Longtime environmental activist Peter Drekmeier, 43, was named Palo Alto mayor for 2009 by acclamation Monday night and standing applause by fellow City Council members and an audience of nearly 200 persons.
But Councilman Jack Morton was elected vice mayor on a split vote over Councilman Pat Burt, on a 5-3 vote -- Councilman Sid Espinosa was still on vacation.
Drekmeier -- who beat out his council colleague John Barton for the vice mayor's position last year -- was widely expected to be elected mayor. His election-by-acclamation completes his transition from a lifetime of grass-roots activism to the top post on the City Council.
He acknowledged that the mayoral position is largely a "figurehead" role but said he looks forward to being mayor and continuing his work with the council.
Following the election, Drekmeier introduced members of his family and noted that he is a native Palo Altan raised in Midtown Palo Alto.
He praised the leadership of outgoing Mayor Larry Klein, who nominated Drekmeier with praise of his own for Drekmeier's long environmental leadership and his solid support as vice mayor. Klein also has deep environmental roots, including being a founder of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in the early 1970s.
Drekmeier also praised Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, who served as mayor prior to Klein, for her environmental leadership, and earlier Mayor Judy Kleinberg, now off the council.
Drekmeier's rise to the mayor's position will likely bring more continuity than change to the council. Like outgoing Mayor Larry Klein, Drekmeier is best known for promoting green policies that aim to make Palo Alto energy-efficient and self-sustainable.
Drekmeier supports considering new uses for Palo Alto Airport, instituting a fee on non-reusable shopping bags and building an in-vessel composting facility that would also generate electricity.
"I really want us to focus on local self-reliance," Drekmeier said in a pre-meeting interview Monday with the Weekly.
"My sense is the more we can do locally, as far as producing renewable energy on sites, turning our waste into resources, and thinking more about where we get our food, the better off we'll be."
Drekmeier also has been adamant about protecting open space and skeptical about Stanford University's short- and long-term expansion plans. In December, he was one of several council members to call on Stanford to provide housing for new employees at its expanded hospital and shopping center. The approval process for the two major expansion projects is expected to stretch through Drekmeier's mayoral tenure and beyond.
Drekmeier, who was elected to the council in 2005, said he expects the city to keep most of its priorities from 2008. The one major issue the city will have to revisit in 2009 is its proposed public-safety building, a project that he said might have to wait until the city's fiscal situation improves. Palo Alto is expected to have a budget shortfall of $2.5 million this year and a shortfall of more than $5 million next year.
Drekmeier also said the council will continue to promote civic engagement, pursue "green" policies and proceed with its plan to renovate city libraries.
"I'm more of an activist at heart, but the purpose of an activist is to achieve certain results," Drekmeier said. "And on the council, we get to be the decision makers."