By the time results started rolling in Tuesday night, the back-room tables at Nosh teemed with empty glasses. Much of the earlier crowd had cleared out, including former state Sen. Andy McElhany and other big-name supporters of the Mayor Project's "strong mayor" ballot initiative.
The mood was quiet. Developer Chris Jenkins, who together with his father, David, was the major benefactor of the campaign, seemed one of the only alert people left. His index finger constantly drummed the refresh button on his laptop.
When the initial results finally hit the screen after 9:30 p.m., Question 300 was passing by a healthy margin. Suddenly, the room was once again alive. And when it finally looked like a sure thing — it wound up with 59 percent of the vote — campaign leader Kevin Walker was willing to talk.
"I think it won because voters recognized that the system we have today just isn't responding to the problems we have today," Walker said, "and it needs to change."
Others might argue that 300 passed due to something more tangible: money. The Jenkins family, of Nor'wood Development Group, loaned more than $640,000 to the Mayor Project campaign. They have said their intentions were philanthropic, and they're not anticipating getting it all back.
"I think fundamentally, you have a mayor that has perceived power, but [actually] has no more than any Council member," Chris Jenkins said, adding that city managers often don't have a clear connection to the community and that councils lack a clear vision.
Jenkins says he has no political agenda as it pertains to his business. However, it's no secret that Council has made past decisions that didn't help the Jenkinses. And Mayor Lionel Rivera has noted that a mayor who's friendly to developers might speed up some approval processes.
"Now, they won't have to lobby nine members of City Council," Rivera says. "They'll just have to talk to the mayor."
Jenkins insists that he just wants whoever is elected to "further change the culture at City Hall to a can-do attitude." He says a new mayor could also "identify key things like economic development, job growth, infrastructure, deferred maintenance ... efficiencies within the city organizational charts," and "aggressively and responsibly deal with our unfunded mandates."
By the way, Jenkins says, he does not have a mayoral candidate in mind. But with the position now offering more power and a $96,000 annual salary, he, like most observers, expects the race to be crowded.
Only two candidates who've already filed have high profiles: developer Brian Bahr and Council of Neighbors and Organizations president Dave Munger. Several City Council members have said they're considering runs, and rumors abound about other big names in the community.
Whoever is elected mayor will have a big role to fill as the city recovers financially. There's also still a chance that anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce will push his own, more radical form of "strong mayor" onto the April ballot — possibly creating another election-night waiting game.
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