The Next Ex-Mayor

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The Post's city beat reporter, Thomas R. Collins, declined to discuss Frankel's comments except to say: "Criticism is common for journalists. I'll let my coverage speak for itself." Meanwhile, Frankel's feud with the Post hit a crescendo recently when she insisted on picking up an editorial board reporter for an appointment they had and then left him stranded at City Hall after lunch. Relations were further strained when the Post quoted Frankel as telling a 9-year-old who asked her for a dollar on the street to get a "J-O-B." Frankel says her comments were taken out of context. "We were walking down the street and we were kidding around," Frankel says. "We were walking on the street, and the little kid was with his parents going to the library, and he came up to me, and he asked me for money. That's all that was. It wasn't anything. It was friendly banter."

Frankel threatened at one point to end an interview with New Times because of questions about the firings and her problems with the Post. Minutes later, though, she calmed down and insisted that she has fun in her office. She cranked up Michael McDonald's rendition of "Heard It Through the Grapevine" from her computer and danced her way out into the lobby, where two secretaries were typing in their cubicles. Frankel dances like somebody having a lot of fun doing it. She twists her hips and shuffles her arms in front of her chest a bit like jabs from a boxer. It's Elaine dancing on the Seinfeld set.

"OK, girls," she said to several women outside her office as she danced in her doorway. "Why don't you show him what happens when people get angry? Show him." One of the secretaries, mildly embarrassed, joined Frankel in the open space between desks. They bumped hips for a minute before the secretary abruptly returned to her work.

"Yeah, that's what we do," the mayor said. "We dance."

For the first 39 minutes of a meeting back in December with north-end residents, Mayor Frankel stayed relatively calm. She ran through the agenda, called on those with their hands up in the City Commission Chambers. She didn't mention that the homeowners in the room had been complaining for months that Frankel was doing nothing to curb crime in the north end. She ignored the fact that most of these people backed her predecessor in the election. Then, just when it seemed as if the meeting might wrap up without a tirade, the steamroller got moving again.

"I want to say this very respectfully," Frankel growled into the microphone. Sitting at a small table in front of the commission dais in a licorice-black suit, Frankel brought up the e-mails that north-end residents had been sending her staff, complaining about a supposed crime wave -- a crime wave that, Frankel insisted, doesn't exist. "We are human beings," Frankel said, the temperature of her tirade slowly rising. "When do we say to ourselves there is nothing we can do to please anybody?"

Bravely, Debra Neger, president of the Northwood Coalition of Neighbors, clutched a cordless microphone beneath her chin. She sat in the audience in a peach pantsuit. "The point is," Neger said carefully, "that we don't feel safe up there."

Frankel was going to hear nothing of it. "I am mayor for the entire city," Frankel cracked into the microphone, "and not just for one neighborhood."

North-end neighbors left the meeting with the impression, some said, that the rumors about the despotic mayor were true.

But again, Frankel challenged expectations. In the following months, she made inroads to repair her image in the partly gentrified neighborhoods north of downtown. After the meeting, Frankel visited north-end parks where drug dealers work from benches and saw prostitutes patrolling Broadway. Since then, there has been a more visible police presence, and there is even talk of opening a substation.

Realtor and long-time north-end resident Bob Beaulieu says Frankel still has a ways to go. But, Beaulieu adds, Frankel is responsive now to crime north of downtown. "I think she finally sees that there's a problem," Beaulieu says. "At times, she can be a little rough around the edges. Diplomacy might not be her strong point."

Frankel's progress with the north-end residents seems to be indicative of changes she has made in the past few months to her style. Mitchell even concedes that Frankel has controlled her temper. "I don't think I've seen her get angry during a meeting in a while," Mitchell says. "In private, I think she's still the same old Lois, but at least she's not doing it at meetings anymore."

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Eric Alan Barton
Contact: Eric Alan Barton