According to a recent, testy little e-mail exchange between Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace and Councilwoman Sallie Clark, the mayor is exercising one of the pathetically few prerogatives of office, that is, playing musical chairs with the Council's previously-established seating arrangement.
Could it be that Charles Wingate is somehow involved?
Observers of recent Council meetings will tell you that Wingate, who has been seated close to a door leading to the Council's private chambers, is forever leaving his seat in the middle of meetings, either to answer his cell phone or to make phone calls.
The new arrangement, effective this week, will make such interruptions a little more obvious, as Wingate is now seated on the far side of the room. That means that if he wants to sneak out for a quick call to his pal Doug Bruce, he'll have to obtrusively cross in front of the cameras and the audience.
According to my informants, it's just another small way of turning up the heat on Wingate, who has been charged with five pizza-related felonies. Unhappily for many of his colleagues, he won't quit. The city charter contains no provision that would allow Council to expel him, unless he is convicted of a felony or fails to attend meetings. Yet Wingate's continued presence on the Council dais is, in their view, bad for the city, bad for city government, and disastrous to Council's reputation.
Judging by the e-mails, and by conversations that I've had over the last several weeks, the Council's view is shared by a whole lot of other people. Staffers at the Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Wingate's council candidacy, are clearly upset and humiliated by his antics.
And the other major power players in city politics (the realtors, the developers, not to mention El Pomar) never much liked him in the first place. Given the situation, you'd expect that a resident of Wingate's district, with the blessing and financial support of the power structure, would show up at City Hall, and take out recall petitions.
For a recall to take place, approximately 2,800 registered voters in his council district would have to sign. Recall sponsors would have 60 days to gather signatures, and a special election would take place immediately afterward.
Voters could then choose to retain Wingate or elect someone else.
It's a simple enough task for the power structure, yet daunting and difficult for an ad hoc citizen's group. Absent the political savvy to put a recall effort together, not to mention money to fund such an effort, I imagine that most voters in the district are happy to let the law take its course.
If Wingate's found guilty, he's out; if not -- well, just don't vote for him next time.
So why are the big boys content to leave Wingate in office?
It's simple -- because having him there advances a much deeper political game.
Next April, we'll be electing a new mayor and five council members. Makepeace is out -- she can't run again. At least two, and possibly as many as four, council members intend to run for mayor. If all four -- Clark, Lionel Rivera, Ted Eastburn, Jim Null -- decide to run, there'd be seven seats in play. We'd be electing a mayor, two district council members, (replacing Null and Clark, who'd have to resign their seats in order to run), and four at-large members.
What an opportunity! All the power brokers have to do is find half a dozen developer-friendly stiffs, give 'em each 50 grand and a professional campaign staff and roll 'em out.
Chances are, most of 'em would be elected, and then it'd be business as usual, without any maverick conservatives or closet liberals to worry about. Constitution Avenue could roll right on down to Interstate 25, a downtown Sky Sox stadium could be subsidized with city dollars, and we could get rid of all those onerous rules and regulations that make developers pay the cost of development.
So having Wingate in office, making Council a laughingstock, is absolutely fine. After all, the more disgusted people are, the less likely they are to reelect incumbents, let alone elevate one to the mayoralty.
Don't believe me? The process is already underway, and the developers have already chosen our, er, their next mayor.
Council members Null and Rivera, both hoping for developer/business support in the mayor's race, are S.O.L. The big checks are already being written, and they'll go to a wealthy businessman named Gary Markle.
Mayor Markle, huh? Why don't you give me a call? Maybe we oughta have lunch. On you.
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