Albany Mayor Robert Lieber, who was reelected at a council meeting Monday, advocated for the city’s “Go Green” programs in a green hat at Solano Stroll, an annual local festival, in September. Photo by Linjun Fan.
After several lengthy rounds of bitter debate, Albany’s current mayor Robert Lieber was reelected at a council meeting Monday.
The council voted 3-2 to suspend Albany’s traditional practice of rotating mayorship, and elected Lieber to serve as the city’s mayor for another year.
Councilmember Joanne Wile called the yearly rotating tradition ” archaic”, and wanted Lieber to continue his mayorship. Her position was shared by Councilmember Marge Atkinson, who also cast the vote for Lieber.
Councilmember Farid Javandel, who walked out of a previous council meeting in a fight with Lieber, said that he had a list of things that he didn’t like about Lieber’s job as mayor.
“I think he’s not risen to the high, outstanding level that we deserve, ” said Javandel.
He added that himself or other members of the council should be given a chance to be mayor.
“Am I claiming that I would? I don’t know. Any of the other folks up here perhaps could, perhaps couldn’t. We won’t know until we give them a chance.”
Lieber said that he is leading the city towards “a progressive and different direction” and that he has moved forward Albany’s waterfront planning, the most controversial issue in the city. The city has recently started a waterfront planning process driven by Lieber and his allies on the council.
“Not everybody on this council can say that they’ve done that, ” Lieber said.
Councilmember Jewel Okawachi said once and again that she believed it’s Javandel’s turn to be Albany’s mayor.
When it came to cast the votes, the three-person majority won.
A roomful of audience from the public was present at the meeting, and several dozen of them spoke passionately – they were similarly divided, making fierce attacks and bitter accusations against the other side.
The major dividing line was their opinions on waterfront development. Most of those who want Lieber to continue his mayorship support Lieber’s aggressive approach of seeking “maximum open space ” on the waterfront, a 160-acre land largely occupied by Gold Gate Fields racetrack.
“I think he took a strong leadership position on the waterfront, one that I can count on, ” said Mara Duncan, an Albany resident who helped Atkinson and Wile campaign hard against commercial development on the waterfront in 2006.
Opponents said that Lieber shouldn’t serve a second term because his aggressive stance has antagonized Magna Entertainment Corp., the company that owns the racetrack, and thus makes it hard to work out a sound plan for the land.
“I really think the relationship has been poisoned to the extent that for the good of the city I would ask you to step aside, ” said Howard McNenny, President of Albany Waterfront Coalition, who has been urging the council to work with Magna instead of pursuing its own plan.
They also accused Lieber of intending to force Magna, which is the city’s largest taxpayer, out of business and to increase city expenditures by several million dollars.
“Lieber’s fiscal ineptitude made him unfit for one term of mayor. He should not be allowed the opportunity to further damage the city, ” wrote Albany resident Stephanie Travis, a retired budget analyst for the University of California, in a public letter recently published on the Journal.
Supporters praised Lieber on his environmental vision. Albany Resident Nan Wishner said that Lieber responded to several of her environmental initiatives immediately after she brought them up to him.
“It’s not all about the waterfront for everybody in this room. It’s about an aggressive leadership vision with a particular green shade to it, ” Wishner said.
Lieber’s opponents said that the council’s majority ignored their voices by changing the rotating policy and reelecting Lieber.
“Sadly we are left with what I call the ‘we-three’ rule. We three got the votes. We three know what’s best for you. We three make the rules, ” said Francesco Papalia, a city council candidate who lost last year’s election .
Supporters said that that’s just the way it is.
“The reality is that’s how elections work. Let’s face it, ” Duncan said.