Matt Whitcomb spent the first half of his first day as acting mayor doing his other job.
Whitcomb is an administrator at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, where Mayor David Allaire checked in Thursday for surgery. Allaire is expected to be out for at least three weeks, and Whitcomb, as president of the Board of Alderman, will serve as acting mayor until he returns.
“This morning, I’ve just really been doing Dartmouth-Hitchcock work at home,” Whitcomb said. “I kind of anticipated today and tomorrow would be relatively light. Mayor Allaire did everything he could early in the week to make sure everything for this week was relatively wrapped up.”
Whitcomb did make his way into City Hall in the afternoon. The building remains closed to the general public, though appointments can be made for specific business with an office there. City employees worked remotely when possible early in the pandemic, but since have been brought back into their offices, which now have plexiglass over the counters, reminiscent of stores in bad neighborhoods.
“Even in the time I was there today, there were very few people in and out,” he said.
Whitcomb said he spoke with the department heads and other city officials he could find and emailed the ones he couldn’t. Then, set up in the second floor conference room, he got down to the nitty-gritty, unglamorous part of being mayor — going over the accounts payable for the week.
“It’s everyone doing work for the city, from people who are paving to people who are fixing an axle on a car,” he said. “It’s literally hundreds of people.”
Whitcomb said Friday should be similarly light and he wasn’t expecting to deal with anything particularly taxing next week.
“I think, as I look forward, aside from the nuts and bolts things that I have to do, the things I’m monitoring are what’s going to come down from the state,” he said.
A mask mandate from the governor’s office, he said, would likely require him to look into how the city should help facilitate it.
City Treasurer Mary Markowski said she went over her weekly needs from the mayor’s office with Whitcomb and sorted through the accounts payable with him. She also said she was wishing Allaire a speedy recovery.
“I’ve been so worried about him,” she said.
Allaire announced earlier this month that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and had been undergoing treatment. He said the surgery is expected to leave him cancer free. Late Thursday afternoon, Alderwoman Sharon Davis said her understanding was that Allaire was still in surgery but that it was going well.
“A nurse or somebody has come out and said they are very pleased,” she said.
Davis said it was probably fair to say she and Allaire had the closest friendship in city government.
“I’ve been aware of David’s illness right from the start,” she said. “He’s talked about what’s ahead of him. I hope I’ve encouraged him.”
Davis said she has promised to take Allaire out to dinner once he’s recovered — pain from swallowing is a frequent symptom of esophageal cancer — and quipped that she hoped there is somewhere open to take him.
“It may not be until Christmas,” she said.
With Whitcomb serving as acting mayor, somebody else has to move up to serve as acting board president.
Earlier in the year, the board adopted an order of succession in case members started falling ill to COVID-19, and at Whitcomb’s suggestion, the board voted Monday to apply that to Allaire’s absence. First in line was Davis, herself a former board president who has had to step in as acting mayor before. Davis said she always did so from outside City Hall.
“It’s not an eight-hour job,” she said. “They call you if they need you.”