The Power to Change

A quick sound check with the Austin mayoral candidates

Lee Leffingwell (l) and Brewster McCracken last week at the Chronicle's Hustle for Mayor event, Mohawk
Lee Leffingwell (l) and Brewster McCracken last week at the Chronicle's Hustle for Mayor event, Mohawk (by John Anderson)

As the ongoing hullabaloo over the Austin sound ordinance in regards to live outdoor music at restaurants has only reiterated, music is politics here in the Live Music Capital. Since the general economic downturn has dominated most political discussions, OTR polled the mayoral candidates – Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken,City Council member Lee Leffingwell, David Buttross, and Josiah Ingalls – on issues facing the local music scene, beginning with his favorite Mojo magazine inquiries. Representatives for Carole Keeton Strayhorn did not return to requests for comment.

Last great show you saw?

Leffingwell: Dale Watson at the Broken Spoke.

McCracken: Bruce Robison, two-stepping with my wife on my birthday.

Buttross: My nine-month-old son swaying to music on the radio and/or attending one of many Christian music concerts.

Ingalls: Jen Foster

Record that changed your life?

Leffingwell: Willie Nelson, Stardust

McCracken: The Beatles, Revolver

Buttross: Marc Cohn, “True Companion”

Ingalls: Reba McEntire, What If It’s You

Last album you bought?

Leffingwell: Iris DeMent, Lifeline

McCracken: Johnny Goudie & the Little Champions, El Payaso

Buttross: George Strait, Latest Greatest Straitest Hits

Ingalls: Roger Whitaker

Saturday night party record?

Leffingwell: Anything by Johnny Cash or Asleep at the Wheel, just add beer and a pool table.

McCracken: MGMT, Oracular Spectacular

Buttross: Have one baby and another on the way. Don't have time for Saturday night party records any more.

Ingalls: Don’t have one.

Sunday morning redemption record?

Leffingwell: Richard Wagner, Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhauser. The most stirring and beautiful piece of music ever, in my opinion.

McCracken: John Prine, The Missing Years; Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

Buttross: Chris Tomlin, Hello Love

Ingalls: Don’t have one.

Waller Creek Revitalization Project

Leffingwell: It’s long overdue and I strongly support it. I think it’s potentially transformational for a big chunk of downtown Austin. … If the underlying question is whether or not live music should be part of a revitalized Waller Creek / Red River corridor, in my view the answer is unequivocally yes.

McCracken: I support the project. I also support ROMA’s vision in the Downtown Plan of preserving the venues on Red River as a live music district. Downtowns are not simply defined by their architecture. They are also defined by the cultural vitality and energy that occur on the street level.

Buttross: I believe the Waller Creek revitalization project is an important piece of the economic development puzzle for our city. However, I am concerned that the city will eventually have to finance the design and construction of the tunnel and all maintenance costs at a time when we can't even stay without our city's budget. For example, in 1998 a $25 million bond was passed by the city of Austin for Waller Creek improvements but in 2006 it went up to an estimated cost of $127.5 million. I believe that with proper financing through the TIF, the project is still viable and I am supportive as long as we don't have to come up with additional money out of the city budget.

Ingalls: I am against the planning as it stands now because it will displace residents from their neighborhoods and it does not offer protection for older and possibly historic structures.

Austin Sound Ordinance

Leffingwell: The Council recently amended the sound ordinance to create a permitting process that allows for public input; included with these revisions is a one-year review to determine if the new process is effective. Getting the sound ordinance right achieving the best possible balance between the interests of musicians, venues, and residents is a work in progress, even after many years. We have to proceed with extraordinary caution on both sides, and regularly gauge our successes and failures.

McCracken: I support the recommendations of the Live Music Task Force to provide a fair balance between creating entertainment districts where music venues have greater latitude to host live music and protecting neighborhoods from clubs outside of such districts where excessive sound levels is not appropriate.

Buttross: I think one of the basic things we have to avoid in discussing the Austin sound ordinance is an “us vs. them” debate between the neighborhoods and musicians. The music industry, particularly the live music industry is extremely important to Austin. I believe we should create music zones throughout the city where neighborhoods could petition to opt in or opt out of the limitations set by the sound ordinance. We just need to find a good compromise to keep Austin the Live Music Capital of the World and work with neighborhoods so that Austin also remains a family friendly city.

Ingalls: I would like to eliminate the sound ordinance for downtown in order to protect our live music venues and the bars and clubs downtown.

Austin Music Department

Leffingwell: The hard truth is that we’re facing a serious budget shortfall at the city as the result of dramatically declining sales tax revenue. If elected, my commitment would be to pursue the creation of a Music Department at the first moment that our budget situation allows, but in our current circumstance, I couldn't support cutting basic city services or raising property taxes to do it.

McCracken: I support the creation of a Music Department or a broader Creative Sectors Department that includes music, film, video games and digital media. While these sectors encompass the creative arts, they are also for profit. That’s why placing authority for carrying out policies to promote music, film and digital media in the Cultural Arts Division would be a mistake. I would fund a Music Department or Creative Sectors Department from two funding sources: from bed tax revenues and from the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office (EGRSO) budget. Music, film and digital media are creative arts, so it is appropriate for this department to receive some of its funding from the portion of the bed tax allocated to cultural arts funding.

Buttross: I support the idea of a Music Department but we need to find revenue neutral ways to fund the department. I think the music department could be a strong economic development tool that could bring in clusters of music related businesses to Austin ranging from music and recording studios to record labels. We need to find a way to stay within our current city budget. I would see about using public/private partnerships that would help this industry specific economic development tool work, possibly by partnering with the county, with private enterprise and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce that would support this type of program.

Ingalls: I would be for it the creation of a Music Department within city government. Due to the bad economy I would have to say that this would be one of the things that I would do after existing government programs are funded because existing government programs should come before creating new government programs during bad economic times.

How would you support the local music community?

Leffingwell: First and foremost, by regularly encouraging Austinites and our visitors to go hear some great live music. Beyond that, I know that the music community has a broad range of important needs. I never talk to a working musician in Austin without the issue of health care coming up, so if elected I would expect to focus my attention primarily on helping to improve and expand the affordable health insurance options available to musicians, especially working with and through successful existing programs like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. I do clearly recognize that if we don’t put real focus on helping our musicians and our music community as a whole, we’re in danger of downgrading from “The Live Music Capital of the World” to “The Live Music Capital of the Tri-County Area.” We can’t let that happen. If I’m elected, Austin music will have a friend and champion in the mayor’s office. It’s important to our economy, it’s important to our culture, and it’s important to our spirit.

McCracken: Create a music economy headquarters at the site of the Armadillo World Headquarters. This site is currently a city-owned surface parking lot that is over one acre in size. I have put forth a proposal to turn the original site of the Armadillo World Headquarters into a center for Austin’s independent music scene that could include recording space, housing for musicians, music venues, a health clinic, cafés and a creative economy incubator modeled on the Sundance Institute’s incubator for independent filmmakers. Using the process the city employed at the Mueller development, I would ask the music community to take the lead in defining what this site should include, then we would seek bids from competitors to develop this site in a way that carries out the vision and specifications of the music community.

Expand ME TV’s capabilities. I am working on a plan with music, film, and entertainment leaders to improve ME TV’s capability as an asset for promoting and distributing the Austin music scene to a global audience using the successful model that we adopted for Austin Studios. Recruit and grow companies and services that expand opportunity for working musicians.

As mayor, I would also recruit the components of the music industry that Austin working musicians need to have greater opportunities, including record labels, distribution, and professional services (e.g., booking and talent agencies). I will also work with music, film, and digital media leaders to identify ways Austin can promote new digital media distribution models that expand the ways musicians can sell their music.

Buttross: I have been a longtime supporter of the local music community. I helped create the Austin Music Co-op which provides space to live-work-play on Guadalupe for 27 musicians. I also created band rehearsal space on First Street and I have worked with churches and musicians to provide shared venues for music and for worship services. Music is an important economic driver for our community, but it also provides a great quality of life for our residents that cannot be duplicated anywhere in the state. As mayor, I will do everything possible to enhance the ability for the music community to make Austin its home and to help facilitate the climate needed to make Austin the best place in the country for the music industry.

Ingalls: I would support the local music community by doing away with the noise ordinance downtown, as well as doing everything I can to help them as long as it does not compromise my beliefs.

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Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell, Elections, Election 2009, mayor, Josiah Ingalls, David Buttross

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