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    Commentary: Who will be the next mayor of Albany?

    Albany resident Mac McCurdy wrote an article below commenting on the recent City Council election:

    The recent election results appear to reflect a surprising change in voter sentiment since 2006. As most of you know, candidate Peggy Thomsen received the most votes, followed by Farid Javandel, with incumbent mayor Robert Lieber coming in third. But a further analysis may tell us a bit more about the temper of Albany voters than we’ll learn by simply looking at individual results. I’ll try to address that here and also consider the question of who will be the next mayor of Albany when the new council is formed.

    While there were no formal candidate “slates”, I think it’s fair to say, based on looking at endorsements and campaign fliers, that the six candidates formed up into two groupings:

    Members of the Lieber/Panian/Toomey group relied heavily on endorsements from politicians and organizations representing issues and constituencies broader than those related specifically to Albany. Organizations such as the Sierra club, the California Democratic Party, and the Green Party of Alameda County, were some of these. Robert Lieber also chose to list endorsements from organizations that had no apparent relevance to the business of the Albany council, including the California Nurses Association, the California Labor Federation, and the Alameda County Central Labor Council. For campaign literature this group chose to use aggressive, full-color glossy fliers that spoke of big money and big time politics. PACS supporting them tended toward the same approach.

    By contrast, members of the Thomsen/Javandel/Pilch group ran on a more individual basis and relied almost exclusively on endorsements from local people. Campaign literature reflected a far less costly approach and focused primarily on Albany issues.

    As a result, the difference between the two groups in terms of endorsements, issues, and presentation techniques was striking and well defined. It is of interest, then, to total the number of votes received by each group, including the winners and losers:

    TOTALS BY GROUP VOTES AND PERCENT

    Thomsen*/Javandel*/Pilch 10,318  53.00% ; Lieber*/Panian/Toomey 9,147  46.90%
    *Elected/re-elected to council

    THINKING ABOUT IT

    Going back to the 2006 election, two council seats were in contention, and the Caruso development controversy was the paramount issue. Candidates Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile, who opposed the Caruso “mall” proposal and were endorsed by the Sierra Club and related groups, received close to 58% of the votes cast, and both were elected. This time, as we see above, the candidate group with generally similar backing received less than half of the votes cast (46.90%)–quite a swing from 2006.

    What does it all mean? I did no exit polling, but will hazard a couple of guesses. First, when it comes to our city’s government, a number of Albany voters now appear to have shifted their support to candidates who look like they’ll focus their energies mainly on the issues that specifically affect the interests of Albany; rather than candidates whose allegiance lies with politicians, groups, and causes focused less directly on the needs of our city.

    Second, candidates supported by the Sierra Club and allied organizations continued to emphasize the “Caruso mall” controversy, as if it were still a burning issue and uppermost in minds of voters. But with the waterfront issue now firmly in the hands of an established planning process, that issue has apparently lost some of its steam with a number of voters–who now appear ready to participate in the process and review the results, before taking a chiseled-in-stone position.

    Results regarding measure Y and measure DD are also interesting. Measure Y (directly elected mayor) went down to defeat by a percentage which closely tracked the “group” vote percentages noted above-that is 53.18 % “no’, 46.82% “yes”. This seems to confirm that a majority of Albany voters are still ready put their faith in qualified local public service-oriented people, rather those who aspire to become professional politicians and look to backing from outside interests. There may also have been some dissatisfaction about the way this measure was placed on the ballot.

    Measure DD (proposed increase in property transfer taxes), was defeated by a larger margin (56.01% “no”, 43.99% “yes”) and the results here suggest that Albany voters are starting to show some resistance to periodic fee (tax) increases, possibly in part because the city has historically made little effort to communicate its financial position in terms that voters can understand.

    So, the election shoe has dropped. But there is a second shoe of interest that has yet to do so. Who will be the next mayor of Albany? After the 2006 election when the new council took office, Farid Javandel (as vice mayor under departing mayor Allan Maris) was in line for the job in accordance with Albany’s long-standing rotating mayor approach. However, with newly elected council members Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile now in place, Robert Lieber declared that the voters of Albany “had spoken” and had, in effect, given him a mandate to press forward with his shoreline policies and his “progressive” agenda for Albany. After some discussion, the city attorney made it clear that the council was not legally bound by the rotating mayor convention, and simply had the power to select the mayor. As a result, supported by Atkinson and Wile, Lieber elected himself mayor. The same thing occurred when the council convened for 2008. After some discussion about past precedent relative to mayors serving two years in a row, Lieber again elected himself mayor.

    This time, the voting results would indicate that whatever “mandate” Mayor Lieber may have had in 2006 no longer exists. But assuming the continued unwavering support of Atkinson and Wile, Mayor Lieber could, if he chose, elect himself mayor again. This question will be addressed in the council meeting scheduled for December 15, and surely all those interested in Albany politics won’t want to miss it, either in person or on channel 33.

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