James W. Pitts got the chance to be mayor for a couple of days this week, and he used the opportunity to flex some political muscle.
While Mayor Masiello was out of town Wednesday, the Common Council president became acting mayor and used the occasion to threaten a veto of the water-privatization plan that the Common Council approved Tuesday.
"I'm just contemplating it. . . . I haven't said I'm going to veto it yet," Pitts said at midday when asked about his actions.
Pitts, who is running against Masiello for the party's nomination for mayor in the Democratic primary, backed down. But the threat sent several City officials scrambling to react. It also left many angry and perplexed.
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, Masiello was back in town, with the mayoral powers back in his hands.
"Much ado about nothing," Stephen T. Banko III, the mayor's communications director, said of the incident.
But some of Pitts' Council colleagues saw it differently.
Nine lined up ready to demand a special meeting and vowing to override any veto, according to Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk. Some city officials even debated how long Pitts' term as acting mayor was in effect. Did it end once Masiello entered state airspace aboard his return flight from Boston?
"My sense was Pitts was toying with (the veto)," Franczyk said.
"The veto would have been overridden. . . . This is a done deal."
As Council president pro tempore, Franczyk would have been the one to call a special meeting if Pitts had exercised the veto, and Pitts was nearly alone in opposing the water proposal.
"The mood of the Council would have been angry . . . if we would have been forced to go in there and do an override; people would have been irked," Franczyk said.
Pitts said he opposes the complex legislation because how and how much the city would save with a private manager for the water system remains unclear.
"We need a cost-benefit analysis of this. We need to know what to expect," he said.
But others noted that the opportunity for attention-grabbing might have been too great for Pitts.
"We're cutting water rates for the ratepayers; the unions are happy; we're moving into the 21st century. . . . What is the problem?" asked Franczyk, who described Pitts' actions as a "political stunt."