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June 19th, 2013 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Weakly by the Willamette

Are there any major cities besides Portland that use the weak-mayor system?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

Portland has a “weak mayor” system of governance where the mayor shares power with four commissioners. It took me a little while to wrap my head around that. Are there any other major cities that use the same system?

—Rudy G.

The only other major North American city I could find that uses the weak-mayor system (where the mayor has little more legislative pull than any other member of the city council) is Toronto.

As it happens, Toronto has been in the news lately, as its mayor, Rob Ford, has been under fire for allegedly smoking crack. And when I say “smoking crack,” I don’t mean “smoking crack” the way somebody who thinks the Cubs are going to win the World Series is “smoking crack.” I mean the “smoking crack” where you have some crack and you’re like, “Yay! Crack!” and then you smoke it.

You might think this would spell trouble for Toronto, but a recent Reuters story, “‘Weak mayor’ system keeps Toronto ticking through crack controversy,” suggests the city has managed to keep chugging along.

Since the mayor in a weak-mayor system is sort of a first among equals, with one vote on the city council like everyone else and no special veto power, the city’s business can keep rolling even if its chief executive is distracted, absent or, um, otherwise occupied.

In strong-mayor systems, by contrast, the mayor hires and fires, writes the budget and bans large fountain drinks more or less at will. If one of these mayors runs amok, the city will feel the burn.

Thus, whatever you might think of the weak-mayor system, it does seem to be a good one to have if your mayor is going to smoke crack.

I’m not saying that Portland Mayor Charlie Hales would ever do that, but still, it’s good to know.


QUESTIONS? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com

 
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