City Hall Hustle: The Return of
Grandma the budget slasher
Really, what's the appropriate metaphor when discussing Carole Keeton Strayhorn? The first phantasmic image to spring to mind is an unstoppable, Freddy- or Jason-style screen slasher, one who's electorally dismembered in the film's last act – only for her razored hand or hockey mask to emerge from the grave in the final frame. "Finishing third for governor has got to be the end of Strayhorn," murmurs a nubile young political observer – right before Grandma rears up behind her, smothering her with a plate of her homemade pecan fudge.
On Monday, waiting for Strayhorn's official announcement to get under way in the crowded meeting room of banking software company BancVue, another metaphor emerged: the junkie, gasping for one last hit. Not exclusively of political office, mind you, but also the trappings of recognition running concurrently with it, the television camera rigs banked before the podium offering a fix more addictive than any controlled substance.
When Strayhorn appeared, there was even a rock-star vibe as she glad-handed the crowd, heading to the podium. Following BancVue CEO Gabriel Krajicek's introduction of several Carole for Austin co-chairs, Strayhorn took the mic, clutching a copy of her speech as she read it. "This race is about the future. And we cannot chart our future without knowing our past" – a subtle, if somewhat paradoxical, allusion to her previous time in the mayor's office. Strayhorn ultimately segued into an ever so slightly more substantive discussion of policies and priorities, more conservative than the norm in mayoral politics – promises of "fixing, not studying our transportation problems," focusing on "basic and vital police and protection services," and "government fighting for our existing small businesses ... instead of putting entrepreneurs through the meat grinder of endless inspections and costly, mind-boggling bureaucratic red tape." Then, as if angling for an early Austin Police Association endorsement, she flogged the Statesman's mustiest, most atrophied dead horse: "No wonder our fine police officers, firefighters, and first responders cannot afford to live in the city next to the neighbors they protect." (So does she propose paying them more?)
However, these planks came secondary to what was supposed to be the big get of Strayhorn's speech: fiscal hawkishness, or "passing a real budget, using real numbers, and not approving a budget that is $137 million more than what everyone knew would be coming in this year." If that figure sounds entirely new to you, it should. According to budget docs furnished by Strayhorn's campaign, that difference comes from subtracting net total available funding ($2.63 billion) from the net total requirements of the 2009 city budget ($2.77 billion). However, it doesn't account for the $3.32 billion in "all funds" total available funding, $685 million of which is siphoned to various departments, creating the difference. The money isn't missing; it's moved and ultimately within the confines of a balanced budget. If a candidate wants to make the argument that the city budget should be more transparent and less opaque regarding transfers, then she should. But for anyone – much less the former state comptroller – to stoke fears about a $137 million shortfall in the midst of dire financial times is ignorant at best and irresponsible at worst. (Watch Strayhorn's campaign kickoff at austinchronicle.com/hustle.)
Following Strayhorn's speech, the press rushed the candidate in a crowded gaggle. Reveling in the attention yet sticking staunchly to her talking points ("leadership," "accountability," "energizing government"), it was apparent Strayhorn most readily resembles an enigma – metaphorically speaking. And while a CKS win is exceedingly unlikely, with her name recognition, network of fundraisers, and indefatigable personal energy, she could be the wild card in the May election, possibly tipping it in unforeseen ways.
Back to the Dais
The Lege isn't the only gang back in town to watch out for. Following its holiday break, City Council returns today with an ambitious agenda, including the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan (Item 28), which would make several improvements, remodel changing facilities, and more; the Save Our Springs Alliance is urging council to "accept" the plan only as a "starting point" and not pass it as final. Also up for review is the city's Zero Waste Plan, striving to divert 90% of the city's trash by 2040 (Item 50). Live-music-wise, two items of interest: Item 55 would impose "a temporary 'time out'" on issuing outdoor music permits until the end of February while the city studies the issue, declaring the situation an "emergency." Item 56 asks the city for a recommendation by Feb. 12 on the feasibility of a live music department. And if those aren't controversial enough, Item 59 directs the Animal Advisory Commission to look at lessening our stray kill rates.
No time-out for the Hustle (except for D.C. next week!). E-mail email@example.com.