By the Daily Post staff
Palo Alto City Council tonight (Jan. 3) elected councilman and former mayor Pat Burt to become mayor for 2022 in a 6-1 vote, with Greg Tanaka dissenting because he wanted an Asian American leader.
However, in the next vote, council unanimously selected Lydia Kou as vice mayor.
Prior to voting, Councilwoman Alison Cormack pointed out that the most recent Census showed 35% of the city’s population was Asian, but the city hadn’t had an Asian American mayor for 10 years since Yiaway Yeh held the job in 2012.
“If we do not elect Lydia Kou as mayor this evening, and it looks like we won’t, it will be a minimum of 10 years without an Asian American to serve in that role,” said Cormack.
Cormack pointed out that the lack of an Asian American leader sends an unfortunate message to high school students in town.
Cormack’s comments were a surprise because it had long been anticipated that Burt would become mayor without opposition.
Immediately after Cormack spoke, Councilman Tom DuBois, last year’s mayor, jumped in to offer words of support for Burt.
“Pat has been a great vice mayor this year. He’s really supported me in the role. And, you know, with his experience as a former two-time mayor I think we know he can do the job. He’s extremely dedicated. He’s extremely focused on sustainability issues and climate change,” DuBois said.
Next was Tanaka, who noted that the job of mayor is running the council meetings to make sure everyone is heard and that all issues are debated. Tanaka said that Kou, as head of the council’s Policy and Services Committee, was successful in that task.
Tanaka, who is running for Congress, said it was a “travesty” that council isn’t more diverse.
He said Palo Alto has become a “minority majority city.”
In the end, council members Cormack, DuBois, Eric Filseth, Kou, Greer Stone and Pat Burt voted for Burt. Tanaka’s vote was for “none.”
Then it came time for council to select a vice mayor for 2020, and Cormack — who had missed out of the position by only one or two votes in the past two years — threw her support behind Kou for vice mayor, saying it was long over due.
Cormack also criticized the process the council goes through every January to select a mayor and vice major.
The seven-member body picks one of its own members to serve as mayor and vice mayor. Prior to the voting, the council members make speeches and then members of the public go to the microphone to campaign for their favorites.
“Vice Mayor Kou suggests every year that we have a rotation process for mayor and vice mayor, and I will be supporting that at the council retreat as I have before,” Cormack said.
“Our neighbors seem to manage this with much less drama and it’s more straight forward,” Cormack said.
“This process is opaque and it has frankly become elitist and it is unnecessary,” Cormack said. “This is not about the people elected this evening. This is about the process.”
She questioned whether the council was providing a “professional, fair and equitable workplace for everyone.”