The dissenter

Mary Andrews thinks we’d be nuts to go for an elected mayor

Former Mayor Mary Andrews

Former Mayor Mary Andrews

A few years ago, after she’d left the City Council, former Mayor Mary Andrews went back to school at Chico State University, where she ended up writing a couple of research papers on the role of a city’s mayor.

“I wrote the papers because I was disenchanted with the fighting on the council,” she explains. “But I found out from my research that it had nothing to do with how the council [or mayor] was elected—it had to do with the councilmembers themselves.”

Some Chico councils are good—she cites her own, 1992-96, as an especially effective one—and others aren’t so good, she insists. Elected mayors won’t change that.

Besides, she asks, “do you know how much it will cost to run [for mayor]? Probably five times or 10 times as much [as running for council].” And the same polarity would continue to exist on the council, she adds.

“I don’t want elections in Chico to cost $50,000 or $100,000,” she says.

The biggest problem with the current council, she continues, is that there’s no institutional memory there. Turnover has been such that few people have served more than one term. Otherwise it’s a good system—the best, in fact.

“Our system allows mayors to accomplish a great deal,” she adds, “but they have to want to do it.”

Not everyone agrees, however, that a mayoral race would be that much more expensive. Chuck Dalldorf, chief of staff to Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and a veteran observer of urban politics, points out that the cost of elections depends more than anything on the media market, and Chico’s is small and relatively inexpensive.

On top of that, the amount of money available for campaigns is finite, Dalldorf notes. If more is spent on the mayor’s race, in all likelihood less will be spent on the concurrent council races. “Generally,” he says, “the same amount of money is dispersed to the same number of people.”

And, as Measure A showed, grass-roots, door-to-door, low-budget campaigning still can be highly effective.