I read this article about the Hanover Theatre in this morning’s Globe, and I thought that the Mayor was relatively upbeat about an area that still needs a lot of work.
Jordan Levy, on the other hand, read it and then interpreted the city charter in the following manner:
One of the most important jobs of the Mayor of Worcester – under our charter – is for the Mayor to be chief cheerleader and salesperson for the community.
Now, I’m as much for cheerleaders as the next gal.
The mayor makes $32,000 a year. A Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader makes $50 (yes, you read that right) a game. By my count, there are 34 Cowboys Cheerleaders, which means that for the same price we could get at least 18 appearances by a squad of actual, professional cheerleaders. With pompoms. And more if we hired the Lakers Girls instead.
In all seriousness, I think Mr. Levy is confusing “ceremonial” with “cheerleader.”
When Rick Rushton and Konnie Lukes were running for mayor in 2007, Konnie emphasized the ceremonial nature of the job, and Rick said that “we don’t need a mayor to cut ribbons.”
Therein lies the tension: the title is mayor. What’s more, people elect the mayor. If the title were simply “City Council Chairman”, we likely wouldn’t be having this discussion. Folks would just say, “City Council Chairman…isn’t he the guy who says ‘All those in favor?… Opposed?… So voted’ really quickly?” and everyone else would understand immediately who it was.
It’s hard to believe (or maybe it isn’t), but we’ve only elected five mayors in our current form of government. Each of them interpreted the role of the mayor in a different way.
At the time Jordan Levy, the first mayor under the new charter, announced that he would not run for re-election, the Telegram said in an editorial:
With considerable bemusement, we’ve been watching two Jordan Levys all these years.
One is the “good Jordan,” an astute leader with a clear vision, boundless energy and a gift for persuasion – a person who could get things done.
The other is an abrasive, heavy-handed and thin-skinned official unable to control his temper – a divisive force.
The clash of the two personalities often made for high drama.
That is to say, the Jordan you get on the radio is pretty much the Jordan you got as mayor. He’s got a strong opinion, he’s grumpy as all get-out, and he’s as Worcester as they come. In the immortal words of Paul Clancy, “Have you seen British Parliament? They’re like a bunch of Jordan Levys.”
Jordan wasn’t exactly known for his tact or diplomacy, and he’d never win awards for his ability to get along with either then-city manager Jeff Mulford or councilor Konnie Lukes. At his best, he had the ability to be charming. He certainly went above the ceremonial aspect of the mayor’s office by becoming involved in projects like Medical City. But he wasn’t the kind of leader who engendered much camaraderie or goodwill on the Council..
When Ray Mariano, Levy’s successor, left office, Kenneth Moynihan used a similar good/bad description:
It’s fair to say that Mr. Mariano’s performance over the years has been perplexing to many observers of Worcester politics, perplexing because they found it difficult to know which politician they were going to be dealing with next, the Good Ray or the Bad Ray. The Good Ray was the active and talented citizen who was ready to make substantial personal sacrifices to improve conditions for the city and its people. The Bad Ray was the fellow who seemed much less interested in the substance of an issue than in the politics of it. The Good Ray was the one who tried above all to do what was he thought was best for Worcester; the Bad Ray was the one who tried to do what he thought was best for himself.
Indeed, Ray Mariano wasn’t all bad. (And you have no idea how much it pains me to write those words.) Mayor’s Walks! Union Station! Really quick City Council Meetings!
Mariano continued many of Levy’s traditions: being more involved than the charter requires; advocating on behalf of the city to the federal and state governments; maintaining an oppositional relationship with the sitting city manager; and pissing off Konnie Lukes.
Despite those superficial similarities — and his general Worcester-ness — Mariano wasn’t Levy, Jr.; he didn’t have quite the political savvy or the goodwill that Levy could occasionally round up. Nor did he do much to further a vision for Worcester as a whole. (If you want to relive the Mariano years, read the three parts of the article Future Shock from the Worcester Phoenix.)
Tim Murray, quelle difference. When he became lieutenant governor, the Telegram editorial board was already waxing nostalgic:
As we have said before, Mr. Murray has proved to be a strong, thoughtful leader who embraces bold ideas and has the political savvy to see them through. He has used the bully pulpit skillfully to drive a forward-looking agenda through consensus, collaboration and coalition-building.
Murray was able to take the tradition of Levy and Mariano (that is, an involved mayor who irritates Konnie Lukes to no end) and expanded it into a role neither previous mayor could have dreamed of. Where Levy and Mariano sparred with their respective city managers, Murray was able to successfully oust Tom Hoover. Unlike Levy and Mariano, Murray made sure to cultivate relationships on the Council.
He had a decided knack for stating the obvious (for example, the mall needs to go) and make it sound like vision.
I’m no Tim Murray fan — don’t try to convert me, I’m stuck in my ways — but that doesn’t mean his successor Konnie Lukes was a breath of fresh air.
Konnie Lukes felt that Murray had overstepped his bounds and wanted to restore the mayor’s role to something more in line with the charter: a ribbon-cutting, festival glad-handing, commencement-speaking, first-pitch-throwing-out mayor. She combined the Worcester-style grumpiness of Jordan Levy with a slightly-hands-off mayoral style.
Ultimately, this didn’t work, because, while everyone in the city knows that the mayor isn’t really the boss, no one wants to hear a leader continually reminding us that she’s not, in fact, a leader. In short, you can’t go from Tim Murray’s example of leadership (and nearly-getting-along-with-the-city-manager) to a more subdued mayoral role without looking like a spoilsport.
One might think that Joe O’Brien would have righted the course back to a Murray-style mayor. And in some ways he has: there are Mayor’s Walks, he considers the office his full-time job, and he’s certainly got a vision for the city. But that vision is less tied up in big projects like CitySquare — one never gets the sense, as one did with Murray, that he’s actively involved in development projects — and more in the smaller things, especially ones that are tied to his lefty causes.
We’ve had some different mayoral styles in Worcester: the combative-but-ultimately-pro-Worcester approach of Levy and Mariano (in slightly different flavors); the decidedly hands-on approach of Murray; the decidedly hands-off approach of Lukes; the involved liberal community activism of O’Brien.
This is where Jordan Levy has it wrong: Worcester still doesn’t know what the Mayor’s job is.
I hope that in the upcoming election folks can look at the different mayoral styles of the past and [hopefully have enough choice that they can] pick which one will bring out the best in Worcester. My concern is that the lack of new blood will just lead to a personality contest.
There’s a lot of flexibility in what can be done with the mayor’s office. It remains to be seen whether any of the current crop of candidates (and incumbents) can flex it in the right way.