Who's on First?

United -- for Now

Thus far, serious challenges to council incumbents are conspicuous by their absence, less than six months out from the election. This is probably due to the perception (which is in large part correct) that the Watson council, along with its leader, is not only united but on a roll, and difficult to beat. But one possible downside to the council's seeming unity is that they could be characterized as a monolithic force for salamander protection and development-thwarting come election time. (If anyone could justly deny that tag it's Griffith, who's been turning up more and more often on the other side of the mayor and his big schemes.)

Word is the council may in fact be challenged by a slate of "annexation" candidates; disgruntled southwest Austin types who aim to team up with folks from the great white Northwest to form a coalition of suburbanites opposed to the Central City's foolish liberalism, overreaching of its powers, and imposition of its ways on private citizens. If they could combine the political zeal of the southwest suburbs -- and Circle C in particular, whose voters turned out 50% of its voters to oppose the May bond package -- with the longevity and institutional memory of the Northwesterners and their neighborhood associations, they might be on to something. Possible candidates from this group include Judy Jennings, a former leader of the statewide MUD association and anti-annexer, who is said to be running against Griffith, and John Kunkel, a council gadfly (re: sewer service in his northwest Austin neighborhood) who, according to a source close to council, is "dying to have a seat up there."

Another rumored candidate is James Cooley, a Republican activist and digger of political dirt, and a former aide to ex-councilmember Louise Epstein, who has run unsuccessfully before. One Austin political veteran insists that a right-wing candidate like Cooley would not likely be viable, despite the GOP's dramatic Travis County gains in the recent November election. "A Republican activist is still not electable in the Austin City limits," the insider said. "You need strong community service, non-political stuff, if you want to be a legitimate candidate. Cooley doesn't have it."

Conservative Push

Also from the right of the spectrum, Chad Crow -- Congressman Ron Paul's aide -- has filed (see his Web site: http://www.swt.edu/~cc34783). Going on 22 years old, a resident of southwest Travis County, his choice of opponent is unclear, but as a libertarian Southwesterner, a natural opponent might be Slusher -- perceived as the leftiest of the councilmembers.

Slusher could be a lightning rod for opposition (read: conservative) candidates, because despite the fact that the councilmember has voted with the establishment (progressive establishment, but establishment nonetheless) as often as anybody (or anybody but Beverly Griffith), he's still viewed as the lefty-outsider councilmember by many. But some gossip holds that the candidate who tries to marshal the support of Chamber of Commerce types to beat Slusher may be disappointed. One council watcher commented that even older-guard establishment citizens like outgoing chamber president Gary Valdez and former mayor Roy Butler would probably stand behind Slusher, especially in light of the truly amazing environmental/ business harmony that's reigned this year: "This isn't as bad as we thought, the rules just changed a little bit," the council watcher said.

Practice Run

Another product of the rumor mill has it that one or more members of Austin's minority communities will run, if not to win, then at least to gear up for a run against Councilmember Willie Lewis, who is expected to make a bid for a second term next year. The "practice run" strategy has worked for several current denizens of the council dais, including Goodman, who ran for council in 1990, Slusher, who forced Bruce Todd into a runoff in a mayoral election, and Bill Spelman, who previously made an unsuccessful bid for the Austin Community College Board of Trustees. The candidate(s) would likely be allies of former councilmember Eric Mitchell, whom Lewis defeated last year, and who accused Lewis in highly unflattering, racially charged terms as being a sellout to the white, environmental Austin establishment. What about Mitchell himself as a candidate? He has reportedly established a political action committee but has so far indicated no intention to run.

Some have mentioned as a possible candidate the Reverend Sterling Lands of Greater Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. Lands is a vocal Eastside activist, and was a signer of the mayor's recent call to racial repentance. But the most formidable candidate from the Eastside, if he runs, would be Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. The former linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys would benefit from instant name identification, and has been involved in various Eastside causes, including hunger striking to raise money for sports facilities for East Austin youth. Rumor has Henderson running against Slusher. Why? Nobody's saying, but here's a clue: Henderson golfs at the Barton Creek Country Club, where some of his partners on the links might have reason to whisper anti-Slusher nothings in his ear.

What About Jackie?

From the left, the Jackie Goodman camp fears a challenge from S.O.S. types (Kirk Mitchell perhaps?) -- a punishment for not being perceived as a "true believer" in the S.O.S. doctrine. Despite the coziness that has endured between the Alliance and this council, a renewing of tensions has surfaced lately between the hard-liners -- led by Bill Bunch and Mark Yznaga -- and everybody else. The Forum PUD debate was a prime example, with S.O.S. threatening that support of the Forum (which passed on first reading) would bring a return to pre-S.O.S. City Hall-developer deals. Forum supporter Goodman, an old Save Barton Creek Association comrade, doesn't appreciate the criticism from the upstarts.

Vic Vreeland, who ran as an independent for U.S.Congress in 1992, is mounting a campaign mainly via his Web site (http://www.vicvreeland.com), which includes provocative slogans such as, "If you are sick of your property taxes rising with the utopian dreams of Daryl Slusher, then the choice is clear." He backed out of the race after the November bond election, claiming Austinites clearly hadn't had enough council boondoggles, but now it appears he may be back in the race. Vreeland, an Austin Fire Department dispatcher, was last spotted with ACTV impresario Alex Jones, protesting last week's national Smart Growth Conference. Others who have filed treasurer's reports with the city:

* Newcomer Linda Dailey, a registered nurse and five-year Austin resident who is running against Beverly Griffith, and who issued a press release announcing she is a "PEOPLE FIRST" candidate, standing for "public health, public safety and jobs and economic development."

* Dewayne Naumann, a potentially viable candidate who ran for the GOP county judge nomination in the November election, has said he would run but hasn't declared his opponent.

* Retired Air Force Col. Rick Wheeler may be preparing another council campaign. Though an August Austin American-Statesman story indicated he would not repeat his 1996 run against Beverly Griffith, Wheeler was reportedly overheard recently plotting his campaign at the Cedar Door. If Wheeler's heart is set on being a member of council, at least he's got his choice of watering holes right -- Cedar Door is a common spot for councilmembers to unwind after a long night on the dais.

If you haven't read enough yet to distract you from the spectacle unfolding in Washington, hang on, and keep watching this space. Chances are, things around the City Hall campaign circuit are just about to get good.

The City Council doesn't meet again until Thursday, January 7, when it'll do great things indeed; meanwhile, there's another "Council Watch" coming soon, maybe even next week.

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City Council Elections, Mud, Annexation, Daryl Slusher, Beverly Griffith, Jackie Goodman, Chamber Of Commerce, Judy Jennings, James Cooley, Vic Vreeland, Jenny Staff.

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