Two metaphors come to mind as I consider the process through which City Council will choose a successor should Mayor Julian Castro run off to Washington.
The first metaphor is a Papal Conclave, the ornate and arcane process through which the College of Cardinals selects a pope.
The cardinals are locked up in the Sistine Chapel.
After every seven ballots, they take time off to pray so the Holy Spirit can guide them.
Before casting their vote on each ballot, each cardinal says, in Latin, "I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who before God I think SHOULD be elected."
If, after 28 ballots, nobody gets the two-thirds vote necessary, then the top two vote-getters are named as finalists.
It will be somewhat different at City Hall.
There is no Sistine Chapel to inspire council members.
A simple majority suffices.
And there will be no dark smoke to signify failing ballots or white smoke to signify a successful one.
City Council has no prescribed method for winnowing the list.
Members will presumably vote on a procedure.
It certainly will involve balloting behind closed doors.
And it may well include knocking the lowest vote getters off the ballot until someone finally gets six votes.
Which leads us to our next metaphor: the television reality show, “Survivor.”
At the end of each episode, the participants get to vote one person off the island – to eliminate that person as a competitor.
The participants do not take an oath swearing that they are voting for the person who most deserves being banned.
In fact, they more often vote off the island a person they see as their strongest potential rival.
Council members voting for a mayor to serve until the next election are more like candidates on “Survivor” than they are like cardinals voting for a pope.
They take no oath promising to vote for the person they think SHOULD be mayor.
Instead, the seven or more members with mayoral ambitions may well vote for an interim mayor who is least likely to be able to hold onto the office in next May’s election.
In other words, it is in their interest to vote FOR the person that the citizens would be LEAST likely to elect.
Why give your strongest rival a head start?
Still, there is some calculation to be made.
If you are an ambitious member of City Council, you don’t want to elect someone who would embarrass the city and thereby expose your scheme.
(Think mid-1990s Councilman Bobby Herrera, author of my favorite political quote: “It can’t be my baby – and if it is, I’ll do the right thing.” It was and he didn’t.)
What’s more, there are major issues that need continuing attention and leadership, such as negotiating union contracts with police and firefighters.
So ambitious council members will want to elect a Goldilocks temporary mayor: capable enough to avoid scandal and keep the momentum going, but not capable enough to hold onto the office.
It has been rare in the past for San Antonio mayors to resign.
But given the city’s new stature as the nation’s seventh largest and given the increase in term limits from four years to eight, it is likely to happen more often.
It would be foolish and naïve to simply ask council members to vote against their own ambitions.
That’s why we may want to consider changing the charter so that they could select an outsider who would agree not to run – or perhaps be prohibited from running for the office.
Names such as Phil Hardberger and Alex Briseno come to mind because of their recent experience.
But the talent pool is larger than that.
Most importantly, the criteria would emphasize competence, not electoral weakness.