Thursday, December 20, 2007

Would George III Be A Strong Enough Mayor?

I went to the website of the Pulitzer Prize to make sure. Yes, the 1948 prize for “distinguished editorial writing” was awarded to TD Editor Virginius Dabney, not to the Richmond Times-Dispatch itself. So, I guess the Pulitzer committee cannot retroactively rescind the award based on the current quality of TD editorials.

What, you may ask, led me to check out the Pulitzer thing? I had just finished reading today’s (December 20, 2007) lead editorial “Charter Member,”, and I was baffled. Not that I think that today’s editorial was the worst I have read. Since I came to live in River City in 2004, I have read many TD editorials that have left me wondering whether it was me or the editors who had lost the power of reason. By comparison, today’s editorial was not that bad.

As were many Richmond citizens, the TD editorial was discussing our beloved mayor’s Tuesday speech to the Crusade for Voters. As I noted yesterday, Mr. Wilder’s remarks indicate that he is getting back into his imperial aggressive mode after a couple of months of playing mild-mannered Uncle Doug. The TD used His Excellency’s remarks to raise its repeated assertion that our city charter does not give to the mayor as much power as we the people wanted our mayor to have. In the words of the editorial,

“This summer many Richmonders learned the mayor's office was not so powerful as they may have suspected. The city has a strong personality in a relatively weak position.”

Excuse me, Mr. Editor. Are you saying that we Richmonders want a mayor who has the authority to ignore the law? Does the ruling by the District Court that Mr. Wilder cannot disregard an ordinance passed by City Council indicate that the office of mayor of Richmond is a weak position? The President of the United States governs subject to restrictions placed upon the position by the Constitution and laws enacted by the Congress. The Governor of Virginia rules subject to the Commonwealth’s constitution and the laws enacted by the General Assembly. Are you suggesting that the presidency and the governorship are weak positions?

The editorial goes on to say,

"Maybe it [Richmond’s citizenry] did not want a mayor who would have an impact on Richmond similar to the impact celebrated mayors such as Rudy Giuliani have had on the cities they are credited with reviving."

We need not examine Mr. Giuliani’s performance as mayor of New York City. There is plenty of time to do that should he win the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. I need to point out, however, that through no fault of my own I grew up in New York City and I know for a fact that mayors of the Big Apple govern subject to the constitution of the State of New York and also to laws enacted by the New York legislature and ordinances enacted by the City Council of New York City. If Mr. Giuliani did “revive” New York City, he did not do it by asserting that the law did not apply to him.

We citizens do desire a mayor and City Council that will work together to make Richmond the great city it can be. However, we do not want, nor did we intend to elect, a tyrant who claims powers we have denied to our executives since 1776.

As I indicated in my October 26 post, “It Ain’t Broke, It’s Just Badly Bent,” our city charter divides power between a legislature (the City Council) and an executive (the mayor). This is the model of government that has worked very well for us for over two hundred years. The division of power keeps both the executive and the legislative branches from gaining dictatorial powers.

The penultimate paragraph of the editorial is the strangest. It explains Mr. Wilder’s expressed intention to abandon his attempts to have the charter revised to “clarify” his power. In the words of the editorial,

"Wilder's decision regarding the charter reflects political reality, alas. The city's legislative delegation did not figure to be helpful; the Assembly would have been unlikely to embrace reforms that lacked the enthusiastic backing of senior Richmond legislators. This season suggests the aptness of one of the late Henry Howell's favorite aphorisms: There's more than Santa Claus running around in the dark."

That the editor quoted Henry Howell is strange enough. Considering its editorial policy, I don’t suppose the TD had much use for Mr. Howell when he was alive. But what is the editor driving at? What’s this stuff about Santa running around in the dark? If we look at what old Howlin’ Henry actually said, the editor’s meaning becomes clearer. Mr. Howell’s adage was “There's more going around in the dark than Santa Claus, and hanky-panky is its name! “ When read with the complete quote from Howell, it becomes clear that the editor is accusing the Richmond area’s General Assembly representatives of conspiring to keep the mayor from achieving the greater powers that he somehow deserves. If, in fact, our local delegates and senators oppose Mr. Wilder’s attempt to rewrite the charter in his image they deserve our gratitude. Rather than hanky-panky, they are merely responding to the Commonwealth’s motto, “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”

1 comment:

Preston M. Yancy said...

The Charter was written by the Wilder-Bliley Charter Commission.
Voters had previously voted to have an elected mayor by significantly large majorities.

Mr. Wilder opposed previous elected mayor proposals on the grounds that the role of the mayor was not clearly spelled out. But he helped sell his commission's proposal to the voters. Of course, he claimed he was not interested in running for mayor at that time.

But he was "prevailed upon" to run by the "Times-Dispatch" editorial writers and others. Part of the "Times-Dispatch" editorial writers' problem is yhat they cannot admit to having made a major mistake.

Then he ran and won by an unprecedented majority. He then requested, and got, additional powers. But the power drunk and the power thirsty never get enough power.

He assumed that powers reserved for City Council also flowed to him; because, he is the City's Chief Executive Officer. Thus he decided he was the custodian of city property in spite of the fact that the Charter gives that role to City Council.

And he decided he had the power to decide which City Council ordinances are legal and which ones are not. He further concluded that he could just ignore those ordinances he decided were illegal.

Furthermore, he decided that he had the power to hire and fire all city employees the Charter did not specifically authorize the City Council to hire--even if their positions were created by council ordinance and they reported to City Council.

In short Mr. Wilder decided he was an emperor. When the court decided it did not think so, Mr Wilder decided his charter was inadequate.

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder is one of a kind.
Preston M. Yancy