On the fifth floor of City Hall Tuesday, workers renovated the offices for new council members. And at Tuesday night's council meeting, there were three new faces: Angelique Ashby, who was sworn in a week ago, and Jay Schenirer and Darrell Fong, who took their oaths of office last night:
Fong: "…and the constitution of the state of California…"
Earlier in the day, the mayor invited the three rookies to his weekly press briefing. He offered them some advice …
Johnson: "Continue to fight like crazy for the districts you represent. But secondly, it's gonna be critically important that you have a citywide perspective and not be overly parochial."
… then issued this warning to the four council members up for election in 2012 - all of whom ran unopposed two years ago:
Johnson: "There's not gonna be uncontested council seats. Districts aren't gonna be safe - unless you earn it."
And wouldn't you know, those four incumbents - Sandy Sheedy, Rob Fong, Kevin McCarty and Bonnie Pannell - have consistently opposed Johnson on issues that split the council, like his strong mayor proposal. Which brings us to the real uncertainty: whether the council, with three new faces, will continue to act as many observers have labeled "dysfunctional." Well, the mayor says he hopes not. Angelique Ashby and Jay Schenirer agree:
Ashby: "In the end, every last one of us, all nine of the people up there, are trying in our own way to get to the same goal. So as long as we keep that in mind, we have a really great chance of getting this city to a really special place."
Schenirer: "I think that's the key to the divisiveness that people may have seen - or not - over time, that if we keep our heads down and do the work, we'll be fine."
With nothing but optimism inside City Hall, it was left to outside observers like political analyst Doug Elmets to inject a little skepticism:
Elmets: "Nothing could be fresher of a start than a new council, because the last council was incredibly divisive. So I would say anything is an improvement. But it remains to be seen."
Elmets notes that on policy issues, council members almost always agree.
Elmets: "The problem is, when you find one issue where they aren't together, it can be incredibly explosive, and that's where personalities come into play."
Personalities that have clashed repeatedly over the last two years.