The Austin Chronicle

Austin Newsmakers of the Nineties

By Mike Clark-Madison, January 7, 2000, News

1. Brigid Shea and Jackie Goodman: Again, duh. In 1990, Goodman and (especially) Shea were fairly anonymous activists. In 2000, both are household names who can take the lion's share of the credit for the Austin news story of the 1990s -- the progressive takeover of the reins of public policy. Shea and Goodman are not entirely responsible for the current importance of enviros and neighbors in Austin politics, but they are more responsible than anyone else.

2. Kirk Watson. Had Watson gotten an earlier start, he'd probably be topping our list, for good or ill. As it stands, his no-deal-left-undone style has produced more results in three years than his various predecessors managed in about 15. Even if his next term (oh, you think he may lose?) is just a continuation of the first, Watson will be near the top of the next decade's Top 10 list.

3. Carole Rylander. We know, yuck. But consider: Ten years ago, former Austin mayor Carole Keeton McClellan Rylander was a washed-up bit of political flotsam, reduced to sorry tabloid-TV posing (remember The Rylander Report?). Today, the Bar Witch is the most powerful Austinite in state government, with her eye on the Governor's Mansion, or perhaps the U.S. Senate. What are you going to do about it?

4. Gary Bradley. Perhaps the biggest news in Bradleyland came just this last fall, with the Developer King's apparent willingness to smoke the peace pipe with the Austin enviro-progs for whom he embodied the evils of the world. But Bradley has always made for good copy, and he remains the poster child for Austin's growth, suburban sprawl, the bidness agenda, and the friction attending thereto.

5. Daryl Slusher. Mostly, Slusher is here because he was a "newsmaker" in more than one sense; it was his not-unearned reputation as a bomb-thrower, illumined weekly in these pages, that gave him the buzz to be hated and feared, and then loved and admired, and then chided and despised, by the Macro Austin elite. The fact that Slusher is now part of the political mainstream says something about the mainstream, which is another lasting legacy of the 1990s.

6. Eric Mitchell. The Anti-Slusher started out looking as safe as milk, but left office in a stinking cloud of hate and epithets. But Mitchell did shake up Eastside politics for good and all, and with it the longtime political calculus that governed the African-American place in Austin public life. His legacy is still spawning headaches and crises years after his departure from the council dais, and nobody really thinks he's gone for good.

7. Susana Almanza and Ben Heimsath. "Planning," a dirty word at the beginning of the decade, is back with a vengeance, and Almanza and Heimsath -- not coincidentally, the two current consensus appointees to the Planning Commission -- have led its resurgence throughout the decade. Whether trying to reinvent East Austin's industrial wastelands, re-envision the suburban subdivision, or reinvigorate the neighborhood as the basic building block of public life, these two have spent most of the 1990s trying to be part -- sometimes, all -- of the solution.

8. Terry Keel and Margo Frasier. Pendulum-swinging used to be the name of the Austin political game, but we've confined our bipolar voting in the 1990s to the jailhouse. In 1992, we elected as sheriff the noisy Keel, the first Republican to ever hold a major county-wide post; four years later, with Keel dispatched to the Lege, we soothed our temples by tapping the quiet Frasier as our first female sheriff (and, needless to say, our first gay sheriff). Now, her head hurts over the star-crossed Travis County jails; tune in next year to see if we swing again.

9. Bruce Todd. Remember him? He was mayor for most of the decade, and a county commish before that, so it's clear that he did something that merits his inclusion here. Now if we could only figure out what it was -- Oh yeah, he became the punching bag on which the current crop of politicos perfected their fighting stance. A valuable service to the community.

10. Camille Barnett and Jesus Garza. Speaking of punching bags, does anyone remember a time when the City Council and city manager were not at odds for some reason? Well, perhaps now, with Garza freshly awarded a tidy raise for his service to the city, but remember: Camille Barnett likewise got a pay hike just before the Brackenridge scandals sent her on her merry way.

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