Naked City

It could be that the 20 reporters who showed up at the Governor's Mansion on the Sunday before Labor Day saw the only presidential debates that will occur this year; Hyde Park Baptist Church seems intent on moving "Forward Forever"; The light-rail train ride to the polls continues to build steam.

It could be that the 20 reporters who showed up at the Governor's Mansion on the Sunday before Labor Day saw the only presidential debates that will occur this year. And for a moment, it didn't seem that Al Gore would get to speak.

Gore did a video cameo, probably the work of Mark McKinnon, who is running George W. Bush's campaign media operation. Bush stood at the lectern, announcing his intent to debate the vice president, then two short video clips ran -- with Gore asking Larry King and Tim Russert of Meet the Press to set up presidential debates on their programs. The only glitch occurred when Gore was briefly muted. "We need sound," Bush said. He quickly got it. Bush responded to the Gore clips, agreeing to meet the vice president on both programs. He offered to do one of three debates set up by the Presidential Debate Commission.

While it remains to be seen whether Bush made the right decision in refusing to participate in two of the debates set up by the commission, the press conference -- held in the middle of a holiday weekend, three hours before the press corps traveling with Bush had to catch the campaign plane to Chicago -- occurred in a dead zone. If it was a bad political decision, it was complemented by a smart attempt to manage the media.

Any lingering doubts that Hyde Park Baptist Church was serious about moving "Forward Forever" when it launched an expansion campaign by that name last fall can be put to rest. This week, the church, whose real estate holdings in Hyde Park already total some 283,000 square feet, purchased the Jacksonian Apartments -- across the street from Hyde Park's sanctuary at 39th and Speedway. The apartments, which rent for $375 to $499 a month, provide some of the most affordable student housing in Hyde Park. Students won't come home to find their belongings in the street at the beginning of a new semester, but neighborhood leaders say it's only a matter of time before the church demolishes the property. What will replace it is a source of both speculation and concern among neighborhood leaders, who currently have their hands full fighting the church's proposed five-story parking garage on Ave. D. Possibilities include a new sanctuary or an expansion of the church's private high school, which houses more than 850 students. Complicating matters is the Quarries, the Northwest Austin property where the church has proposed building a new high school, recreation center, and daycare facility. That project is scheduled to come up at the Planning Commission next Tuesday, Sept. 12; but it's anybody's guess how the commissioners, who have reacted coolly to other Hyde Park Baptist proposals, will respond.

The light-rail train ride to the polls continued to build steam as techies, venture capitalists, elected officials, and other proponents of light-rail bonds gathered at the Hyatt Wednesday to kick off a broad, well-funded effort to pass rail bonds.

Promising to push for voter support of light rail were Mayor Kirk Watson; former council member Gus Garcia; Vignette co-founder Ross Garber; Dell co-founder Tom Meredith; venture capitalist John Thornton; tech-exec Peter Zandan; and council members Jackie Goodman, Will Wynn, Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher. Also joining the Get Austin Moving! coalition promoting the rail bonds on the Nov. 7 ballot were Mary Arnold, the godmother of Austin's environmental community; Rev. Sterling Lands of Greater Calvary Baptist Church and the Planning Commission; County Commissioner Margaret Gomez, and former council member and Cap Metro board member Johnny Treviño, and others. The $919 million project, to be paid for by local bond money and federal funds, is beginning to look as inevitable as the Bush presidency did last spring.

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