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Himmelrich, McCowan Solidify Support, Keep Top Council Posts

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By Jorge Casuso

January 13, 2021 -- After more than a hour of testimony and debate, the City Council Tuesday night voted once again to select Sue Himmelrich as Mayor and Kristin McCowan as Mayor pro tem. Only this time it was unanimous.

The votes -- which came after concerns were raised that the December 8 selection may have violated the State's open meetings act -- were highlighted by an emotionally charged speech by McCowan ("Council to Redo Vote for Top Posts," January 6, 2021).

McCowan, the first Black woman elected to the Council, forcefully defended herself after disclosing before last month's vote that she had discussions with three other councilmembers ("OPINION -- Mayor Pro Tem McCowan Denounces 'Misguided Accusations,'" January 13, 2020).

"I will not allow a few loud voices who know nothing of me or my history to suggest that I am an ethically compromised individual," McCowan said.

"I take that very personally and I will not stand for misguided accusations. We all make mistakes," she said.

"A real leader admits them and takes responsibility. And sadly, apparently I was the only one that chose to do so."

McCowan also denounced those she said are dividing the city by claiming to represent "residents," noting that she was elected by more than 32,000 voters.

"I have never met an elected official in our City who did not believe they were putting residents first," she said.

"Lately the prospect of 'resident first' has been usurped by some in our community who identify only certain councilmembers as putting residents first.

"The funny thing about that moniker is that it would imply in a city of 90,000 plus that only that number that voted for the particular councilmember they believe puts residents first are the resident voices that deserve a say," she said.

McCowan -- who was first appointed to her seat in July -- defended her qualifications to serve as Mayor pro tem, a post she said required a two-year turm during the coronavirus pandemic.

"What qualifies me for this role as Mayor Pro Tem is not only my years of government service at the Federal, State and local level -- what qualifies me for this role is that I am committed to putting the needs of others above my own," she said.

The speech overshadowed failed efforts to split the terms of both the Mayor and Mayor pro tem posts.

Councilmember Phil Brock, declined the nomination to serve one-year as Mayor pro tem, saying that he believed in McCowan's leadership and had known her family for half a century.

"I respect and love your family," Brock said. "We need you to be on the Council to rebirth our City."

Himmelrich, who again refused to serve a one-year term, said McCowan had proved "engaged, insightful and amazingly helpful" during her first month as Mayor pro tem.

McCowan, she said, "brings important diversity."

"She's a young working woman with children in school," Himmelrich said. "She's black, and she's sharing an experience" with others like her.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre offered to share the two-year term with McCowan, saying it was important to have a Latino in a leadership role.

"It's almost like we're invisible," he said, noting that no one had remarked that in November Christine Parra became the first Latina elected to the Council.

"The Latino community waited for 300 years to get the first Latino mayor ever, and that mayor (Tony Vazquez) served one year," de la Torre said. "And I'm thinking, how many white women have served as mayor?"

In the end, de la Torre joined the rest of the Council and voted for Himmelrich and McCowan to serve two-year terms.

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