Naked City

Off the Desk:

The Barton Springs Salamander and the S.O.S. Alliance scored a court victory this week. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Lucius Bunton ruled that U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt wrongly withdrew the proposed listing of the salamander as an endangered species. Said S.O.S. Attorney Bill Bunch: "It confirms [Babbitt's] decision was politically influenced and not based on science as required by law." Babbitt has 30 days to tell us what he's going to do about the salamander... -- A.S.

The openly gay newcomer to the Place 6 city council race, Eric Lee Samson, says he was compelled to jump in when Councilmember Eric Mitchell's "faggot" slur came to light two weeks ago. However, Samson says single-member districts, not gay rights, will be the primary focus of his campaign. "To get single-member districts, I think it's going to have to be a white boy that goes in there," says Samson, who is white and vying for a seat traditionally held by an African American. Meanwhile, Mitchell's other opponent, Willie Lewis, is touting the latest poll from the Opinion Analysts group. Pollsters asked local voters whether they'd prefer to see Mitchell re-elected or defeated. The results: 31% gave Mitchell the thumbs up; 34% said he should be replaced, and 35% were undecided. Mitchell fared better on the latest round of endorsements from police, firefighter, and AFSME PACs, while Lewis swung endorsement2s from the Sierra Club, Save Our Springs and SANE... -- K.V.

When will the local daily run a story on UT's fundraising machine? The paper's editor, Rich Oppel, has assailed the UT System's PAC and the System's fundraising activities in his weekly column. But so far the only paper in the state to do any substantive reporting on the story is the San Antonio Express-News, which reported that the UT PAC has given some $200,000 to Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock over the past few years, and that some UT officials were pressured to make donations to the PAC. While being scooped by the E-N, the local daily has been forced to run truncated wire service versions of the E-N's stories. However, UT Chancellor William "Dollar Bill" Cunningham has been seen several times in recent days at the Statesman offices. Something is up... -- R.B.

In other newspaper news, The Texas Triangle has gained a new owner -- Dallasite Todd Cunningham -- and lost managing editor/writer/workhorse Dan Quinn. Cunningham gave Quinn the boot March 20 after a high-anxiety week of putting out a redesigned 40-page paper -- a noteworthy feat for a minuscule staff. Watch for more news coming out of Triangle offices. -- A.S.

Looks like Sen. Florence Shapiro is half-way to her long-pursued goal of requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortions. Her bill passed 22-9 in the state Senate last week, with one more vote than necessary. Now her fight goes to the House Health and Human Services Committee... -- K.V.

Overheard at a cocktail party last Saturday night: Former U.S House Speaker Jim Wright, attending a Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas dinner, was asked why he hasn't been more vocal in his criticism of current speaker Newt Gingrich, who more than any other congressman was responsible for running Wright out of office: "He's beneath my contempt," Wright grumbled. He added that he has a plaque which reads, "If you wrestle with pigs, you get mud all over yourself, and the pigs like it." -- R.B.

Showboating Candidates

It was a night of campaign props and preening on Tuesday as city council and mayoral candidates tried to present their smartest, most marketable pitches to the Austin Board of Realtors and other development-oriented reps. Still, the political drama seemed to be missing something -- like a plot, maybe. Some observations worth mentioning: Place 2 candidate Becky Motal seemed less confrontational, even amiable, than she did during her unsuccessful bid for council a year ago; Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Ronney Reynolds tried too hard to please with his kids-as-props number and a demonstration of how he's just a blue collar, roll-up-the-sleeves kind of guy. Councilmember Eric Mitchell was smooth as glass and wasn't trying to please anybody. The two candidates delivering the sincerest plea for humankind were Place 5's Bobbie Enriquez and mayoral hopeful Kirk Becker. -- A.S.

Politicking the Arts

The arts received a chorus of support Tuesday night from mayoral candidates and other council hopefuls in the Allied Arts & Audiences Association public forum at Zachary Scott Theatre.

Arts issues usually take a back seat to development and environmental concerns, said Zach Artistic Director Alice Wilson. But the impending closure of UT's Bass Concert Hall to the Austin Symphony, Austin Lyric Opera, and Ballet Austin gave candidates some meaty material for their election-season spiel before the arts group. "There is a need for people to take these issues seriously because of the economic impact the arts has on the community," Wilson explained. And the candidates, of course, wholeheartedly agreed. That was good news to Marilyn Good, chair of the Allied Arts and Audiences steering committee, who believes the city's cultural arts contracts should be more readily available to local visual and performing artists. Good noted that, "There has been a lack of coordination between city council and the arts commission." -- L.S.

All About Downtown

Colorful maps of downtown Austin and column upon column of comment cards line every inch of wallspace in the small conference room where architect Matthew Kreisle last week presented the Heritage Society's findings of an ongoing study on the future of downtown. Since last June, Kreisle has been calling on city and state leaders to share their ideas about downtown development. With these opinions in hand, Kreisle and other architects created maps reflecting a cross-section of views from the arts community, homeless advocates, educators, environmentalists, and developers.

"We're trying to grab as many stakeholders and leaders in this community as possible and bring them together. So far [the presentation] usually ends with applause," he said. Although he is pushing no specific plan, Kreisle focused his presentation on the extension and development of the east-west 12th Street corridor -- from West Lynn into East Austin -- and the creation of a north-south link of Congress Avenue, from the UT campus into South Austin. Kreisle intends to take his process to the people by moving the entire display of maps and comment cards to a storefront on Congress Avenue where passersby can browse through the presentation and add their suggestions as well. -- K.V.

Marching Against Hate

The roar of 5,000 marchers down Congress Avenue last Sunday served as a precursor to some grueling weeks ahead. Supporters of a stronger hate crimes bill are stepping up their lobbying efforts at the Lege, just as opponents are cranking up the heat for the bill's defeat. The bill lost by a hair in the 1995 session and this time it's expected to win or lose by the same squeaker of a margin. This round, though, the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (LGRL) has rounded up a broader base of support in organizations that are no strangers to hate crimes -- groups like Planned Parenthood, the NAACP of Texas, Texas NOW, and the American Jewish Congress, just to name a few.

Getting back to the march, the sun up ahead was bold and brilliant, the chants were spirited, and the speeches on the steps of the State Capitol were... well, long. LGRL Director Dianne Hardy-Garcia was smart to turn away a number of other well-meaning folks who wanted to put their two cents in at the mike. Aspiring city council politicos were out in force that day, too, stumping for votes. Of course, the usual clump of surly white guys with hate signs hoisted over their shoulders showed up as well, but who cared? -- A.S.

Morales v. Texas Lawyer

Stop the presses: Attorney General Dan Morales still hates Texas Lawyer. Maybe that's not too newsworthy, given that Morales and TL have been feuding for the past two years. What was surprising was that Morales didn't appreciate the irony of his own comments. After all, Morales' latest round of TL-bashing came after he had addressed the Austin chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) on issues relating to the Open Records Act.

Two years ago, Morales' office stopped sending press releases to TL, and reporters at the weekly legal affairs newspaper had to resort to filing open records requests on a daily basis for three weeks just to get ordinary releases. The rift forced the president of American Lawyer Media, which owns TL, to fly to Austin to negotiate a truce and to assure that the AG's office would resume sending press releases to TL. But Morales, instead, took the matter a step further and cancelled all but two of the AG's subscriptions to TL, which numbered more than 100.

During his March 20 speech to SPJ, Morales noted that the trend in the Texas Legislature is to "create exemptions" for agencies when it comes to open records laws, and that it is "far more difficult to pass bills that provide openness." Given his support of openness, this reporter asked Morales to discuss his office's relationship to TL. Morales said that when a publication makes an error one time, "it's excusable." If they make errors on three or four things, he said, that's still okay. But he said if a publication starts "manufacturing things" and it is "the clear intent of an individual to make things up, it creates less of an interest on our part to treat them as a legitimate entity." He went on to say that the AG's office will "cooperate with any legitimate entity. But when it comes to tabloids," he said his office would not be cooperative. Does Morales lump Texas Lawyer in with tabloids like the Globe? "Yes," said Morales.

His comments came as a surprise to TL's senior editor and columnist, Bob Elder, who has been the target of much of Morales' disdain. "We haven't had any major problems in two years," said Elder. "They hate it when anybody goes beyond the surface statements that they lay down." Elder said Morales often claims TL gets its facts wrong. But he said that the AG's office has "never either over the phone or in correspondence pointed out one factual error. And we have begged them to." -- R.B.

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