Acting Mayor Narkewicz’ First Full Day in Room One
Learning the ropes in his temporary office, the acting mayor rolls up his sleeves and gets down to business.
NORTHAMPTON – On the third day as acting mayor, and the first regular weekday of his new job, City Council President David Narkewicz arrived at Room One in City Hall about 8:30 a.m. and started figuring out what it is that the mayor’s job entails.
At noon, he attended the official ribbon-cutting for the new animal barns at the Three County Fairgrounds with a host of state and local officials. The city’s MIS Department (Management Information Systems) was working on getting him a laptop for the office, but by 4:30 p.m. that had not yet happened.
Narkewicz said he won’t be using the historic Calvin Coolidge desk in the office, and said he doesn’t plan to do much decorating for now. “I’ll leave that for the real mayor,” he told Northampton Media Monday.
Dependable Office Staff and a Blow-Up Doll in the Parking Lot
Having assumed the acting mayor’s job on Friday afternoon when longtime mayor Clare Higgins stepped down to take a private-sector job, Narkewicz is also running for mayor in the Nov. 8 municipal elections.
But as council president, he will hold the city’s chief executive post until next Jan. 2, when either he or former council president Michael Bardsley – his only opponent – begins a new two-year term.
On his first full day in the mayor’s office, Narkewicz said he was finding his sea legs, learning the office routines, such as which department heads are in the rotation for regular meetings with the mayor, reviewing personnel issues, and analyzing money matters with City Finance Director Susan Wright.
(To see the Republican newspaper’s story on Narkewicz’s first day in the office, click here.)
Narkewicz said he will depend heavily on longtime mayoral aide Corinne Philippides and Lyn Simmons (who recently moved upstairs to the mayor’s office from her assistant city clerk’s job) to guide him through his daily duties.
Some of his new responsibilities can be found on the city’s website, which outlines other positions the mayor holds by charter or by ordinance: Ex-officio chairman of the School Committee, trustee for the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, and a trustee of the Academy of Music and the Look Memorial and Child’s Parks. (To see the “Mayor’s Office Mission,” click here.)
It was at 4:30 p.m. last Friday when Higgins officially transferred the city’s reins of power to Narkewicz, at which point the two shook hands. Higgins starts this week as executive director of CommunityAction! of Franklin and Hampshire Counties, a non-profit human service agency in Greenfield.
All Friday afternoon, well-wishers had stopped by the office, where Mayor Higgins and her successor had been meeting. When Higgins left for the day, she found a surprise in the parking lot behind City Hall, where her car was parked in the space marked “Mayor.”
At some point, some fellow city employees had “punked” the mayor’s car with parking tickets, memorabilia and a plastic blow-up doll (once “employed” in the city clerk’s office) stuck under the front bumper with a name tag reading “Gene Tacy,” the Ward 7 city councilor who often tangled with Higgins. (Tacy is expected to address the subject at Thursday’s City Council meeting.)
On Saturday afternoon, Higgins returned to her former office to box up most of her personal effects without interruption. All she left were resource materials, a few mementos, and a couple walls-full of plaques and photos marking her time in office.
Dual Roles for the City Councilor-Mayor
There was no formal ceremony transferring mayoral powers to Narkewicz, and no swearing-in ceremony. As council president, he took the oath of office in January 2010, and it is from that position that his status as acting mayor flows, according to the city’s charter.
The two overlapping roles will be on display at Thursday’s City Council meeting, when Narkewicz will chair the meeting as acting mayor. (Click here to see that meeting’s agenda.)
Asked whether he will vote on all matters as a city councilor, Narkewicz said he wasn’t sure. But, he said, there appears to be nothing preventing him from introducing measures as acting mayor and voting on them as a city councilor; council rules specifically allow for that, he said.
And last week, City Solicitor Elaine Reall issued a memorandum stating that the acting mayor possesses all the power of an elected mayor. (See our story on Reall’s opinion by clicking here.)
On Sunday, Narkewicz made his official debut as the city’s acting mayor during a ceremony at the Carlon Drive fire headquarters marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There, Narkewicz offered a few remarks and introduced other attending dignitaries. (To see other photos of that ceremony, click here for Northampton Media’s Facebook page.)
By the end of Monday’s work day, Narkewicz was juggling his new duties and his personal life, which for the past several years has been largely devoted to staying home to raise his two daughters. While Northampton Media was there, he took a phone call from his wife Yelena Mikich, a Springfield obstetrician and gynecologist, to discuss logistics, and then headed home, knowing he must return by 6 p.m. to chair the City Council’s Ordinance Committee.
In his dress shirt and tie, the city’s acting chief executive looked professional, and yet relaxed, despite the pressures of a new routine he has yet to get a complete handle on. As a former legislative aide to U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, he’s got some experience in political office management. But this is all new.
As council president, he’s had plenty of experience tackling major issues facing the city, and has filled in from time to time as acting mayor for short stints. It’s the little things the office requires that he’ll have to learn over the next four months.
By Nov. 8, Narkewicz will know whether this learning curve was merely an exercise, or a running start for his first full term come Jan. 2. If that’s the case, he can start decorating the walls himself, making it feel like he belongs there instead of being just a visitor.
Narkewicz’ early transition into the mayor’s office has not been without controversy. “Many Northampton voters feel that Narkewicz’s assumed occupancy of Room One in September due to Mayor Higgins’s early resignation has given Narkewicz an unfair advantage in the race,” writes mayoral candidate Michael Bardsley in his campaign blog.
If Narkewicz makes mistakes, or if voters feel he’s not up to the task, Bardsley will be the one decorating the office, making appointments and taking control of city government. The two candidates will make their case during several debate appearances over the next two months.
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org