12/02/02: Norfolk mayoral election needs CPR, but it’s not dead

This letter to the editor appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

At a public hearing on proposed charter amendments in Norfolk, one got most of the attention: popular election of the mayor.

There were 21 speakers; all but three spoke against popular election. Most of those 18 speakers either live in Randy Wright’s Ward 5 or worked on his re-election campaign. Hardly a representative group.

Kudos to Mr. Wright for his orchestration skills. The band played the tune perfectly, as shown by the next day’s headline, ‘‘Norfolk mayoral election appears dead’’ (news, Dec. 12).

But since when do 18 people represent the city at large? Two years ago, 50,600 people voted yes. That’s 87 percent of the vote.

I was one of the three speakers who support an elected mayor. I have been disgusted by the self-preservation mode in which some council members have been operating.

Council got a mandate two years ago to have an elected mayor. Five current members of our council were sitting at that time. The question should not be if, but when.

I understand the difficulty of implementing this, and council did not help the cause by presenting just two plans. The eight-member council plan is sure to be rejected by the Justice Department. The seven-member plan is in line with the odd-number members of council in place in all but one of Virginia’s 40 cities.

I support the seven-member council. The current system of voting by wards has decimated the power of the people to control council, given that we only get to vote for two members when a four-member majority is required for action.

The seven-member plan gives citizens the opportunity to vote for three members. While not the best solution, it is better than what we have now.

I urge the City Council to select a plan that will pass Justice Department requirements and allow us to vote for our mayor in 2004. The cacophony of 18 speakers should not allowed to drown out the harmony of 50,600 voters.