City councillors failed Monday to reach the five votes needed to elect a mayor, meaning — with Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming in a week — the city will be without one for at least two weeks. Councillor Ken Reeves will continue to serve as interim mayor and School Committee member.

The delay has precedents, political watcher Robert Winters said after the brief meeting. Anthony Galluccio didn’t become mayor until February in 2000, a month into the new term; Sheila Russell didn’t become mayor until March in 1996.

And, as he notes on his Cambridge Civic Journal, even those standoffs are nowhere near the record. A mayoral race in 1948 was resolved only after 1,321 ballots.

Councillor David Maher has gained a vote, to four from three, since the Jan. 4 council inaugural and vote. The votes of Maher, Sam Seidel and Tim Toomey haven’t changed, and newcomer Leland Cheung switched his vote to Maher from Marjorie Decker, who obviously dropped out of the running to give her vote to Reeves. (She’d voted for herself a week ago.)

Reeves retains his vote and that of Craig Kelley, meaning with Decker’s he has three votes of a needed five.

Denise Simmons, instead of voting for herself as she did a week ago, voted for Henrietta Davis. With her own vote, Davis has two of a needed five.

No councillor changed or corrected their vote after the ballot, and Simmons moved to close the nominations. When Toomey objected, it went to a roll call vote in which five councillors voted to end voting for the night; Decker, Kelley and Toomey wanted another ballot; and Cheung voted present rather than for or against the motion.

In other business, Kelley tried to get the council to reconsider two Dec. 21 appointments to the Housing Authority. Councillors tabled the appointments after hearing unhappiness from authority tenants who attended and spoke during public comment; later in the meeting, after the tenants left, Decker and then-councillor Larry Ward realized they would vote in favor of the appointments. The final vote was 8-1, with only Kelley opposed, and he immediately filed a motion to reconsider.

That reconsideration came Monday, with Kelley suggesting the appointments be moved to the council’s housing committee “for a deeper discussion” so tenants’ issues could be addressed.

Simmons agreed. “This should stay alive … There’s something to be said when 20 or 30 people show up in protest. They need to be heard in some way, and we should allow them the opportunity,” she said.

But on a roll call, only she, Kelley and Reeves supported the idea.

The council also asked the city manager to look into Cambridge finding a sister city in Haiti, reflecting Cambridge’s large Haitian population; planned to express concern about a state bill affecting charter schools until learning it has been voted into law; and debated laying off five employees in the Lead Safe Cambridge program, who had been paid for by a grant that is ending.

Kelley felt it was fiscally responsible to let the employees go, but Simmons argued in favor of letting the city find a way to keep paying the salaries. We “have been quite vocal in supporting the employees of other institutions,” she said in her motion. “The City of Cambridge must hold itself to the same high standards … there is no evidence available that suggests the city’s finances are so dire that the retention of these five employees would cause substantial harm to the city’s budget.”

Simmons motion was adopted.

This post was updated Feb. 15, 2012, to say that there had been 1,321 mayoral ballots in 1948. An incorrect, higher figure had been provided.

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