Endorsements are a pain, but we think they are also a service to our readers.
A maddening part of this process is our endorsement meetings with candidates. Years ago, these used to be very informative. Recently, given that every candidate knows the Chronicle's stance on most issues, they are dull sessions, similar to the guys spinning stacks of plates on sticks on the old Ed Sullivan Show. The most interesting one in the last decade was when Eric Mitchell ran for re-election. The endorsement meeting was confrontational and intense but very comprehensive. I was actually beginning to rethink my assessment of Mitchell when, after the meeting, he actively misrepresented it. There is at best only so much you can learn from a short meeting with candidates, but sometimes, especially when our considerations are close, it is very helpful.
We only do endorsements meetings when we are uncertain. Even if it is 90/10 we'll have a meeting just to gauge. I know there have been times when candidates have left here pretty furious, thinking the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Some of the Editorial Board members may have made up their minds but, if we have a meeting, not all of them, and the decision is still in play.
All Chronicle endorsements are unanimous. Even if we offer a split endorsement or no endorsement, we all must agree on the stance. In this election I vetoed a split endorsement on Prop. 1 because we did that years ago on the $100 campaign spending limit and I've never gotten over the personal embarrassment. We believe it is better to make a choice than offer a split or no suggestion since that is what voters have to do alone in the booth. Often, after long discussion, when we are close on two candidates, we return to the discussion in order to reach a choice.
Unlike, say, Bill Bunch, who thinks our readers are stupid and need road maps to show them clearly how to proceed, we trust our readers. We think the most politically astute of them read us week in and week out and know what is happening. This is not to say they agree with us but they have their own sophisticated opinions based on year-round observation. As an active participant in the community, we weigh in with our opinion via endorsements.
City Council Place 1: It was a given that we would endorse Daryl Slusher. This is not because he once worked here but because we believe he is the best candidate for the job. Slusher, in fact, proves the axiom that no one is as thin-skinned as a journalist, turning on us and denouncing our coverage of him as soon as he took office.
Polemics, however, is one thing, reality is another. Good, effective politicians compromise and maneuver. Through difficult times and facing impossible decisions, we believe Slusher has done a fine job. Verbally it is easy to defend the environment with a no-growth mantra. Reality means dealing with laws, limited city jurisdiction over the aquifer, constitutional property guarantees, the courts, and a hostile state legislature that delights in punitive revenge upon our over-zealous city. The base problem is the argument that development is the enemy and it rests on the legs of big money, evil developers, and roads. The problem is people, not only wanting, but having, the right to move to this area. I differ with some other Chronicle staffers because I think one of the failures of the environmental community has been not to just oppose road-building in sensitive areas but to not promote roads where growth has less impact. (SH 130 comes immediately to mind.)
The reality of the growth of the city is being treated as an act of betrayal on the part of Slusher. That is juvenile and simplistic. I suspect almost any responsible council member would have voted much the way Slusher has during his six years. This is not to agree with every decision but to respect the consideration and judgment that went into them.
Everyone has chimed in on the disasters of downtown, from the Intel building to the CSC complex. This is boondoggle city and a real failure of vision on the council's part according to a wide range of pundits.
Two points: 1) Millions of people lost trillions of dollars misjudging the American economy over the past three to five years. If the council had actually been that much smarter than everyone else they should have gotten out of politics and directly into the market. 2) In 25 years, the political architects behind the current downtown Austin are going to seem prescient rather than gullible. Any city navigation takes years to realize, and I suspect the course for a vital, livable downtown has been better steered than anyone currently concedes.
One important caveat: Since we knew we were going to endorse Slusher, we did not have an endorsement meeting with Kirk Mitchell. In retrospect, at least some of us (I haven't polled), think this was a mistake. Given Mitchell's long involvement in the community we should have sat down and talked with him, if only to better inform our endorsement.
Place 2: As tempting as it is to use any excuse to bemoan the self-serving hypocrisy of Linda Curtis, it is simply obvious that Jackie Goodman should be re-elected.
Place 3: Chronicle endorsements should have noted that I abstained on this endorsement. I'm probably not voting for Beverly Griffith. But, given certain conflict-of-interest considerations and the fact I missed the endorsement meeting, I abstained.
Prop. 1: Given the range of civic leaders and responsible organizations, not to mention the sexy title (the Austin Fair Elections Act), I suspect this will pass. I hope I'm wrong because I also suspect it will be a disaster. With the city in a financially tense situation, this is no time to monkey around with our most basic democratic rights. The moronic assertion that if this had been in place we would have avoided the Intel and CSC situations as well as other downtown issues doesn't even deserve a rebuttal. The city can't afford this and the voters deserve better.