New council members are sworn in.
By Kevin Fullerton, Fri., June 23, 2000
To Serve and Genuflect
Maybe the City Council should conduct more business at its inaugural ceremonies. Rousing spirituals, impassioned prayers for economic and social justice, and Mayor Kirk Watson's brand of Everyman humor would seem to set a perfect mood for bridging east and west, rich and poor. Why not at least offer a table of hors d'oeuvres and pineapple punch at council meetings?
Judging from the crowd who came to see incoming Council Members Will Wynn, Raul Alvarez, Danny Thomas, and the mayor take the oath of office Thursday at the Convention Center, the disparity between people's incomes and the city's housing costs seems foremost on everyone's mind: The strongest applause came when the new council members touched on the theme. Wynn delivered the night's most polished oratory, evoking visions of Austin as a 19th-century eco-paradise and defying the forces that would turn it into "just another big city in the United States of Generica." He slipped in an oblique plug for light rail by recalling the doubts that New York City had about its subway system, then fired an opening shot in what he promised will be the "transportation debate of the century" by calling for a million-dollar investment in sidewalks to help balance the region's 25-year road plan.
But Thomas and Alvarez were the biggest crowd-pleasers. The excitement that surrounded the two Eastsiders during their campaigns spilled over into the evening. Alvarez, who had numerous friends and family members in town, said that he looked forward to reaching out to the needs of everyone, but come midnight he was turning off his answering machine. When the ceremony ended, the new member's first act was to autograph a program for a pint-sized nephew. Thomas declared that he had no speech, but "wanted to make sure everyone has quality of life in Austin." The former police officer, wide as a delivery van in his double-breasted coat, traded jokes and knee slaps with the slightly built Wynn as the two sat together while the mayor emceed the proceedings.
This Week in Council
The city is set to give its shiny new SMART Housing initiative a test drive. The council will likely cede a city-owned tract at Tillery and Oak Springs in East Austin to the city housing office, which plans to give the land to the nonprofit Volunteers of America to build a home for poor elderly residents. The council will also begin a process to determine the future use of a nearby tract of vacated city land at 12th and Hargrave, once considered as a site for the elderly center but now home to the Yellow Bike Project.
There's a new broadband service coming to town. Austin Energy is seeking approval to spend $11 million inspecting the electric poles on which Grande Communications will string its new fiber-optic cables, which will offer phone, TV, and high-speed Internet connections. The utility says the $11 million, plus any necessary improvements to the poles, will be reimbursed by Grande.
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