Off The Desk:

Early voting for the March 12 primary begins next Wednesday, February 21, and lasts through Friday, March 8. The following is a list of some of the state- and county-wide races that are of local interest. Incumbents are identified by an asterisk (*), and only contested races are listed. (For info regarding early voting polling locations, call 473-9553.)

U.S. SENATE

DEM: John Odam, Victor Morales, Jim Chapman, John Bryant

REP: David Young, *Phil Gramm, Henry Grover

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE

District 10: REP: Teresa Doggett, Mark Wetzel

STATE REPRESENTATIVE

District 47: REP: Jo Baylor, Kirk Ingels, Bill Welch, Randall Riley, Terry Keel

District 48: DEM: Daniel Gustafson, *Sherri Greenberg

District 51: DEM: *Glen Maxey, Eloy De La Garza, Abel Ruiz

RAILROAD COMMISSIONER:

REP: *Carole Keeton Rylander, Robert Wood

TRAVIS COUNTY SHERIFF:

DEM: Raymond Frank, Margo Frasier, Charles Littleton, Mike Simpson, Stacy Suits, Greg Zaney

REP: Alvin Shaw, David Drew McAngus

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: DEM: *Ronnie Earle, David A. Schulman, Joe Sawyer

TRAVIS COUNTY COMMISSIONER, Precinct 1: DEM: *Sam Biscoe, Ron Davis


Mending Fences on the ARA

The members of the Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA) convened their first official meeting in two months last Thursday, and two East Austin neighborhood representatives were actually present.

The ARA board, Councilmember Eric Mitchell's apparatus to carry out the redevelopment of East 11th and East 12th Streets using $9 million in city-controlled federal loans, has been in the center of controversy after the four neighborhood representatives claimed that the board -- which is dominated by business and real estate interests -- had not informed them of meetings. Things are more congenial now; the neighborhood reps are overlooking past transgressions, and they see last week's meeting as a step in the right direction.

The main item on the agenda? Reconciliation. Six members of the 15-member board voted to create an advisory neighborhood committee, headed by Letesia Cantu-McGarrahan, president of the Guadalupe Association for Improved Neighborhoods, and realtor Karen Box. The board will offer suggestions to the ARA Negotiating Committee, a five-member team that contains no neighborhood representatives and has been negotiating with the council on the terms of the redevelopment.

"Today was the first time they told us they want neighborhoods included," says East Austin resident Mary Kimbles. "They have made us feel welcome," she adds, despite the fact that she was the only one of the four neighborhood reps to be invited to the meeting, and that with one day's notice.

"There's been miscommunication and misunderstandings, and we wanted to put that to bed before we moved forward. Hopefully, now we'll get a contract with the council in less than two months," said Herman Lessard, ARA and Urban League President. Lessard blamed Councilmember Brigid Shea for furthering the "misunderstandings" by raising questions about the ARA board in a memo she sent to the city manager last month. In the memo, Shea pointed out her three concerns: The recent purchase of land in the ARA area by a board member may represent a conflict-of-interest; neighborhood representatives on the ARA board were being ignored; and only five of the 15-member board were needed for a quorum -- a rule that could be used to exclude neighborhood reps.

In a written response dated February 7, City Manager Jesus Garza said that the City Attorney's office is reviewing the conflict-of-interest issue, that the neighborhood representatives' participation in the planning of their neighborhood will "increase with time," and that Lessard agreed to address the problematic five-member quorum rule.

The next meeting will be Saturday, February 17 at 9am, at a location to be announced. -- A.M.


Valentine's Day Remembered in Court

Despite scant evidence against two others who preceded her, a third person is scheduled to go to trial soon on charges stemming from last year's Valentine's Day party on Cedar Avenue in East Austin. Evada Jackson is charged with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest, although versions of what happened at the party differ widely between police and party-goers. The results are certain: 65 Austin police officers swarmed the neighborhood, macing and using cattle prods on party-goers and residents.

Jackson is scheduled to stand trial on the charges February 19, but her attorney, Terry Davis, says that a scheduling conflict might prompt him to seek a delay for another week or two. The Austin Police Department's previous attempts to build cases against two other party-goers -- David Jackson and Bernie Durst -- didn't hold up in court, so it should be interesting to see what tack police and prosecutors will take with Jackson. Attorneys for the three, as well as for Ira and Charmaine Bedford, who hosted the annual gathering for their children and their schoolmates, say they're waiting for the criminal cases to end before pursuing civil claims against the police department. Should a third acquittal occur, the City of Austin could expect to begin negotiating settlements, or else brace for a flurry of lawsuits. Attorneys have already filed preliminary claims with the city.

Regardless of the legal outcome, the February 11, 1995 melée is not likely to be forgotten on an emotional level. Friends and supporters of the Bedford family met last weekend for a solemn first-year observance of the incident.

A widely held opinion is that police officers on the scene that night used excessive force for no other reason except that the crowd of party-goers consisted of African-Americans. And black residents say the incident only furthered their mistrust in the police -- mistrust that persists despite the fence-mending campaign the police department rolled out shortly after the incident. --A.S.


Bon Voyage, Brigid Shea

"I came to this council with a mission of protecting the environment and trying to give people their money's worth from government," said Councilmember Brigid Shea last week, as she announced that she will leave the council on June 15. "And I did what I said I would do."

The councilmember that everyone either hates or loves passionately says she was personally affected by the combative nature of Austin politics, and cited her family as a reason for not seeking reelection, but adds that she's proud that she stuck to her guns. "I did something that's increasingly rare in politics these days: I kept my word."

Fullfilling her promises made her the lone voice on many issues, including her unwavering opposition to even the slightest tax increases. She was also the progressive faction's most dependable vote, offering unflinching protection of Barton Springs in the face of lawsuits from developer Freeport-McMoRan, and pushing for campaign finance reform.

Shea plans to introduce two new proposals in her last days in office: a conflict-of-interest law to prevent councilmembers from receiving city contracts, and a growth-control ordinance that will require the city to get voter approval before spending money outside the city limits.

Waiting thirstily in the wings are a slew of Place 4 candidates: Eric Blumberg, Brian Kline, Randall "Mac" McKarkle, Gus Pena, and Rick Wheeler. -- A.M.


Back to the Fold

The 21st Century Democrats, a fledgling political advocacy group seeking to bring wayward Texas Democrats back into the fold and expand the party's base, gathered on the eighth floor of the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin last Saturday. The statewide meeting was a chance for Texas Democrats to talk about redefining the goals of the party in the wake of last year's Republican sweeps at the federal and local levels. The new group wants to recast its party's image with mainstream America rather than with the liberal left.

In light of that mission, it was perhaps odd that the group invited George Stephanopoulos, President Bill Clinton's former communications director and current senior aide, to address the crowd of more than 200 old-guard Dems, party operatives, and state and local political candidates who showed up for the event. But, judging by the standing ovation that followed his speech, he couldn't have been better received. Sprinkling his remarks were Republican-bashing jabs and colorful campaign war stories, but the central theme was politics and what it means. "[Politics] is the art of the impossible, changing people's lives for the better," he said.

Stephanopoulos cast Republicans as all too eager to chop student loans, Medicaid, Medicare, and other social programs in order to cut corporate America some slack, and he targeted House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Senator Phil Gramm's (now failed) presidential campaign for ridicule. Much of his speech was dedicated to getting Clinton reelected, an ulterior motive with which the 21st Century Democrats' leaders -- Houston trial lawyer Arthur Schechter and Dallas attorney Steve Gutow -- have no problem.

Shechter and Gutow, co-chairs of the month-old non-profit group, boast a long history of activism within the Democratic party. Democratic National Committee (DNC) member Schechter has served as a fundraiser for over 80 Democratic candidates, and Gutow, who founded the National Jewish Democratic Council in 1990, was the principal fundraiser for former Governor Ann Richards that same year. With seven field operators in Texas, the group, which has yet to determine whether it will be a for-profit or non-profit entity, is more of a grassroots organization than the DNC. According to its mission statement, the 21st Century Dems are attempting to refocus the party on "pocketbook issues that face all Texans and Americans." -- J.R.

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