Before City Council can dive into the complexities of the budget process, it will have to choose a new mayor. Although the jury is still out on who will become the city’s de-facto spokesperson, and it will remain out until Council’s first meeting in early January, it is customary that the post goes to the councilor with the most seniority.
Custom, then, leaves either Satyendra Huja or Kristin Szakos as the most likely candidates, but the job could go to any of the five council members.
“Anybody can be mayor as long as you have three votes on Council,” said Huja, who has been open about his desire to hold the position. “I think I have the experience and I think I can represent the community well.”
When the question was put to her, Szakos preferred not to divulge who she would vote for in January, and she understated her aspirations, saying that she was “ultimately” interested, “but not so much right now.”
Sources close to Council members have said Huja has his sights on the jobs and so does Szakos.
The job in questions doesn’t come with any legislative clout, rather it’s a chance to serve as the city’s spokesperson and to be a recognizable face in government.
“People assume that the mayor of Charlottesville is like the mayor of New York City, who actually runs City Hall,” said Mayor Dave Norris. “Not only he is not elected, but my vote carries no more weight than anybody else’s vote.”
Jim Nix, co-chair of the Democratic Party of Charlottesville, didn’t want to speculate, but said the mayor is “generally someone who has been there a while,” and also pointed out that Norris can also be in the running.
“There are no limitations on the number of terms a mayor can serve,” he said. “By custom it’s two terms, but there have been exceptions and there is nothing to prevent a third term. But I doubt that.”
Norris, who has served two terms, is not interested.
“It’s a full-time job,” he told C-VILLE. “It’s easily 40, 50, 60 hours per week. The visible parts of the job, running the meetings and doing events, are not even half the workload. All day, every day, you are on notice or on call.”
In his experience, however, Norris said the “most successful mayors are the ones who aren’t always in reactive mode, but who are actually projecting a vision and try to make things happen.”
Former Independent City Council candidate Bob Fenwick said in his mind Huja tops the list of candidates.
“He has got the credentials, he has been around a long time, he served the city honorably, so I think he would be a fine mayor,” he said.
Huja, who was recently re-elected to a seat on Council with the most number of votes, closely followed by newcomers Kathy Galvin and Dede Smith, worked in the city as the Director of Planning and Community Development for close to 30 years.
For former Councilor Holly Edwards, the mayor has to have clear leadership skills and guide Council through difficult times.
“I think that we should have a directly elected mayor,” she told C-VILLE. In addition to the informal and ceremonial duties, the mayor should take on more responsibilities.
“I think that there has been more of an expectation for the mayor to take on more responsibility.”
Norris said he could support the notion of an elected mayor in Charlottesville.