It is a fact that we, as human beings, are all racists, deep down, but it's something we have to fight rather than give in to, or make excuses for. Yet, in the wake of Mitchell's concession speech, we've been treated to Statesman editorials on the elections that make apologies for Mitchell's "race- and [alleged] gay-baiting slurs," as if they were necessary evils, easily overlooked under the circumstances. But just try to let a white candidate get away with similar verbal lapses and watch that politician's career explode. And rightly so, but let's admit there's a double standard here. Saturday night was notable not only for Mitchell's message of racial hatred, but also for the media's reluctance to call his bullshit.
Now Manuel Zuniga, another developer-friendly candidate who was beaten in the runoffs by a card-carrying environmentalist (Bill Spelman), has seen fit to follow in Mitchell's bitter footsteps. In an open letter addressed to the Hispanic community (see p.20), Zuniga places part of the blame for his loss on Councilmember Gus Garcia for not preventing white environmentalists from running for the Place 5 seat Garcia vacated in his successful bid for Place 2. Reminiscent of Mitchell's comparison in his hate-speech of Lewis to a "house nigger" stepping and fetching for Austin's enviros, Zuniga calls Garcia a "worker bee" in the "power-hungry, racist liberal enviro-political machine." The millionaire candidate also blames "extreme environmentalists" for believing that "the only good Mexican is a poor Mexican."
So while Mitchell says he was "too black" and "too strong" for racist Austin, Zuniga says he was too rich. What these sore losers fail to understand is that neither color nor gold can blind an electorate motivated to protect Austin's quality of life. Those who chose to vote made a calculated decision to go with the candidates who they believed would not sacrifice what is good about Austin on the altar of economic development. Yes, that does mean the protection of water quality and endangered species like the Barton Springs salamander and an end to subsidizing sprawl for out-of-town developers in the sensitive areas to the west. But it also means keeping polluting industries out of East Austin (ironically, the recent petition by two companies to block zoning changes keeping industry out of residential East Austin was most in danger of being upheld by the non-enviros on the council). Protecting Austin's quality of life also means curbing crime in East Austin ("evil" social liberals Garcia and Beverly Griffith fought to keep juveniles out of trouble last September by pushing the "Social Fabric Initiative" to fund youth programs at the city's oft-closed recreation centers. The initiative passed 6-1, with only Mitchell dissenting). Protecting quality of life means supporting the concept of community policing in East Austin and throughout the city (something only non-enviros Reynolds and Mitchell, upset because the funds would come from police department coffers rather than other city departments, voted against last month). The list of how environmentally sound policies, such as diverting money from subsidizing sewer service outside of Austin to city programs, can benefit East Austin, goes on and on.
The ascendance of a seven-member environmental super-majority on the council in no way guarantees that such initiatives will happen. (There's still plenty of city staff and lawyers still getting in the way, for one thing). But such was the hope of many of the people who voted. Don't blame the progressives for bringing their constituents out to the polls. Mitchell and Zuniga should shoulder some of the responsibility for failing to galvanize the voters with their own issues, and, unfortunately for them, there was no conservative-magnet issue such as 1994's Prop. 22 this time to attract voters of their ilk. For the losing candidates to explain their failures with cries of racism is an embarrassment for them (you don't hear Ronney Reynolds belly-aching) and an insult to an electorate far more sophisticated than they give credit for.
Putting aside Mitchell's and Zuniga's reverse racist name-calling, the real issue is righting the injustices in East Austin. That includes giving East Austin residents the power to elect their own representatives to the city council via a single-member district system. Three years ago, when Southwest Austin resident Mitchell was elected to Place 6 against the will of the people who lived in East Austin - they voted for Ron Davis - this paper decried a system that would allow white, conservative voters from the west side of town to dictate to East Austin who its leaders should be. Oh, the air is thick with irony all right, now that the environmental/liberal/progressive groups of the central city who once criticized the system are getting gigged with the same stick. Even more amazing is that the liberals will continue to back such a system in light of the fact that it likely spells the end to an enviro-dominated council, and the end to the much-touted unity this council could finally experience. Nevertheless, it is important to note that it was the now-vilified enviro/lib/progs who rallied behind efforts to pass a 1994 proposed charter amendment to get rid of the at-large system. (The amendment, endorsed by the Chronicle, failed by 2,976 votes). And it was Councilmember Garcia - now being maligned by some Hispanic leaders as a puppet of the enviro machine - who pushed for the amendment's inclusion on the ballot.
There are two years before the next city council races, and, contrary to charges that he is withdrawing his support for single-member districts, Garcia says he wants to spend the time necessary coming up with a winning strategy to ensure that the charter amendment passes before the next election. It should be a lot easier this time around; after all, the only recent or soon-to-be councilmember who has ever expressed a desire for anything less than a full-fledged single-member system is Eric Mitchell. With him gone, and the "Enviro Seven" - all of whom support the idea - taking the helm at the dais, the proposal should easily pass muster with the council. Let's get on with it, but let's take the time to carefully forge a system that makes sense, and provides fair representation for all parts of the city. Power to the people.