Newly appointed Mayor Diane Howard calls for civil debate

in Community/Featured/Headline

Although largely ceremonial, the position of Redwood City’s mayor, assumed annually by one of the city’s elected councilmembers, must, in addition to presiding over council meetings and cutting ribbon at events, “help set the tone for civil dialogue in our community,” according to Councilmember Ian Bain, who held the position this past year.

At the annual City Council transition ceremony Dec. 9, outgoing Mayor Bain was touted by council colleagues and residents for accomplishing that feat at a time of increasingly divisive national and local dialogue, particularly on social media. First appointed to council in 1998 and elected four times since, Bain, who remains councilmember until he terms out in November 2020, was described as demonstrating kindness, compassion and attentiveness as mayor.

“Every single day, (councilmembers) must get 100 emails, and I’m sure the mayor gets five times that, and he answers every one of them,” Councilmember Janet Borgens said.

Bain passed the torch to Mayor Diane Howard, whose first speech in her current term not only reiterated, but hammered home, a need to model civility.

“Tolerance is under attack in our country,” Howard said. “We are living in a time where bitter partisanship poisons our political discourse and we are salted with rancor from all sides and at every level.”

Having spent over half of the 37 years she’s lived in Redwood City on the council (her last term as mayor was almost 20 years ago), Howard focused her remarks “on how we talk to each other, how we listen to each other, and that now more than ever, we need to embrace divergent opinions.”

When leadership “fails to demonstrate a moral center,” Howard said, there’s a subsequent deterioration of interpersonal relationships and community connections. “Whether it be about politics, religion, ethnicity or sexual persuasion, civility has all been forgotten,” she said. “Social media platforms are littered with intolerant remarks by those emboldened by a lack of response from those who know better but remain silent.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, Howard suggested. She recalled a recent positive dialogue occurring at a council hearing filled with differing opinions on solutions to soaring rents. “Mayor Bain was clear, everyone would be heard, and that civility and respect would be expected by all,” Howard said. “I felt this was one of our best moments as a council and as a community.”

Howard vowed that the council and city “will not be drawn down that destructive path.”

The path to the mayor’s role changed this year. In September, the council voted to move to a seniority-based rotation system for appointing the mayor and vice mayor, where previously the council voted on who to select. 

Shelly Masur, who was appointed vice mayor, congratulated Howard and echoed the praise for Bain’s mayoral temperament.

Bain expressed gratitude for the support. While the mayor’s duties include presiding over council meetings, helping to set agendas and representing the council at events, setting the tone for civility remains one of its more important tasks, Bain said.

“Now that is not entirely up to the mayor, of course, but the mayor plays a big role in that, and I’m very thankful to have had that honor,” he said.