For the past month (or, if one dates the onset of disaster to the first whisperings of an untoward relationship between the mayor and a developer, for the past six months), watching Richardson politics has been like observing a slow-moving train wreck — one in which the engineer stubbornly and inexplicably insists on forging ahead and filing for a second term as mayor despite the sound of buckling steel and the ear-rending screech of metal gouging metal.
As of 7:19 p.m. Monday, when the City Council ducked into an hourlong executive session to decide which one of them would serve the remaining 1 year, 364 days, 23 hours, and 41 minutes remaining on former Mayor Laura Maczka’s brand-new second term, it’s over. Not over in the sense that Maczka’s many jilted neighbors in Canyon Creek have forgiven or forgotten; for them, the Palisades development going up behind their neighborhood will stand as a hulking and permanent symbol of Maczka’s betrayal and the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the deal. But the era of Richardson politics being a tawdry public soap opera is finished.
Last night’s meeting was proof of that. There was none of the tension or rancor that characterized the meeting last month at which Maczka was officially cleared of ethics violations surrounding the Palisades deal but admitted a personal relationship with developer Mark Jordan, for whom she had recently begun working. Indeed, the council chambers were dominated this time by Maczka supporters as she stepped down. After she made brief remarks on the honor of serving as mayor, the crowd — with the notable exception of her 2013 mayoral opponent, Amir Omar — gave her a standing ovation.
The mood around the dais was jocular. Early in the meeting Councilman Paul Voelker apparently spilled water on his desk, which Councilman Steve Mitchell turned into a running joke that he refused to let die. There were guffaws all around when Mayor Pro Tem Bob Townsend, who assumed control of the meeting following Maczka’s remarks, was addressed by Councilman Mark Solomon as “Madame Mayor.”
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The swearing-in was perfunctory. Absent Maczka and her crimson pantsuit, the returning council members made a drab tableau in their dark suits and loafers, with Mitchell and Voelker’s (brown with only flecks of gray) offering the closest thing to a splash of color. Newly minted Councilwoman Mabel Simpson, a lawyer, was sworn in alone. She becomes the only non-white dude on the council. She wore white.
The vast majority of the audience, which was larded with ex-council members (longtime Mayor Gary Slagel back-slapped his way around the room at least twice) and featured Chuck Eisemann, Richardson’s most influential power broker, stayed through the executive session and cheered enthusiastically when the council selected Voelker as mayor. Voelker is soft-spoken and serious-minded and lacks his predecessor’s charm and charisma, which was a mark in his favor on Monday night. Richardson doesn’t need charisma, the consensus seemed to be; it needs an even-keeled leader who can ensure stability and get on well with the business community. Voelker, a 30-year veteran of Richardson’s Telecom Corridor, fit the bill. Everyone stood to applaud Voelker as he took the mayor’s chair, even Omar and his fellow dissidents.
The potential for drama hasn’t completely disappeared. Voelker’s selection as mayor leaves his place 5 council seat vacant. The council will begin its search for a replacement when it meets on June 1. That said, much or most of the outrage seems to have left with Maczka. Richardson can now return to being the nice, orderly suburban government it’s always been.