"It's been a long time since a woman was mayor," Jackie Goodman mused the other day. Understand, of course, that she was conjuring the image of herself as mayor, not reminiscing the days of Carole Keeton Rylander.
Midway through her third term on the City Council, Goodman is, understandably, thinking about life beyond mayor pro tem. Will she run for mayor? "I think it's a possibility," Goodman said, and then immediately began laying out the things she'd like to tackle as mayor -- a "ton" of health and human services issues, some of them spinoffs of the new economy; a navigation plan for the new downtown, more neighborhood planning, and transportation, transportation, and transportation.
And that's just a sampling. Her latest proposal to expand and split the Planning Commission in half, with one entity responsible for zoning cases and the other for planning, may be a precursor to other major recommendations coming out of her office over the next few months. "We haven't done anything really innovative on certain zoning issues that would allow for retail, office, and residential in the same building," she said, no doubt referring to the quagmire the council got itself into with the massive overhaul of the west end of downtown. It should be noted, though, that in last week's interview, Goodman spent more time talking about child-care issues, affordable housing, homelessness, and the ever-widening economic gap than she spent on the Smart Growth issues for which she is perhaps better known. But then, as a former early-childhood educator and a woman who hails from humble roots, it's never been a secret where her heart lies.
Indeed, the mayor's office is looking more enticing these days, particularly to those already seated on the council dais, given the questions about Kirk Watson's next political job, and speculation about whether he'll serve out the remainder of his second term. Should Goodman run for mayor, she could find herself trying to fend off a couple of other ambitious council mates, namely Beverly Griffith and Daryl Slusher. "Hopefully that would not be the case," Goodman said brightly. "But if that happens, we're all friends, so I don't foresee any ugliness coming out of it." Clearly, Goodman and Griffith's "friendship" would be put to its toughest test were they to compete for the same power base, much of which they share.
Goodman, who moved here from El Paso decades ago to attend the University of Texas, typifies the laid-back Austinite. She is as much of a South Austin institution as, say Texicalli Grill owner Danny Young, or community matriarch Shudde Fath. And while Goodman, one political insider noted, has perhaps "penetrated into the public consciousness" more than any other council member, and is more active in county Democratic Party politics, "her personality is not very mayoral -- she's too timid to be mayor." Said another longtime Party participant: "There is that image that she comes across as soft, soft-spoken, and not so dynamic. She doesn't have the leadership qualities that the mayor has. On the other hand she won't step on people's toes like the mayor has." Goodman brushed off those assessments with a chuckle. "I'm nobody's doormat. And as for being soft-spoken, microphones are wonderful inventions."
Goodman is commonly identified as a neighborhood and environmental advocate, although she has rankled both communities on more than one occasion (she crossed her South Austin constituency, for example, when she voted for the Gotham condominium project on Town Lake, while Griffith and Slusher voted against it). Additionally, many in the environmental community believe that Goodman, a former president of the Save Barton Creek Association -- sometimes scornfully referred to as the Pave Barton Creek Association -- is too easily swayed by developers and their lobbyists, unlike Griffith.
For that matter, is Goodman capable of standing up to competing forces at City Hall? Ann Denkler, a former Goodman aide and current aide to County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, believes she can. "Jackie has been tested politically," Denkler said, recalling the bitterness that grew out of Goodman's 1993 and 1996 council campaigns. In the 1993 run-off, Goodman opponent and progressive favorite Mark Tschurr turned up the heat in the final days before the election with a slick mailer criticizing Goodman's voting record during her tenure on the city planning commission. Tschurr further attacked her willingness to accept contributions from developers and lobbyists. Goodman went on to win 62% of the vote and, after the dust settled, talked about trying to heal the wounds.
When she ran for re-election three years later, Goodman took another hit, this time from the far right. Opponent Becky Motal tried to make an issue of Goodman's 1970 arrest in El Paso, along with her husband, Jack Goodman, for possession of a joint. The charge was dismissed and the whole thing was forgotten -- until Motal's circle caught wind of it. Goodman, with strong backing from the Austin Police Association, won 51% of the vote. In her second re-election bid last year, she coasted.
We'll see where Goodman goes from here. If she tries to move up the food chain, it's not likely she'll have the blessing of two of the top local political strategists Mark Yznaga and David Butts, both of whom engineered the Tschurr campaign and supported both Griffith and Slusher in their respective election bids. Yznaga, it is said, is not impressed with Goodman. Goodman is unfazed. "What is probably Jackie's biggest downside," said one Goodman-friendly activist, Paul Robbins, "is that she is too forgiving. Whereas Daryl would never forget a slight, Jackie would rather try to get along." Goodman is quick to correct Robbins' assumption. "I forgive," she said. "I don't forget."
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