Had Bernie Morelli not given me encouragement after my first delegation to City Council, it's quite possible you wouldn't be reading this now.
By Joey Coleman
Published January 15, 2014
Last night brought the news of the death of Ward 3 City Councillor Bernie Morelli.
It was known in Hamilton's political circles that Morelli was in his last days. Many of Bernie's long-time friends made a point of cancelling meetings and events to visit him in the past ten days. Some shared their memories of their friend Bernie with me at Levee's and during the past week.
It was clear from those conversations that, especially among younger, former City Councillors, he left a legacy of mentorship and friendship.
Bernie had an impact upon me. In fact, had he not given me encouragement after my first delegation to City Council, it's quite possible you wouldn't be reading this now.
Numerous times during the 16 years I knew him in public life, Morelli encouraged and believed in me.
I first met Councillor Morelli in the fall of 1996. At age 14, I was making my first ever delegation to a City Council committee, and I was there asking City Hall to give capital funding to renovate the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club.
I was nervous, very nervous. Reading from a prepared statement, I started by saying what the Club meant to me, and then "when I was younger, I used to cause a lot of trouble."
Councillor Tom Jackson interrupted, "Excuse me Mr. Coleman, are you saying that we are old?"
He meant it as a joke, but I was so nervous I froze. In my inexperienced mind, I had just ruined my presentation and really messed up.
Morelli, who was the Chair of the Committee, sat on the other side of the long table, smiled, and said to Jackson. "Tom, we know you're old, but the rest of us are young. Carry on, Mr. Coleman."
After the Boys and Girls Club presentations, Morelli called a recess and took time to talk to us. I was uneasy when I ended, Morelli pep talk afterwards on the second floor of City Hall convinced me that I had done alright.
I lived all over during 1995 to 1997, until I found a good stable foster home on Harvey Ave in Ward 3. I would live there for two years, and Morelli was my Councillor. We next met at my doorstep during the 1997 municipal election campaign. He remembered who I was and asked how I was doing on the youth council at the Boys and Girls Club.
We chatted for a while, despite me being too young to vote, and he took an angry young man who was upset at the Common Sense Revolution - and by extension all politicians - and reminded me of the good in politics.
I came to sit on the School Board's transition committee governing information technology in 1998, and shortly afterwards, Morelli recommended to the Mayor that I sit on the Mayor's youth advisory committee, YSAN.
I regularly chatted with Bernie, and came to catch the political bug, being a regular at City Council meetings. Bernie, being my Councillor, gave of his time to help me understand how the City works.
In 1999, Bernie was one of the many who wrote letters of support for me when I was nominated for the YSAN-Rotary Youth Achievement Award.
In 2000, I decided to run for School Board Trustee in Ward 5, where I went to school and where I was living at the time.
Again, Morelli was generous with his time as I sought his advice on how to run a campaign. He called me election night when I lost, and congratulated me on a good run.
I left political life in 2001. Over the next few years, we would chat when we saw each other.
In late 2008, we had a lengthy chat, catching up over the years. He was one of those who planned the seed of my journalism in Hamilton during that discussion. I was working for Maclean's at the time, Bernie and I chatted about journalism, politics, and Hamilton.
When I livesteamed the Pan Am debate in 2010, Morelli was one of the strongest proponents of City Hall allowing its internet to be used for livestreaming. During the next few years, he fought those on Council who wanted to stop me from covering and streaming meetings.
When I needed assistance, I knew I could call on Bernie for help.
His illness this final term had slowed him physically at times, but he was still as sharp as ever with his emails and comments.
This term, Bernie and I often discussed our Catholic faith. I'm a relatively new convert, Bernie was a life-long devote Roman Catholic. He often spoke of his mother and her faith, and how strong an influence she was upon him.
When Bernie joined Twitter in 2011, he did it personally.
A couple of times, he beat me to fire scenes in Ward 3 and tweeted updates. I remember once, I was at City Hall getting ready to stream a meeting, saw a multiple-alarm call in Ward 3, and then saw that Bernie had it covered. It was a minor apartment kitchen fire, nobody was injured. When Bernie came back to City Hall, he kindly offered me lessons on reporting and tweeting.
We had a lot of fun both online and offline.
Bernie knew the end of his life was nearing this summer. I'll never forget the two hour conversation we had in October in his office. Bernie and I were conversing as two East Enders, and he was a mentor to me.
We both knew it would be our last lengthy conversation.
He offered me a lot of advice and encouragement, provided me with insightful life lessons he learned in his 70 years. It meant a lot to me when he told me how proud he was of me.
It was difficult in December filming what we all knew would be his last Council meeting and last press conference.
I'm glad that his last public appearance was as Chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board, a role he cherished and in which he provided outstanding leadership.
At that very same meeting, Bernie's son Mark was recognized for his outstanding work as an officer in handling a difficult situation that was filmed and posted on YouTube.
I can't think of a more fitting ending chapter for a man who served his City for his entire life.
Thank you Bernie.
First published on Joey Coleman's website.
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