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Amsterdam mayor off to a rocky start

Amsterdam mayor off to a rocky start

Decisive action has its limits, especially when you anger your constituents unnecessarily

New Amsterdam Mayor Mike Villa might take a lesson from "The Steamroller."

When Eliot Spitzer took control of the governor's office in January 2007 after a landslide victory in the election two months earlier, he said he was going to be a "steamroller" to get the ineffective, dysfunctional state Legislature to enact budget and ethics reforms.

Turns out, he quickly discovered, people don't take too kindly to being stream-rolled. Rather than compel lawmakers to capitulate, his statement energized them, and his reforms never gained any footing.

Mr. Villa might take a lesson from Gov. Spitzer’s experience as he attempts to turn around the struggling city.

The mayor’s new administration got off to a similar start last week when Villa inexplicably ordered the removal of a stone labyrinth from the City Hall lawn as one of his first acts of business.

The 56-foot-diameter maze had been constructed by a group of community volunteers. Many of the rocks were painted by local children.

The mayor was apparently not a fan of the maze, or perhaps of any reminder of his predecessor, Ann Thane. So he had it dismantled.

The mayor's new subjects, however, didn't respond positively to their project being steam-rolled. In fact, many were legitimately quite angry, taking to social media to express their displeasure.

We understand that nothing lasts forever. And the mayor certainly has the authority to maintain City Hall property as he sees fit. That’s his job.

But it's the way he went about the removal that's disturbing, as is his dismissive attitude toward criticism when questioned about the decision. Pressed for a reason why he ordered the maze dismantled, he responded, "Do I need one?" And when asked about the angry comments from residents on Facebook, he said he doesn't rule via Facebook.

No, he doesn't need a reason. And no, he doesn't have to react to comments on Facebook.

But he does need to govern. And to do that, at some point he's going to need his constituents to buy into what he's doing and he’s going to need to enlist their help in achieving his goals for the city.

Ripping up one of their beloved projects without warning or giving a reason, especially one built with the help of children, is exactly the wrong way to go about building community spirit and cooperation. The steam-rolling didn't work for the governor. And it's not going to work for the mayor.

Our advice: Put back the rocks for now. Apologize. And promise to be more sensitive and responsive in the future.

If he doesn't do that, then when he wants to do something really important for which he needs the community's support, he can expect to face a bumpy road.

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