Mayor Tom Bates has backed off, in the face of City Council opposition, from proposing that Councilmember Linda Maio succeed Maudelle Shirek as vice mayor when the new council convenes today (Tuesday), his chief of staff said Monday.
Councilmember Betty Olds, a moderate, was preparing to stand by her three most progressive colleagues, Kriss Worthington, Dona Spring and Max Anderson, to keep Maio from being selected as vice mayor.
The vice mayor is a ceremonial post responsible only for running meetings when the mayor is absent. But with several councilmembers—namely Worthington and Maio—seen as possible contenders for a mayoral bid in 2008, opponents to the nomination said they feared that the title could have given Maio a leg up if she chose to run.
After former vice mayor Maudelle Shirek lost her reelection bid to Anderson last month, Mayor Tom Bates proposed that the council name Maio, a close ally of his on the council, as her successor. Spring responded with a competing item on Tuesday’s agenda calling for the vice mayor position to be rotated among council members as was the practice prior to the council’s electing Shirek to the post in 1996. Under Spring’s proposal councilmembers would receive either three or six-month terms as vice mayor.
Shirek lobbied for the position in 1996, arguing that she had the longest tenure on the council. With Shirek gone, there is no one member with seniority. Maio, Spring and Olds are the longest serving members now, all elected in 1992.
“Going back to the rotation system seems to be the most politically fair option,” Spring said.
Before Monday’s turnaround by Bates, Maio had said she was honored that the mayor had nominated her, but that she wouldn’t want to pick a fight with colleagues over the position. She said she agreed with the four councilmembers opposing her nomination that “being vice mayor would definitely help position a person for a mayoral run.”
Cisco DeVries, aide to Mayor Bates, said Monday that in the face of the substantial opposition, the mayor planned to propose a variation of a rotation system, proposed by Spring, instead of pushing for Maio to gain the title.
Bates has also nominated her and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak to sit on the council’s agenda committee, which screens items before they reach the full council. Neither nomination has sparked opposition.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda are scheduled votes on whether to accept a memorial sculpture honoring Berkeley native and former Sierra Club President David Brower and whether to allow UC Berkeley to build a pedestrian bridge over Hearst Avenue.
The 175-ton, 20-foot high sculpture commemorating Brower was commissioned by Brian and Jennifer Maxwell, owners of Berkeley-based Power Bar Inc. After San Francisco rejected the sculpture, the Maxwell estate offered it to Berkeley and found a receptive host in Mayor Tom Bates, who has lobbied to find a home for it on Berkeley’s Marina.
Last month a panel of the city’s Civic Arts Commission voted 6-2-1 to recommend that the city accept the sculpture, designed by Finno-American sculptor Eino, but attached several conditions. Among the commission’s requests were that the sculpture not include a replica of Brower scaling the massive stone and bronze globe and that the city consider other locations for it. The sculpture is currently disassembled in a San Francisco warehouse.
Brower, born in Berkeley in 1912, died in 2000.
Critics had argued that the sculpture’s bulk and Brower’s position scaling the globe weren’t an appropriate memorial to the environmentalist’s legacy.
Also, after postponing a vote twice this year, the council will consider UC Berkeley’s construction of a pedestrian footbridge 21 feet above Hearst Avenue. The bridge would connect La Loma Dormitory on the north side of Hearst Avenue with the rest of the Foothill Housing Complex on the south side of the street. Currently no disabled students live in La Loma, UC officials say, because the area’s steep slope hinders the mobility of students who use wheelchairs.
UC Berkeley has sought a city variance to build the bridge over city airspace since construction began on the residential community in 1988. Now the university is offering the city $200,000 in pedestrian improvements and final say over the bridge design.
Some residents who live north of the campus oppose the bridge, which they argue would do little to help disabled students, since most would still choose not to live in the hills, and say that residents would still face the dangerous intersections on Hearst since the bridge would only be available for students.
The councilmembers will review a survey of their top priorities for the coming year which was taken at the request of the city manager last month. Seven councilmembers participated, three of whom are no longer on the council.
Among the items topping the list were construction of athletic fields near Gilman Street, a new police dispatch system, improving the city’s business climate, how to spend more than $3 million in parking improvements owed the city by Vista Community College, a pedestrian safety plan, and the planned downtown hotel/conference center.
However two councilmembers, Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring, chose not to participate in the survey because they were unsatisfied with the list of priorities presented by the city manager and maintained that the vote should have been taken by the newly elected council.
Setting priorities is the first step for department heads to craft their budgets for the next fiscal year.
“If you ask the people of Berkeley what the city’s priorities should be, this list is a joke,” said Worthington, who said affordable housing and public safety should have been options.
Maio said the city might want to change its approach to priority setting to make sure that the concerns of all councilmembers are considered. “If people aren’t going to participate maybe this isn’t the way we should do it,” she said.?