Daly City Councilwoman Judith Christensen has called for changes in how the city selects its mayor and vice mayor, claiming the current system lends itself to favoritism, and has locked her and a fellow council member out of those leadership positions.
But two other council members dispute Christensen’s interpretation of the governing body’s history. Meanwhile, Vice Mayor David Canepa said he would support changes to the mayoral selection process that go beyond the councilwoman’s proposal.
With the exception of San Bruno, whose mayor is elected directly by voters, cities in San Mateo County follow the council-manager model of government, in which council members take turns serving as mayor and vice mayor. In many cases, this is a predictable rotation, with each council member serving as mayor at least once, for one year, during their four-year council term.
Christensen claims that rotation is how Daly City historically chose its mayors. But because the process is not codified in the town’s laws, the current council has broken with that tradition.
Instead, Christensen claims, Councilman Ray Buenaventura, Vice Mayor David Canepa, and Mayor Sal Torres have for the last several years only nominated or voted for each other for the mayor and vice mayor seats.
Christensen and Councilman Mike Guingona have frequently clashed with the other council members on a variety of issues. Christensen said that has led to the two of them being effectively barred from serving as mayor or vice mayor, because neither of them have much hope of garnering a majority vote from their colleagues.
“It feels punitive,” Christensen noted.
Christensen has advocated switching to a formal rotation, in which the council member who’s spent the longest amount of time without being mayor would automatically be next in line for the seat.
Unlike San Francisco, where the mayor wields executive power, in cities using the council-manager form of government, the mayor’s role is largely ceremonial. But Christensen said serving as mayor or vice mayor confers numerous advantages, including the possible boost it could give candidates for higher office, like Guingona and Canepa, who will be running against each other for the District 5 county supervisor seat in 2016.
Councilman Guingona, who last served as mayor in 2010, said, “Before 2011, we never needed a law. It has been a custom and tradition in Daly City to share power and leadership.”
Vice Mayor Canepa rejected the claim that Guingona and Christensen had been treated punitively, and insisted the current council had not broken with any tradition of predictable rotation.
“The rotations never existed,” Canepa said, “Never.”
Canepa, who served as mayor once in 2014, noted during his first term on the council, he went four years without being rotated into the mayor’s seat.
Mayor Torres agreed with Canepa’s assessment, saying, “There was never a predictable rotation. If you want to be mayor, you’ve got to build consensus.”
Torres also disagreed with the idea that the council majority would exclude Christensen and Guingona from being considered for potential leadership positions. “I don’t have a beef with Mike or Judith,” Torres said, “And I certainly don’t consider them to be locked out.”
Rather than adopt the predictable rotation Christensen has advocated, Canepa said he would be interested in switching to a model in which Daly City voters would elect a mayor, who would serve for four years. And Canepa said the question of whether to implement such a plan is also something that should be decided at the ballot box — not by a vote among the five council members.
“We have to give the power to the people directly,” Canepa said.