For a 25-minute ceremony Tuesday afternoon, all eyes were on a 2-foot by 3-foot pothole next to the curb on William Street, near Wilson Street.
Then, Mayor Byron W. Brown, wearing a dove-gray pinstriped suit and a pair of clean white cotton gloves, arrived and shoveled cold patch from the back of a city truck into the hole.
"This is more like a crater!" the mayor quipped between shovelfuls.
The truck's usual crew, laborer Nathan Hall and equipment operator Gene Rose, watched the mayor's labors for a while before Rose took the shovel and flattened the moist, crumbly material for tamping.
The ceremonial filling of the pothole symbolized the city's fight against the asphalt abysses, which have been worse this year because of what Brown called the winter's "pretty severe freeze-thaw" cycles.
Although the enemy is tougher than usual, Brown and Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak say the city is on top of the problem because of the quick work of the crews and up-to-the-minute notification about potholes from people who dial the mayor's 311 Call and Resolution Center. "As of right now, we have no outstanding calls," Stepniak said.
Rather than declaring victory, Brown used the opportunity to encourage people who drive city streets to call 311 to report potholes.
"The public is not shy about giving us their information," the mayor said. "And we know they prefer the filled pothole to the pothole that is unfilled."
The city guarantees that a pothole will be filled within 48 weekday hours after a 311 complaint is received.
"I take pride in that 311 guarantee," said John Byrne, street maintenance supervisor.
"When the mayor first proposed [the guarantee], we were a little nervous, to be honest," Stepniak said. But it's worked out well, he said.
"The 311 line instantly goes over to the repair crews," Stepniak said. "If there's a crew in the area, they can handle it right away, or they can refer it to the afternoon shift. But having that quick data makes it easier for the supervisors to organize."
In all of last year, the 311 line received 1,222 pothole complaints, compared with 780 so far this year.
Byrne says he keeps a close eye on some well-known "hot spots" -- intersections where constant, heavy traffic tends to stress the pavement: Franklin and West Tupper streets, Michigan Avenue and Seneca Street, Grant and Amherst streets.
Byrne also issued a plea for drivers to watch out for the crews. "Those yellow lights mean they should slow down," he said. "I always tell my guys to work from the back of the truck and wait until the cars pass. Safety first."
As crews shoveled cold patch into smaller crevices along Wilson Street, Stepniak said the short street will get a whole new look soon -- it's on the list for repaving.
"People are really gratified" when potholes are repaired, Hall said. "Because if we don't do it, everybody recognizes the consequences."