Five and a Half Things About Sheryl Cole's Re-Election Kick-Off

SMDs to education, the Capitol Complex to … lipstick?

Sheryl Cole kicks things off at the Carver Center
Sheryl Cole kicks things off at the Carver Center (Photo by Wells Dunbar)

It took her a while to get around to saying it, but Sheryl Cole is not running for mayor. That fact wasn’t mentioned in a press release touting her “campaign announcement” today, and it didn't emerge in what was ultimately her Place 6 re-election speech about halfway through. So fittingly, the Mayor Pro Tem hit on some big themes in her announcement today.

0.5. She’s not running for mayor
We covered that already, didn’t we?

1. She’s tapping different sources of support
Like her colleague Mike Martinez, Cole serves in one of two seats informally reserved in what’s been a decades-long, unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” reserving two seats on City Council for Latino and African-American members – an antiquated system that’s reaching its breaking point. (See No. 4). As such, Cole is by default expected to address issues affecting Austin’s black population (a system which arguably lets Place 6’s colleagues pass the buck, historically speaking). But at the same time, all council members run and serve citywide. So while Cole has a been a focal point during Austin’s unnervingly recurrent racial conflagrations – see 2009’s collective freakout over the Texas Relays, or the dreadful Nathaniel Sanders II saga, for instance – she’s also the prime mover behind one of Austin’s biggest initiatives, the Waller Creek tunnel, which will pull hundreds of developable square feet out of the floodplain Downtown (to what some fear will be a detrimental effect on the Red River music scene.)

These dueling mandates were amply illustrated by her two introductory speakers, Melba Whatley, president of the Waller Creek Conservancy, who lauded Cole for her work in bringing about the project; and Rev. Joseph Parker, a longtime Eastside religious fixture (and the man who married Cole to her husband, Kevin.)

Cole seemingly bridged the two topics best when discussing Austin’s opportunities, and those it has left behind. “Yes, we have opportunities, but we have a disparity in opportunities. We ignore this at our own peril. We have teen pregnancy and a drop out rate that is close to the state average.” This lead directly to education, and “without education, you can’t earn income, and without income, you do not have a tax base. And if you do not have a tax base, you don’t have clean water, clean air, safe neighborhoods and all the things that we treasure in the city that we love.”

2. She’s eyeing the Capitol – no, not like that …
Waller Creek isn’t the only omnibus project on Cole’s mind. She also rattled off a list including long-underway improvements to the urban renewal area of E. 11th and 12th streets, a Downtown medical center as proposed by Sen. Kirk Watson and championed by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, but also, infill development of the Capitol Complex, the sprawling, underused area directly north of the Capitol characterized by unimaginative buildings and parking garages that’s completely dead after 5pm. It’s another project Cole’s had her hand in, and one she obviously foresees more work addressing in another term.

3. She’s ready to take us to school
It seems the Texas Facilities Commission isn’t the only external org she sees the city collaborating more with: Returning to her remarks on education, she noted she envisioned “a role for everybody” in helping schools succeed. So far, so boilerplate. But then she added, “We don’t want to run the schools, but we don’t want to let them fend for themselves.” It sounds like more collaboration between the city and the school district – which council has made a couple tentative moves regarding, so far – are on Cole’s radar.

4. Gentleman’s agreement or not, she still sounds tentative on single member districts
As for that gentleman’s agreement, Cole memorably stated “It is time to bury the concept of a gentleman's place … I'm running for re-election, but I may not always know my place.” However, she prefaced those remarks by addressing (not by name) Austin’s Charter Revision Committee, currently tasked with examining the potential switch to some form of geographic representation. There, she contended that “We have not fully had an open dialogue about the process of changing our system of government.” African-American representation perennially hangs over the question of geographic representation, as Austin’s black population has shrunk and dispersed to the point of difficulty in trying to draw an African-American “opportunity district”; moreover, it’s impossible to draw one that one that would preserve the current one-in-seven make-up of our council currently. With a potential charter vote on geographic representation still a year away, is Cole simply telling us we have lots more work to do – or throwing cold water on the idea, as she has in the past?

5. They’re swapping lipstick on the dais
And from the TMI files: Honoring the two council members in attendance that afternoon, Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo, Cole said “The thing you really need to know is that some of us share the same lipstick … People are always looking for surprises from the council, but that is one surprise.”

Well, meetings go long, and we can all use a touch-up now and then.

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