The year of Mayor Sherow

By Walt Braun

Jim Sherow’s year as mayor concludes Tuesday night. Based on the agenda he laid out when taking office, that 12-month term has had its successes, most notably advances in the north and south redevelopment areas along with the city’s general economic prosperity.

It’s not clear the extent to which policies espoused by the mayor contributed either to the economic prosperity, which has included an unemployment rate well below state and national levels, or to the redevelopment advances, which by the time he came into office were essentially inevitable. On the other hand, the city only has one mayor and it would be churlish and unfair not to give him the credit.

On other aspects of his agenda, rightly or wrongly the mayor had a tougher year. He came into office with the avowed goal of fostering a sense of community. Perhaps that happened, but it would be difficult to discern given an ongoing petition campaign pertaining to social service spending. Given the mayor’s sympathy for steps being advocated by the petitioners, he could hardly be said to be the focus of the discontent. At the same time, it would be difficult to characterize his term in office as one during which the waters of that discontent were quelled. If anything, the opposite has been true.

The mayor also lost one when a new commissioner majority took office and threw out a change to the city’s discrimination ordinance that he had championed.

On that issue and several others that found him in the minority, the mayor’s term was reminiscent of the rough ride experienced by another mayor, Bob Strawn. In both cases, although from different directions, their terms coincided with the elevation of commission majorities that were philosophically opposed to the mayor’s preferred approaches. In both cases, the commission majorities tended to win and the mayor tended to lose.

That’s more or less the nature of the commission-manager form of government, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Under our system, the mayor is truly nothing more than first among equals. Manhattan is a dynamic community where political approaches tend to rise and fall more or less cyclically. A conservative majority last year replaced a liberal majority that had held sway for a few years, itself replacing a conservative majority elected in reaction to policies viewed by the constituency as too liberal.

Sherow’s successor as mayor, Loren Pepperd, will find a more friendly commission awaiting him, but that may not necessarily be the case for the next two mayors in line of succession, John Matta and Wynn Butler. They will preside over a commission whose majority will be chosen at the polls in April of 2013 with results that are at this moment anybody’s guess.

Our thanks to Mayor Sherow for his service in that office. He has presided eloquently and with honor, and while we have not always agreed with his positions all of Manhattan can appreciate his dedication to the task he undertook and fulfilled.

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