Nov 012013
Mayor Stephen Cassidy

Mayor Stephen Cassidy

Stephen Cassidy has not resigned as Mayor of San Leandro.  He is even planning to run for re-election in 2014.  But for all intents and purposes he has abdicated his responsibilities as Mayor of the City in favor of being just another Council Member.

San Leandro has a Mayor-City Council-City Manager sort of government.  The powers not expressly given to the Mayor or Manager, are reserved for the Council.   While this is not a “strong Mayor” city, there are a handful of responsibilities that the Charter describes as the powers and duties of the Mayor alone. These are not optional, the Charter provides that they Mayor shall exercise the enumerated powers, not that he may.

The three primary enumerated powers of the Mayor are those to “recommend City policy,” “recommend to the Council appropriate and necessary legislation” and “recommend programs for the physical, economic, social and cultural development of the City“.   This exclusive power to set the agenda is, according to Mark Petracca, associate professor of political science at UC Irvine,  almost universal for Mayors of California cities. “It’s one of the very few explicit powers that they have.”

Cassidy, however, has abdicated this responsibility to the whole council.  “As a general rule, neither the Mayor nor an individual Council member has authority to place a substantive item on the Council agenda solely by him or herself. It takes four members of the Council to agree to hear the matter[,]” Cassidy wrote on his Facebook page.  He did not explain, however, that this method of setting the agenda is not legal under the Charter, and that it’s implemented only by his choice.

Cassidy has also been extremely reluctant to exercise his only other substantive authority as Mayor, that “to suspend implementation of any action taken by the Council”.  He’s done it once in the three years he has been in office, when he suspended the raising the flag of the People’s Republic of China.  Even then, he did so reluctantly and, apparently, in fear of the massive public outrage at the Council’s decision.


To be fair, Cassidy does exercise his administrative duties.  He does “preside at meetings of the Council,” “establish and dissolve ad hoc committees” and “represent the City in intergovernmental relations” either  “personally or by delegated representative.” He also does “report to the public from time to time on the affairs of the City” and somewhat exercise his responsibility “for public relations” by show up at the occasional community event and blogging.  He often hands off to the Vice-Mayor the responsibility to “represent the City for ceremonial purposes,” however.  Finally, if he’s fulfilling his responsibility to “provide leadership and marshal citizen participation in City activities” he is doing so very, very quietly.

But the latter powers are of much lesser importance than the former. The primary duty of the Mayor is to set the direction of the City.  This is what Cassidy refuses to do.  Whether that is because he is incapable or just unwilling to accept the political consequences, is unclear.  But the question remains:  if Cassidy won’t exercise the responsibilities of being Mayor, why be Mayor at all? If all he wants is a vote in the Council, he can just run for a seat, the one for his district will be open in 2014.  If it’s the title that he wants, perhaps the City Council can just name him “Mayor Emeritus” and San Leandro can elect someone as Mayor who actually wants the job.    Mayor Cassidy has made it clear, that is not him.

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