Mayoral candidates need people skills more than promises

While it is traditional to think of the mayor’s job as being the most powerful in municipal politics, it could be argued that it is exactly the opposite.

The mayor exercises little direct power. They do not vote on issues unless there is a tie. While they chair meetings, they must follow rules of order, allowing councillors to have their say  in debates. They must give up the chair, if they wish to speak. In other words, they give up their status to have direct input.

So, it is a bit silly for these candidates to parade around grandiose platforms to voters because they cannot be executed without public support and, most importantly, without the support of council. Sure, they can propose lots of ideas. And, some of the good ones might sail through council. But the way candidates talk and the media reports it, you would think this job was done by the Lone Ranger. Being mayor is not a solitary position. In fact, it is far from it.

So rather than looking at initiatives, goals and objectives, maybe the debate should be on how much respect these candidates garner from the public? Do they have good people skills? Can they sway people to their cause? How well can they build consensus? Do they represent a big tent or a tiny one? If they did not work well in the past, what will change to make it work in the future?

In Cobourg, former Mayor Angus Read brooked no dissension. Joan Chalovich was more a consensus builder, but she only lasted a term. Peter Delanty was know to lean upon his skills as a former high school principal, bringing unsupportive councillors into his office for a dressing down.

Certainly, the mayor is influential. And, they can appear to set the agenda. But it is more likely municipal staff and government grants lay the stage for whatever happens. If one watches closely, local council spend a lot of time reacting: developers bring plans forward, higher level of governments offering funding for specific things, requests from the public come before council.

It’s great to have a vision at election time. But, if the rest of council and the public does not buy in, who cares?

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