“Andy Holcombe doesn’t speak in simple—or single—sentences.” That was an observation I made after Chico’s mayor and I talked last year, and it’s still true, so I had lots of leftover material from “My lunch with Andy II.”
For instance, the scene: Instead of burgers at Panama’s, this time we had sandwiches at Bustolini’s. Rain poured outside and music echoed through the half-empty lunch room as we conversed, paused to eat, then conversed some more—adding up to an hour-long dialogue.
Yes, dialogue. We had more back and forth this time. The tone got set from the start, even before I’d adopted a devil’s-advocate style of interviewing.
Rather than head straight into city business, Holcombe asked me about a critical assessment of him that appeared in our recap of 2007’s People to Watch: “[T]hough he long has been an advocate for the homeless, he hasn’t used his pulpit to advance the issue.”
“I don’t necessarily think the ‘bully pulpit’ and the role of the mayor is the best way to advance that issue,” he said. “I tried it on the council level, and it didn’t work, so I decided to work on other avenues. That [assessment] tweaked me because I felt from my point of view that it didn’t tell the whole story … about all that’s happening on the process side and the substance side.”
He has continued to work behind the scenes, and in doing so kept his pledge from last January when he told me he wouldn’t put homelessness on the front burner because “I see that more as a community issue than a city government issue.” But, he also said, “I’d like to use my energy to get the community to respond”—that’s where the pulpit comes in, and the disappointment we’ve heard from some of his supporters. (Thus, that particular critique.)
Will it affect his City Council re-election campaign? In itself, probably not … because he’ll face tougher questions and quips. (When Larry Wahl brings up “Andy’s club” again, he won’t be referring to the homeless; he’ll be jabbing the lawyer/mayor about the ACLU, whose letter contributed to the decision to reconsider the disorderly events ordinance.)
But in itself, it’s a telling sign of his leadership style.
“Much of what I’ve accomplished, and what we’ve accomplished as a council and a city, is on the process side—how we do business, planning—and that by definition isn’t instant results or gratification,” Holcombe said. “There’s a mixed blessing for that. We’ve done a lot of good work, and I think I’ve contributed to that, though no more than anyone else. But it’s not the type of thing that makes for a bullet-point campaign flier necessarily.
“But I accept that. That’s how I do business.”