Cities opting for four-year mayor terms
When voters in Everett and Newburyport cast their ballots for mayor in 2013, it will mark a milestone moment in the electoral life of those cities.
As a result of charter changes approved by voters last month, the mayoral terms in both communities will increase from two years to four years.
Everett and Newburyport will then join six other area cities that have opted to lengthen the terms of their mayors to allow those elected to the position more time to govern without the pressures of a political campaign.
“It helps communities move forward when you have stability with leadership,’’ said Stephen P. Cole, who chaired the commission that developed Newburyport’s charter proposal.
Lawrence adopted a four-year term effective with its 1987 election. Malden went to the four-year term as of its 1999 election, Lynn and Salem with their 2001 elections, Revere with its 2003 election, and Melrose with its 2007 election.
Statewide, 12 cities now have four-year mayoral terms, a number that will rise to 14 once Everett and Newburyport’s changes takes effect, according to Marilyn Contreas, senior program and policy analyst for the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Thirty cities have two-year terms and one a three-year term, Contreas said. With Everett and Newburyport included, 11 area cities presently have two-year terms. The others are Amesbury, Beverly, Gloucester, Haverhill, Medford, Methuen, Peabody, Somerville, and Woburn. Not included in the count are Cambridge, Lowell, and Worcester, where the mayors are city councilors who do not function as chief executives. All three have city managers.
Holyoke voters this year rejected a charter change that included extending the mayor’s term to four years.
Contreas said that Newton was the first to move to a four-year term in 1971, and the pace has picked up in recent times.
“I attribute it to individual communities weighing whether it would be beneficial,’’ she said, adding that in the case of the region north of Boston, some cities may have been prompted to consider the idea by seeing other cities doing it.
Cole, a School Committee member, said the growing complexity of running a city points to the advantage of a longer electoral cycle for mayors.
“Things are incredibly more complicated today than they were 30 years ago,’’ Cole said. “It takes more time and more attention to detail.’’ He said a four-year term allows a mayor to better focus on those details and “to better follow up on initiatives and programs.’’
He said it also gives the mayor more time to develop meaningful relationships with businesses and nonprofits in the community.
Also supportive of the four-year term is Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino, who is retiring next month after having served two four-year terms that were preceded by two two-year terms.
“I’ve always thought the four-year term was much better,’’ he said. “In a two-year term, you are basically campaigning nonstop, so it’s hard to really devote attention to serious, substantive issues. And it’s sometimes harder to make difficult decisions when you are on the ballot every two years.’’
“If you are on the ballot every four years, if you have to do something, you can still do it and then still have enough time to create a balanced record so you can be judged objectively,’’ he added.
But William H. Ryan, a Haverhill city councilor and former mayor of that city, does not believe in giving mayors four-year terms.
“I think to keep their feet to the fire, you do that by having an election every two years,’’ Ryan said, adding that a shorter term gives voters a more timely opportunity to replace a mayor who is not performing well.
With a four-year term, he said, “Once you elect a mayor you are stuck with them for four years. The mayor is the person who can really make or break the city.’’
Ryan said a mayor doing a good job “should be able to slide right back in’’ after being reelected.
Denis Kennedy, who served on the Newburyport Charter Commission, opposed the move to four-year terms because “I thought Newburyport had not reached the threshold of needing a four-year term, looking at factors such as population size, the size of the administration, and political factors as well.
“My view now is that the charter has passed and we will make it work,’’ said Kennedy, a former director of public information at the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance and currently a principal of a public affairs consulting firm.
The extension of the mayoral term in Everett was part of an overall charter change that will also replace the city’s bicameral City Council with a single-branch council.
Ward 1 Alderwoman Millie J. Cardello said she supports four-year mayoral terms, but she opposed the switch in Everett because she believed it should also extend to city councilors.
“That way, I thought it would be fair to all,’’ she said.
Daniel Mulcare, a professor of political science at Salem State University, said there are tradeoffs involved in switching to a four-year term, since while the city gains more stability, less frequent elections means less democracy.
But he said that larger challenges to government are the outsized role of money in the political process nationally, and “extremely low voter turnout in local elections.’’
“I can see the argument behind it,’’ he said of four-year mayoral terms. “And if voters agree, then it’s not a serious threat to democracy.’’