San Mateo’s week-long mayor-less nightmare is over, as Amourence Lee was appointed the city’s first Asian American mayor Monday night, but she still described the proceedings as an attempted "insurrection."
The city of San Mateo, like a few other jurisdictions on the Peninsula, elects its mayor a little differently than do other Bay Area cities like San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. The voters do not directly elect the mayor, the five-member city council selects the mayor. And it’s generally one of them; for the last 166 years existence, the most senior city councilmember was traditionally chosen as mayor.
Well, for 166 years up until last Wednesday, that is. In a bizarre, parliamentary maneuver, the council was slated to appoint their at-large member last week, as sitting member Diane Papan was moving on to the state Assembly. But two new councilmembers declared they would not vote for a new mayor until that council seat was filled, leading to a crazy situation where San Mateo had no mayor.
Everybody reading the San Mateo city charter for the first time pic.twitter.com/LDTkJAhAyd— Belmont Mayor Jordan (@belmontfakemare) December 11, 2022
Councilmember Amourence Lee is the highest ranking member, and per traditional process, would have been appointed mayor. But two of her newly elected colleagues, Lisa Diaz Nash and Rob Newsom, held up the process until the fifth member was appointed, drawing accusations of corruption and back-room dealmaking.
In the Bay Area News Group’s writeup of the highly unorthodox San Mateo mayor situation, they note that Amourence Lee “said she was approached Wednesday evening by two residents who asked her to trade her vote for the mayorship. In a dramatic show, Lee pulled out a small manila envelope on the dais bearing the name of Cliff Robbins — Diaz Nash’s preferred council applicant — and described how through backdoor dealings she was asked to support Robbins in exchange for the mayorship.”
We did it! San Mateo has a Mayor! Now let’s get to work! pic.twitter.com/0KaHRN0ZbE— Cupcake Robot (@cupcakerobot_) December 13, 2022
She did not support Cliff Robbins. Instead, the council appointed rival Richard Hedges — though everyone seemed very congenial about it, and Robbins is a longtime fixture in town — and then Hedges immediately nominated Lee for mayor, and the council unanimously voted Lee as the new mayor of San Mateo, according to KRON4.
But Lee leveled some fairly incendiary statements before the vote, talking some very big talk about a small town's city council. “We cannot legitimize the insurrection,” she said Monday, per Bay Area News Group. “We should not expect this precedent to forever stain our record of over 100 years of peaceful handover of power.”
The tense, week-long political power struggle in San Mateo is over after the council unanimously selected a new councilmember and chose Amourence Lee as mayor last night. https://t.co/G50oAQYJwk— Aldo Toledo (@aldot29) December 13, 2022
The jilted Cliff Robbins was none too happy over the allegations. “I have never engaged in any vote exchange or bartering,” he said at the meeting. “I find this an unsupported accusation. I am appalled. I just want to make very clear, my 18-year-old daughter is watching this on TV. I have a reputation of 60 years. I’ve done nothing that anybody is talking about. End of story.”
Lee insists she’s working with the San Mateo city attorney to investigate her vote-trading claims, and she’ll work on revising the charter so this mess never gets repeated. “One of my mayoral priorities will be a charter review of clearly outlining how this should be done and contemplating these scenarios,” Lee said Monday. “What we’ve seen happen I would never want another person to ever have to go through this again. It seems there’s an interest to do a charter review and I think it’s warranted.”
Image: @amourence1 via Twitter