This month, Dorothy Thornhill stepped down as Mayor of Watford after 16 years in tole. She was always very popular and left a great legacy for her successor, Peter Taylor.
She wrote for the Guardian this week about her years as Mayor, which included supporting the establishment of the Harry Potter Experience on her patch.
She looked at the advantages of towns having a directly elected Mayor:
At one level mayors have no more direct power than council leaders. But they have more soft power. You are the mayor of a place, not just the leader of a council. The mandate from the public gives you a licence to interfere in things that are not your direct responsibility. I used this in various ways: supporting efforts to bring Warner Studios (now the Harry Potter Experience) to the Watford area, getting town centre businesses to agree to a business improvement district, and influencing policing policy in our town centre in a more liberal direction.
She remembers using a bit of creative thinking to help save her local A and E Department:
I like to think that my persuasive powers made a difference in keeping hospital A&E services in Watford when they were under threat; but being able to make council-owned land available to the hospital for improved access and facilities certainly did. I was not in charge of the local NHS, but people expect their mayor to support the hospital, and the authority of the mayoralty enabled me to move quickly to secure its future.
And having a Mayor gives voters a bigger say in the strategic plans for their town or city:
Having a mayor gives voters a real choice about the future of their town or city. Often local elections are focused either on national politics (sending the government a message) or on who will speak up for a particular ward or neighbourhood. Strategic questions are often not even debated. Voters don’t get to weigh up who will be best at running the council, because the leader is chosen by councillors of the victorious party behind closed doors, once the election is over. Mayoral elections mean candidates cannot escape setting out their rival visions and policies for people to choose between.
Voters seem to agree:
Possibly the truest word anyone said to me about the mayoral system was a resident who, after berating me for changing my hairstyle too often, said: “I don’t always agree with you, but I know who you are, what you are doing and why.”
You can read the whole article here.
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