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Vice-Mayor Role in Play

Under the city charter, a vice mayor has only two formal duties: 1) Preside at council meetings for a one-year term, and 2) Become acting mayor if that position becomes vacant, until a successor is elected.

Informally, the job could entail much more.

Richmond's new government splits into two branches. The mayor will lead the executive branch. City Council becomes the legislative branch.

The vice mayor could leverage his or her position to become a voice of the legislative branch, a foil to Wilder, serving as the liaison between the mayor and council. He or she could help rally council consensus and put the mayor's power in check.

That's because City Council can, with a majority vote, reject legislation introduced by the mayor. In contrast, the mayor lacks veto power over City Council.

Wilder played down that fact in an election night interview with Style Weekly on WRVA 1140-AM. Asked about council's power to strike down his legislation, he said:

"I don't know that that's the situation, and we'll talk about that as we go. I intend to reach out to council and work with them, and do everything I can to see that we can have a smooth, mellifluous undertaking. If that can take place, it will take place. Trust me, the mayor has tremendous power. I'll exert it and use it."

Wilder earned a clear mandate, having won all nine precincts and more than three-quarters of the vote. He will set a vision, build a budget and serve as the voice of the city — and perhaps, the region (see News & Features, page 11).

"It's force of personality, man," Councilman Manoli Loupassi says of Wilder's star power. "It gives the whole city kind of a boost. And there are things that he can do or say that very few people can do or say. And that gives him a lot of moral authority. And it gives him a lot of political authority."

Council can balance that too, adds Loupassi, whose campaign committee donated $2,000 to Wilder. "Everybody's just got to play by the rules, and we will."

First, the council must decide how much authority to confer upon its next vice mayor. For now, Councilwoman Jackie Jackson sees the vice-mayor position mostly as a presiding officer at meetings.

"Each of us will still have our own access to the mayor," Jackson says. "If there's a need for a common voice, I'm sure we will come together and determine who that common voice will be."

She adds, "It's going to be important for us to work together and not try to vie for position or stance, so to speak."

But without a strong, experienced and organizationally effective leader as vice mayor, says returning Councilman Bill Pantele, "the result will be a very weak and very fractured City Council."

Who's in contention? Current Vice Mayor Delores McQuinn, perhaps. Jackson would consider it. Pantele wouldn't rule it out.

But Loupassi, the only council member unopposed Nov. 2, says he wants the job.

"I have been around for a pretty good while now," Loupassi says. "I know the folks on the council. And I hope I have their respect. They know in dealing with me that I'm a straight-up guy." — Jason Roop

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