers the candidate had previously confirmed.

Sgro, who is viewed as a serious challenger to incumbent Fred Eisenberger, told The Spectator he thought the debate was a meet-and-greet until shortly before the event. The no-show came days after Sgro challenged the incumbent to a one-on-one debate over LRT. Eisenberger declined.

The absence of a major candidate was considered "disrespectful" by residents who want to know how city leaders will handle problems such as hate crime and police accountability, said Kojo Damptey, a manager with the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

But he also mourned the "lack of depth" in all candidate answers to questions centred on fighting anti-black racism.

Questions on the topic posed by Myrie included what a new mayor would do about hate crimes in Hamilton, particularly against black residents, and how to promote diversity on a police board that is "mostly white and male."

Eisenberger acknowledged council can think more about diversity the next time it has the opportunity to appoint a citizen police board member. But he also lauded the city's role in helping set up a Hamilton's new anti-racism resource centre.

Ute Schmid-Jones emphasized a need for more community consultation, while George Rusich said education is the best way to prevent racism-fuelled acts of hate.

Anti-incumbent teamwork?

Two candidates in the new Mountain Ward 14 are joining forces in an effort to defeat council veteran Terry Whitehead.

Robert Iszkula publicly endorsed fellow Ward 14 candidate Bryan Wilson this week "to reduce the chances of an incumbent victory."

It is too late for Iszkula, a small-business owner, to remove his name from the Oct. 22 election ballot.

But he said in his release he hopes throwing his support to Wilson, an Air Canada station attendant and labour activist, will help bring about a "desperately needed" change in representation on the Mountain.

Wilson has periodically sparred online with Whitehead, who represented Ward 8 until boundary changes created the new west Mountain Ward 14.

Incumbent councillors are traditionally difficult to unseat.

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