Public Comment

Correcting Misconceptions About Albany’s Measure Y

By Preston Jordan
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 09:40:00 AM

Albany Measure Y is democratic reform. It allows Albany’s citizens, rather than the City Council, to select Albany’s mayor.  

As a citizen, I attended eight of the last nine Charter Review Committee (CRC) meetings considering Measure Y (prior to my appointment to the CRC in late July). I attended without preconception in order to learn about this important issue. After consideration, I resolved strongly in favor of Measure Y as an improvement that will enhance Albany’s democracy, and provide leadership with a term sufficient to make significant progress toward the voters’ mandate.  

Mr. James Cleveland wrote an Oct. 2 Daily Planet commentary arguing against Measure Y. As so often occurs, it takes less space to create misperceptions than correct them. Reality is funny that way. Consequently I can only address some of Mr. Cleveland’s misrepresentations here. 

Mr. Cleveland stated, “Some smaller cities tried [an elected mayor]. The CRC found they failed.” This is an exaggeration. The reform only failed in the City of Ukiah, which reverted to an annually appointed mayor after trying an elected mayor for a couple decades (which, incidentally, I brought to the CRC’s attention).  

The problem in Ukiah was that mid-term councilmembers won the position of mayor several times. The resulting vacancy was filled by appointment of the council until the next election two years hence (which also happened in Richmond over the last two years). This appointee would naturally favor, and consequently magnify, the council majority. This took place a number of times, which led to Ukiah’s repeal.  

This will not happen in Albany under Measure Y. Measure Y specifically provides that if a mid-term councilmember wins the position of mayor, the vacancy will be filled by the candidate winning the next most votes in the simultaneous council election. Measure Y preserves the right of the people to choose all their representatives. 

Mr. Cleveland reports that 84 percent of small cities annually appoint their mayor. This is true, but most small cities, like Ukiah, are in rural areas. Albany, by contrast, is in a metropolitan area where the norm is elected mayors. Eleven of the 14 cities in Alameda County currently elect their mayors. Only these mayors can be appointed to important regional bodies like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board. Albany has a unique voice to contribute to the discussions of these bodies, and we should provide our mayors the opportunity to do this on our behalf. 

Mr. Cleveland claims Measure Y does not define run-off provisions. It does. It specifies a runoff either by special election, if necessary, or instant runoff voting (IRV). Albany’s City Council must choose between these months before the 2012 election. The decision rests largely on whether the County will be able to provide IRV by then. This now appears virtually certain as the county’s IRV equipment is in the final months of certification by the state. 

Mr. Cleveland posits that Measure Y provides for the first mayoral election in 2012 so that current Mayor Robert Lieber can run for mayor at the end of his second council term. Mr. Cleveland suggested that Measure Y should instead take effect “the day after the election.” This doesn’t make sense as Lieber could still run for Mayor under this scenario. It would also require Albany to immediately call a special election, which would be expensive and imprudent. No, the actual reason Measure Y calls for the first mayoral election in 2012 is so that it coincides with the presidential election. This affords participation by the largest number of voters.  

Mr. Cleveland warns that if Measure Y passes, “Bob [Lieber] could be [Albany’s] mayor until 2020!” Of course, Mayor Lieber would have to run and win the required majority of the vote in 2012 and 2016. To read Mr. Cleveland’s commentary, though, one might think Measure Y is simply going to declare Lieber mayor by fiat. Either that or Mayor Lieber’s opposition has already decided they can’t win in 2012, so they had better stop an election from ever happening.  

Mr. Cleveland believes in the current system of annually appointed mayors because it creates “10 or more” former mayors that can help Albany get things done. Albany doesn’t need 10 or more former mayors, though. It needs one actual mayor with a long enough term to get things done themselves while in office. Measure Y would accomplish this by giving you the power to choose Albany’s mayor.  

Vote yes on Measure Y. Thank you for your consideration. 

Preston Jordan is a member of the Albany Charter Review Committee (CRC), though he was appointed after the CRC’s consideration of Measure Y.