Strong mayor and weak council?
Or weak mayor and strong council?
Why puzzle now over those alternative forms of municipal government?
Because lately assorted candidates for local municipal office, during visits to our editorial staff, have offered intriguing insights on the topic.
For instance, one such candidate told us Wednesday:
“I think a strong mayor’s great as long as you have the right mayor.”
And Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin recently told distinguished Post and Courier colleague Robert Behre that Charleston has not just the right mayor in Joe Riley, but the right system of strong mayor and weak council.
Benjamin is running for re-election on Nov. 5. A month later, Columbia voters will decide in a referendum whether to shift from the weak-mayor to the strong-mayor format.
Benjamin’s pitch for the latter: “It’s about having an elected official who is directly accountable to the people. Not only accountable, but has the ability and wherewithal to cast a broad vision to direct the city and has the ability to carry it out.”
He hailed Riley as a positive strong-mayor model: “I think his leadership has helped shape this debate significantly.”
Certainly Strongman, er, Strong Mayor Riley has shaped Charleston for much the better since taking charge late in 1975. And though Riley, dubbed “Mayor for Life” by Bill Murray, says he’s stepping down when his 10th term ends in 2015, plenty of Charlestonians will believe that only when they see it.
North Charleston’s Keith Summey also has strongly advanced his city over 19 years in a strong-mayor system.
But Mount Pleasant has done well with its weak-mayor, strong-council system.
And Mayor Billy Swails, who’s not seeking re-election next month, gave up his effort to shift to a strong-mayor format early last year after council just said no.
Who’s in charge?
Still, Rule of the One averts the indecisiveness and chaos wrought by Rule of the Too Many. And many Americans have decided that Democrats and Republicans have made a gridlocked mess of our democratic republic.
But before passing down all shutdown and debt-ceiling-debacle blame to politicians in Washington, remember who sent them there.
Remember voters’ con-flicting demands for ever-higher government benefits and never-higher taxes.
And remember that our current chief executive has often lamented his constitutional limitations.
As President Barack Obama put it six months ago: “I am constrained ... by a system that our Founders put in place.”
Yet what if such constraints weren’t in place?
What if Americans, in a binding national plebiscite, agreed to accept a state-of-emergency shift to not a “strong mayor,” but a supreme national leader?
That job would require a person with proven communication skills (for instance, a journalist), management experience (running a sports department), a degree from a prestigious university (Clemson), past residence in varied states (South Carolina, Maryland, Texas), past travels to foreign lands (England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New York, Oregon), and past consultations with political luminaries and other public-policy experts (including Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Joe Riley, Mark Sanford, Jim Clyburn, Nikki Haley, Leon Panetta, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Jackson, Fritz Hollings, Rand Paul, Darla Moore, Mitt Romney, Dana Beach, Al Cannon and Dot Scott).
So though my demanding Post and Courier duties are also quite rewarding, I herewith offer to quit my job to become America’s supreme leader. In this dire circumstance, the readers’ unfortunate loss would be the nation’s necessary gain.
Take it or leave it
My conditions for taking on this colossal challenge are non-negotiable:
Only this supreme leader will determine when the state of emergency, and thus my tenure, end. And I will not submit to the indignities of a popularity contest, aka an election, to keep my all-powerful office.
Our urgent priorities are clear: We must cut benefits and raise taxes to balance the budget. We must stop paying so many people not to work. We must make our new foreign-relations credo “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”
First though, we must dump the designated hitter, a four-decade blight on our national pastime.
As for you who have voted us into this $16.7 trillion — and deepening — hole:
Ask not what your country can do for you.
Ask what you must do for your supreme leader.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.