Opinion, by Leland Traiman.
At the last city council meeting Mayor Gilmore pointed to Mayor-Elect Trish Spencer’s 120 vote margin of victory and proclaimed that it was not a mandate for change. This sad and inappropriate display of sour grapes came from a mayor who, despite seven years as a city councilmember prior to becoming mayor and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by out-of-town interests on her behalf, was elected with only 36% of the vote.
Did Gilmore’s one third plus 3% give her a mandate? I think not. Yet, she ran the city as if she had been elected by an overwhelming majority and unfettered development and increasingly jammed tunnels and bridges are her legacy. (Should our worsening traffic problems now be referred to as Gilmore gridlock?)
Mayor Gilmore’s tenure is an excellent case for charter reform and runoff elections. Four years ago five candidates ran for mayor. Two candidates, Frank Matarrese and Doug deHaan, both city council veterans with similar slow-growth platforms, collectively garnered 47.4% of the vote. The “clown” candidate, Kenneth Kahn, who was quite serious about overdevelopment and essentially agreed with Matarrese and deHaan, received 3.5%. This means that four years ago a majority of voters cast their votes for slow-growth candidates. The fifth candidate in the race, Tony Daysog, seemed to be in neither the slow-growth camp nor the give-the-developers-whatever-they-want camp (a position he still seems to hold) and he received almost 12% of the vote.
Of course, it is impossible to say with certainty who would have won if Matarrese and Gilmore had faced each other in a runoff. What is a certainty is that four years ago, even with overwhelming financial support, almost two thirds of Alameda’s voters voted against Mayor Gilmore and her policies. Nonetheless, Gilmore became mayor. This sad circumstance cries out for change.
Before Oakland had ranked-choice voting, Oakland elected their mayors with a primary in June and a runoff in November. These elections were consolidated with regularly scheduled elections to save money. Alameda could adopt Oakland’s previous system of runoffs insuring that our mayor is elected by a majority of voters.
Alameda’s city council will soon have two people who can clearly claim they were elected by a majority of Alameda’s voters, Mayor-Elect Spencer and Councilmember-Elect Matarrese. (Matarrese’s vote total for council equaled 53% of the total number of votes cast for mayor.) This is a good beginning.
To avoid a future mayor, elected with a minority of votes but who still has the power to contradict the will of the majority, Alameda needs runoff elections for mayor. (A re-examination of how councilmembers are elected might also be in order.) To accomplish this Alameda’s charter must be amended. The most practical way for charter reform to happen is for the council to form a charter review commission to hold public meetings to discuss such a change. Whichever direction Alameda chooses it should be chosen by a majority of Alameda’s voters.
A mandate is winning an election by winning a majority of votes, not by winning only 36%.