By Linda (Linjun) Fan
Albany voters may be asked whether they want to directly elect the city’s mayor in November with City Council’s latest decision to push the issue forward Monday.
Mayor of Albany is traditionally elected among the five City Councilmembers by the Council, and serves a one-year term, ever since the city adopted its Charter in 1927. However, current Mayor Robert Lieber and other members of the community believe that it’s time to change the Charter and have voters to elect mayor directly.
“I think it’s important that people have the right to elect a mayor, ” Lieber said.
He proposed that mayor be given a four-year term to bring about strong leadership and policy consistency in the city.
He also argued that a longer term allows the mayor to build relationships, and a directly-elected mayor could exert more influence in regional organizations, some of which only give seats to directly-elected mayors.
“We deserve a seat at the table, and now we aren’t getting that seat as much as we should, ” Lieber said.
Bob Outis, Member of Albany’s Charter Review Committee, disagreed with Lieber. He said that a stronger mayor would not make much difference in changing Albany’s regional influence, which is largely determined by a city’s population.
“What does make a difference is how we relate to each other as a community, ” Outis said.
Albany resident Francesco Papalia said that a powerful mayor might control city agendas at his will, and if he is incompetent, residents would have to wait for several years to vote him out.
A dozen mayors around the region have been invited to talk about the pros and cons of directly-elected mayorship to the Charter Review Committee since last April.
The committee submitted an interim report to the City Council recently, saying that no consensus has emerged on the issue, and requested more time to consider it.
But Lieber got impatient with the committee’s progress. He said that he has been pushing for the direct election for several years, and wanted to put the issue on Albany voters’ ballots at November’s presidential election, before his term finishes by the end of this year.
“There is no guarantee that I am going to be reelected again. If I have an opportunity to do that, this is the time, ” Lieber said.
He proposed the ballot language, urging the Council to direct Albany’s City Attorney to work on it and give it back for approval before August, so it would be in time to appear on the ballot.
Councilmember Farid Javandal and Jewel Okawachi, who opposed Lieber’s reelection as mayor last December, said that there’s no need to rush.
“If it’s important, it’s worth doing right, not rushing it through just because we arbitrarily want to know by this November, ” Javandal said.
“I think the committee members should take as long as they need to come up with a good report back to us, ” Okawachi said.
But Lieber had the support of the other two Councilmembers, Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile, who voted to push forward direct mayor election in Albany.