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Friday, January 16, 2015

Rearranging the pictures on the wall at Alameda City Hall

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer wants to bring her city’s residents back to local government. For starters, the island’s new mayor didn’t rearrange the furniture at City Hall, but she did move around some picture frames, if not, for the sake of symbolism.

Over the past four years visitors to City Hall saw a lone portrait of former Mayor Marie Gilmore on the wall just outside the doors of its council chambers. The placement evoked any federal building in the United States adorned with the picture of the President.

It also highlighted Gilmore’s disconnection with the public, an attribute that may well have been her downfall last November when she lost re-election to Spencer, a far more amiable populist than the detached and aloof Gilmore.

A lone hole from the nail that once held Gilmore’s portrait is noticeable around the new configuration that Spencer asked city staff to install. In addition, to Gilmore’s portrait, the wall now displays a host of past Alameda mayors.

Spencer has a temporary photo of herself on the wall right next to her past rival, but it’s much smaller and unadorned than the others. “I think it looks good for now,” Spencer says.

Although, her first meeting two weeks ago was something of a letdown depending on your point of view—Spencer says it was not, but a healthy conversation on the Del Monte project—she says the tenor of the audience is already improved over the meetings presided over by Gilmore.

Spencer and the City Council will hold a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 21, for ideas on how meetings can better foster public engagement. During the campaign, Spencer often derided the prevalence of council meetings that ran deep into the night, saying, they dissuade participation of residents in the political process.

Spencer's initial read following her first tangible meeting earlier this month was positive. “To me the tone was different during the entire meeting. I never told anyone, do not clap,” she said of Gilmore’s typical admonition to the audience. “But, the crowd took care of themselves.” In fact, at one point during the meeting, a gentlemen in the back uttered what sounded like a crack against Spencer which was immediately hushed by other members of the audience.

Nonetheless, a squeaker of an election featuring divergent ideas is bound to illicit contempt from both sides. But, at least, for the new council’s opening night, the discourse was polite.

“Afterwards,” says Spencer, “all the members seemed pleased by the way the meeting was handled and I really am hopeful.”

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