Palo Alto will have a new mayor tonight and, if tradition holds, the annual honor will go to a soft-spoken, data-hungry economist with a long record of skepticism and dissent when it comes to new developments.
Vice Mayor Greg Schmid, one of the leading slow-growth "residentialists" on the nine-member council, could shift to the center of the council's dais if the council upholds its long-standing practice of appointing last year's vice mayor as this year's mayor. The shift would be the latest sign of the ascendancy of slow-growth leaders on the council, who in 2014 scored an election victory and now hold the majority of council seats.
Schmid, who was elected in 2007 and is now in his final year, subscribed to this philosophy well before it became the rule of the day, having spent most of his first term casting votes against new developments and questioning assumptions about the traffic problems they could cause. Schmid was re-elected to a second term in 2012, the council's first even-year election. In 2015, he narrowly beat out Councilman Pat Burt for the vice mayor's seat. He was also appointed by Mayor Karen Holman to chair the council's Finance Committee.
Tonight, in the council's first meeting of the new year, he could take over as mayor -- a position that is often referred to as symbolic but that nevertheless comes with some powers. These include the purview to shape the agenda, run meetings and make appointments to council committees.
His election is not, however, a foregone conclusion. Last year, the council broke with precedent when it unanimously selected Karen Holman as its 2015 mayor, even though Councilwoman Liz Kniss had served as the vice mayor in 2014. Kniss, who is not affiliated with the slow-growth faction, nominated Holman for the position after Holman earned the most votes in the 2014 council election.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers at 250 Hamilton Ave. and will conclude with a special resolution of appreciation for Holman.