The Daily Hustle: 1/19/11

Laura Morrison's re-election kick-off

Morrison in the mix
Morrison in the mix (Photo by Wells Dunbar)

Campaign kick-off season hit high gear as Laura Morrison greeted some 200-plus constituents at Nuevo Leon last night, steering (largely) clear of controversial topics to tout her intelligence and independence in her Place 4 re-election run.

Discounting the five-alarm stuffed jalapeños on the menu, the gathering was a relatively mild affair, rhetoric wise, albeit populated with lots of local luminaries: fellow council members Sheryl Cole, Randi Shade and Bill Spelman, plus judge Charlie Baird, developer Perry Lorenz, new police monitor Margo Frasier, Ted Siff, Green Doors principal Frank Fernandez, the Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League, former council member Brigid Shea, and many others.

Leading off the speeches, Sheryl Cole said, “Laura Morrison is a strong worker and a stickler for detail with rock-hard integrity,” before quickly segueing into her trademark comedic approach, calling her dais neighbor “The Berkeley girl who put up her Birkenstocks to come and serve you.”

Travis County Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant spoke more to specifics in a lengthy speech, noting toward the end that since we weren’t at City Hall, they couldn’t take the mic away from him after three minutes. While touting Morrison’s ability to “build coalitions,” he also noted “Laura’s not afraid to be the lone vote – and you saw that again last week,” a reference to her dissent on the Park PUD which drew deep applause. In a similar vein, he also said “Laura’s not afraid to question city staff about issues. … We have great city staff … but you have to hold them accountable.” More concretely, he cited Morrison’s work championing supportive housing, sponsoring the no-driving-while-texting ordinance, creating a pharmaceutical drug take-back program, Elfant’s own work with Morrison addressing handicapped accessibility issues, and her “leadership on developing historic districts in Austin,” another applause line.

Planning Commissioner and former Austin Neighborhoods Council president Danette Chimenti spoke next, speaking more to Morrison’s personal strengths. Reiterating Elfant’s theme of Morrison being willing to take tough stands – these oblique references the closest the specter of Water Treatment Plant No. 4 came to surfacing, in contrast to Randi Shade’s party last week – she summarized Morrison’s tenure by saying “she has been our voice at City Hall.”

Morrison began her remarks citing several of the female elected officials in the audience, noting that with the recent passing of Emma Long, “we lost a true pioneer … We were able to follow in their footsteps because Emma opened the door. “

Describing her own political journey, Morrison said it “really started 30 years ago” when her family moved to Austin. Getting involved in neighborhood politics – which ultimately lead to her tenure leading the ANC – she said she “very quickly saw the connections not only between what’s going on in my neighborhood and other neighborhoods, but all the issues that really affect quality of life,” including affordable housing, social services, environmental issues, and more.

Regarding her governing style in office, Morrison said she “believes in authentic public partnerships and collaboration with others, and also being accountable … I do truly believe that with public participation, we get better results,” she said to applause.

When it came time to enumerate her achievements, Morrison largely steered clear of the controversial neighborhood affiliations she’s often identified with – the historic district debate, historic landmark tax abatements, and the like – instead touting the Big Gig Austin project, and new initiatives tackling childhood obesity and hate crimes. In closing, she vowed it was “an incredible responsibility of mine” to keep her values “in the forefront" as she sits on council, before promising to run “a vigorous campaign.”

So far, Morrison's only drawn one opponent, Eric Rangel. But campaign season should develop further momentum this Monday, with Chris Riley’s kick-off at Threadgills World Headquarters. That same night, up the street at the Alamo Ritz, local provocateurs Change Austin will be screening a documentary; they also promise “we will have some important news to share with you. So show up early, and plan to chat with us after the film” – perhaps a reference to Brian Rodgers’ Place 3 candidacy? “We can't, but will, wait to tell you about it,” they say.

What the hell else is happening?

On the city calendar: A combined meeting of the Design Commission and Downtown Commission is happening in the Boards and Commissions room at City Hall, 5:30pm.

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