City council made the right move last month when it renamed Sarnia Bay Marina after Andy Brandt.
Brandt, who is 80 years old, was one of the most successful local politicians of the 20th century.
First elected as a councillor in 1971, he served in municipal government for nine years, including six as mayor. During that time he dramatically altered the appearance of downtown.
Few remember it today, but at the beginning of the 1970s Front Street was a shambles. Brandt once said the west side of Front looked like Berlin in 1945 when he became mayor. And he was right.
The rest of the core wasn’t in a lot better shape.
But after being elected mayor in 1974, Brandt set about to change things. Before he left office the crumbling old buildings on the riverfront had been demolished and replaced by modern high rises.
Not content with that, he spearheaded the effort to bring a mall to the core. It’s not easy to revitalize a downtown anywhere in North America and his efforts weren’t completely successful. But Brandt did a good job of breathing some life into Sarnia’s central business district.
During his time as mayor he tried to move on to higher office twice, only to be defeated both times. First, he lost a bid to become MP, losing to Bud Cullen. Later, he was stopped in a bid to become MPP, falling at the polls to Paul Blundy. In both cases the main reason he lost was because voters wanted to keep Andy as mayor.
When he decided to step down as head of council in 1980 he was easily elected as MPP. Before long he was in the provincial cabinet, first as Minister of Environment, then as Minister of Industry and Trade.
More than that, Brandt was an influential MPP who got things done for his riding. One achievement was the Sarnia Bay Marina, which he played a major part in creating. The other was Highway 402. People had been lobbying Queen’s Park for the highway for years, only to be ignored. But with Brandt pushing for it, the 402 soon became a reality.
Before leaving politics Andy served for three years as interim Tory Leader. He finally stepped down in 1980, after nearly two decades in politics.
Unfortunately, he was replaced by Mike Harris, one of the most disliked premiers in Ontario history. Had the party chosen Brandt as it permanent leader that year I suspect he would have led it to several election victories. He would also have proven to be a great premier.
But instead he moved on to the job of chairman of the liquor control board. In that position he modernized the LCBO, almost doubling its sales before stepping down some 15 years later.
His success at the LCBO was not a surprise to local residents. Before entering politics he had been a successful musician and businessman. Simply put, he knew how to run a business.
Brandt was one of the best mayors Sarnia ever had. Certainly he was the best one to hold the office over the past half century. So it’s altogether fitting that a major public facility should be named for him.