STAMFORD – It happens quietly, and often quickly.
A mayor steps aside, transferring the powers of the office to someone else.
Then, for a time, Stamford is run by a city representative, not the mayor citizens elected.
The process is so orderly that many citizens don’t catch the momentary change in chief executives.
That’s how it went at 8:47 a.m. on Jan. 26, when Mayor Caroline Simmons sent a note to city Rep. Jeff Curtis, president of the Board of Representatives, that he was to begin serving as acting mayor immediately.
At 10:13 a.m. that day, Simmons gave birth to her third child, William.
The city Charter mandates that a mayor who will be absent from office for 48 hours or more notify the Board of Representatives president – sometimes called the deputy mayor – along with the board clerk and town clerk, and hand over authority. The acting mayor has all the powers of the mayor, except appointing or removing city officers or employees. That power kicks in only if the mayor is absent 30 days or more.
In a note to Curtis, Simmons said he is to remain acting mayor “until I inform you that I am able to resume the responsibilities of my office.” Simmons, who took office Dec. 1, announced on Jan. 19 that she would begin her maternity leave on Jan. 26, the day William was born.
Wednesday, one week into his temporary tenure, Curtis said he keeps in contact with Simmons’ chief of staff and other members of the administration, and counts on “the good men and women employed by the city to do the day-to-day work.”
He’s exercised his executive powers once, Curtis said.
Two days into his mayoral duties, with a winter storm approaching, he declared a snow emergency.
“I brought my wife, my son, my daughter and two grandsons with me to the mayor’s office to sign the declaration. I thought it would be the one time I would serve as acting mayor and I wanted to preserve the history of it,” Curtis said. “My daughter took photos of me signing the declaration behind the mayor’s desk.”
Filling in as mayor is an honor, said Curtis, a Stamford native.
“I’m in awe of the position,” he said.
Curtis is a retired facilities manager who worked at three hospitals in the state, including Stamford Hospital from 1976 to 2003. In the 1990s he represented District 9, the West Side, on the city’s governing board, and now represents District 14, the mid-Ridges. His total stint as a city representative is nearly a decade.
The city Charter states that acting mayors may be paid an amount determined by the Board of Representatives, but Valerie Rosenson, the board’s legislative officer, said board presidents, who are elected volunteers, are not compensated when they serve as acting mayor.
“I’ve never known it to happen,” Rosenson said.
It may be because the tenures of acting mayors are historically short and uneventful, said Ron Marcus, a researcher with the Stamford History Center.
“It usually involved something like the mayor having gall bladder surgery, or having the car break down on the way back from a long trip,” Marcus said.
That was not the case in 1955, when Mayor Thomas Quigley handed over authority to Board of Representatives President George Connors Jr. Quigley attended an International Conference of Mayors in Naples, followed by a tour of Italy with his wife, who was Italian.
It was a year of epic flooding in Connecticut. Storms hit the Stamford area hard in October, while Connors was filling in for Quigley.
“It was a crucial time in history,” Marcus said. “The floods were hell, and Connors had to handle it.”
That’s unusual, said Matt Quinones, the last Board of Representatives president. Quinones said he filled in for former Mayor David Martin a dozen times, usually for a couple of days. In 2019, however, Martin had surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in his knee, and Quinones was acting mayor for six days, Town Clerk Lyda Ruijter said.
Quinones said he mostly signed documents.
“The most memorable thing I did was deliver the State of the City address,” which the city Charter mandates at the start of each fiscal year, Quinones said. “You want to make sure nothing goes wrong, so you take it seriously. But, typically, you are not engaged in the day-to-day running of the city.”
Curtis, for example, did not have a role in crafting the 2022-23 city budget, due in one month. Thursday morning, in fact, Curtis learned that Simmons would resume her duties that afternoon, leaving his tenure at eight days.
“That’s how it goes,” the former acting mayor said.