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Martinez steps aside, Cole becomes new Mayor Pro Tem

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

If there was an unofficial theme to Tuesday’s City Council inaugural ceremony, then it was surely reconciliation. Following several divisive months at City Hall, highlighted by nasty emails and a split over endorsements in the Place 3 race, nearly every Council member mentioned the need to put aside past disputes and work together.


And no mention was more significant that that of Mike Martinez, who used the occasion to announce that he would not be seeking re-election as the city’s mayor pro tem. That announcement left the door open for Council Member Sheryl Cole to win unanimous approval as Mayor Pro Tem.


Ever since Kathie Tovo won her runoff election against Randi Shade on June 18, rumors have been circulating around City Hall that there was a fight brewing over the mayor pro tem seat between Martinez and Cole, who helped Tovo. Many figured the issue would result in a battle on the dais yesterday; instead, Martinez decided to back off in the name of Council unity.


“I think it’s clear that we’ve been going through a difficult time over the last several months here at City Hall,” said Martinez. “And, literally, this election divided this Council. But that time is over, and it’s really time to move forward.”


Shortly after Tovo was elected, Martinez said Cole came to him and expressed a desire to serve as mayor pro tem and “somewhat of a community expectation” that she do so. “And I certainly won’t stand in the way of that desire or expectation,” Martinez said. “Many in our community have called for us to put past issues aside and come together as a Council. It is my firm belief that the only way for that to truly happen is for someone to actually take a first step and an action in that direction.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who acknowledged the “difficult, even divisive, time” Council has recently been through, echoed Martinez’s comments.


“But now the election is over, the new Council is seated, and our responsibility is to come together for the betterment of this community that we all love and serve,” Leffingwell said. “The big challenges we face today are no different than the challenges we faced yesterday.”


Council Member Bill Spelman congratulated Martinez for his “very statesmanlike remarks” and then nominated Cole to take his place. No Council members made any other nominations, and they voted 7-0 in favor of Cole.


After the meeting, Cole told In Fact Daily that she was not surprised by Martinez’s decision to step aside but was happy and impressed with how “gracious and supportive” he had been. Being pro tem, she said, will allow her to help bring the Council together even more.


“The mayor pro tem title is what you make it,” Cole said, “and we are facing some very difficult times as a Council, and part of my role is assisting the mayor in pulling the Council together to be a team and to continue to inspire the confidence of the citizens and show that we are ready to lead.”


Not wanting to be left out, the Council’s newest member, Tovo, thanked Shade for her years of service on the Council and acknowledged the contentiousness of the campaign they ran against each other. She promised her new colleagues that contentiousness would not follow her to the dais.


“I know that the last few months have been turbulent ones in and out of City Hall,” she said to the other Council members, “and I want you to know that I am eager to put those behind us and to work in partnership with each one of you for the betterment of our great city.”


The wait may not be long to see how well the Council’s new spirit of unity holds up. Council members are scheduled to take up two potentially divisive issues today, the Formula 1 racetrack and fee waivers for a 1,000-room convention hotel project in downtown Austin.

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