In all the excitement following the aftermath of last Thursday’s local elections, it is easy to overlook that one of the long held Southend traditions is to elect a new mayor each year, following soon after the local elections. I almost did so myself until reminded by a Facebook friend who had been invited to yesterday’s mayor making ceremony, despite his believing the office of mayor should be scrapped as out dated and as a cost cutting exercise. It also marks the bowing out of office of the previous mayor, Andrew Moring, duties which he creditably discharged in his year in office. After it was over, another Facebook friend, and a friend of the new mayor, wrote in glowing terms what a wonderful occasion it had all been and how proud he was of his friend, wishing her every success in her new office.
I have lived in Southend most of my life and while I have been aware of the office of mayor for much of that time, I had little dealings with mayors until I started getting a lot more involved in community activities around the turn of the millennium. One of the main functions of mayors is to attend an assortment of community events in his / her capacity as first citizen. And so it was, in 2002 the then mayor, Alan Crystal, opened the Growing Together Gardens for which I had some responsibility. It was nice speaking to Alan, following his giving up being a councilor at last week’s elections, to thank him for what he did and for all his other service to the town and wish him well. And probably every year after that, sometimes several times in the year, I would bump into the mayor at that time in some or other community event. The 2004-05 mayor, Roger Weaver, made our project his charity for that year and gave it a great boost, also bringing out another important aspect of the mayoral office – helping to fund raise for one or more of the town charities.
Checking out the Council website, what struck me is the variety of activities the mayor typically undertakes, although some mayors are more prolific than others and each has his / her own unique style and particular interests. More recently, I came aware of the important role the mayor has beyond that of a ceremonial role and being the town first citizen. It revolves around chairing Council meetings, and from what I can make out the incumbents have discharged this role well. It seems invariably mayors rise to the challenge associated with carrying out mayoral duties, including political neutrality and maintaining the dignity of the office. While the method of selecting mayors has something to do with longevity of service as a Councillor, the system appears to work and, while not itself a reason for retaining the office, it does seem a good way to recognize the efforts of those who serve the town. As for my friend who would want to do away with the mayoral office altogether, my response is the system works well and is good value even if a lot of it is intangible. It remains one of the nicer aspects of Civic life.
Going back to the latest mayor, this followed some speculation as to who it might be. Dr Vel, who was deputy mayor in the year just passed, was down to be mayor this year, but he lost his seat, which is a pity as I would have liked to have seen him serving as mayor. The next in line was John Lamb, the Leader of the Conservative group, but no doubt the attraction of becoming Leader of the Council was too much and so he passed on the opportunity. Next came Judith McMahon, and it is she who yesterday became mayor for the coming year. I have interacted with Judith on several occasions following my becoming a full time community activist and this is not the place to share anecdotes from our meetings or venture an opinion on any shortcoming. The one thing I would like to say though about Judith is that she has a heart to serve the community, especially toward the disadvantaged, she works hard and I have often seen her getting stuck in trying to be helpful one way or another. Checking on reports, she seems to be rather relishing the challenge before her, which I have no doubt she will do well and as best she can. I look forward to seeing her in action in Council webcasts. I am confident she will add her own special stamp and style on the office. I wish her well and also her nominated charity for the year: Southend YMCA.
Addendum: and of course not to forget Mayor Judith’s commitment to the Arts and her appointing of an old friend, known for not mincing his words, John Bulley as her official artist – interesting!