Wynning Formula?

Freshman council member Will Wynn allies himself with Watson's majority faction.

Wynning Formula?
By Doug Potter

Will Wynn counts himself among the progressive New Urbanists who, at least for the past couple of years, have virtually owned the debate on how best to "grow out" Austin's central city. But when he looks around, all Wynn sees are the vestiges of Old Austin -- car-centric, built on the cheap, and lacking even decent shade trees for sidewalks.

He ran for City Council believing he knew how to build a better city, one his children wouldn't flee when they graduated high school. So it's not hard to guess where his attention will fall for the rest of his first term: He'll be peering over architects' shoulders on projects like the Triangle development, and, should the Nov. 7 referendum on light rail pass, loitering around Capital Metro planning sessions.

Will those preoccupations lead to a possible mayoral run, or at least a second council term? Recent City Council elections have proved that Austin voters love a good technocrat with the right kind of charisma. But Wynn's long-term political viability will likely turn on whether he proves tough in the head-butting contests where "win-win" is not an option.

Depending on which pol watcher you ask, Wynn so far has demonstrated either that he's a flinching compromiser with the flight instincts of a hare, or that he's a principled logician who stays above the clamor of competing interests. But all parties, himself included, agree that Wynn is no politician: He neither seeks conflict nor claims to speak for any particular constituency. On the most contentious items to come before the council since he took office, Wynn has consistently allied himself with a council faction -- comprised of the mayor and Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher -- that has shown little patience for uninvited interruptions to the agenda.

One case in point was the flap over which bond proposals to place before voters on the Nov. 7 ballot. At every turn, Wynn opposed attempts by Council Members Beverly Griffith, Danny Thomas, and Raul Alvarez to balance the transportation bond package squired by the mayor with bonds for park development, conservation, and affordable housing.

Wynn claimed that the timing wasn't right for those bond proposals to go before voters. But the fallout from his stance has cost him some favor with the old-time power bloc of neighborhood activists and anti-sprawlers who supported those items, even though Wynn pushed to include more funding for sidewalks in the transportation bond package. Asked if he regretted upsetting the traditional livable-city contingent, Wynn said that traffic congestion, not environmental conservation, is currently the city's most pressing concern.

Wynn also aligned himself against Griffith in voting to reach a settlement with Lumbermen's Investment Corporation over a disputed condominium project on the Sand Beach Reserve. Griffith had hoped to delay the negotiations in order to advance an offer from the city to buy the tract and tie it into her plans for converting the Seaholm Power Plant into a public amenity.

In fact, Wynn's style stands in most vivid relief next to Griffith's, another council member well-steeped in the Quality of Life canon. Whereas Griffith doesn't hesitate to block the flow of council business to draw more attention to issues she champions, Wynn shows a tendency to trust that dissenting viewpoints can eventually all be pulled aboard a moving train. If that tendency becomes a habit, Wynn may never become popular with the slow-growthers, who typically value public process above all else.

When Wynn was campaigning for City Council, rumor had it that political insiders had already picked him as the successor to Mayor Kirk Watson. But if that's true, Wynn says, nobody ever told him. And he says he isn't interested in "doing the math" to determine whose interests he might need to massage to set himself up for a mayoral run.

Local campaign consultants, however, don't mind offering advice. First, they point out, Wynn has no name ID. Having run a campaign that was largely self-financed, he didn't appear on many porch stoops; Eastsiders, in particular, have virtually no idea who he is. Second, he hasn't learned to touch the political bases, balancing his interest in public policy with his constituents' real-life concerns. Finally, there's the backbone thing: Some pols worry he has neither the courage, nor the convictions, to lead the council on his own. To his credit, however, Wynn currently enjoys the confidence of important players, including both the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Save Barton Creek Association. He's good at speeches, he's got connections to high tech leaders, and he can definitely raise the moolah, consultants say.

Wynn has a thing for mission statements, too. At his inauguration, he announced that he was committed to a $1 million investment in sidewalks. Next up on his pledge card: to expand Austin's transportation options so that every working couple in Austin could get by with just one car. It's a nicely crafted goal -- plebian in content, with little to ruffle the liberal business community. But can it score big political points? Probably not. You get those by curbing big-box developments and buying watershed -- sacred principles Wynn bows to but hasn't yet acted on.

Forecasts for Wynn's council tenure call for him to lead on planning, be an adept idea man on affordable housing, and be a reliable support player on social equity. Wynn may get a chance to show whether he's got the stomach for hard bargains when negotiations with Stratus Properties and the Mueller Airport redevelopment proposals land on his desk. A second council term is Wynn's to lose, but in a mayor's race he'd look lightweight next to a seasoned player like Jackie Goodman, and perhaps not sexy enough to take on the inevitable high tech candidate who could emerge right out of the pro-light rail campaign.

  • More of the Story

  • Who Will Survive?

    Seven council members. One coveted position. And, in the end, only one survivor.

    The Tribal Council

    Watson's Way

    In Austin city politics, it's Mayor Kirk Watson's way or no way at all.
  • Jackie, Oh!

    "It's been a long time since a woman was mayor," Jackie Goodman mused the other day.

    The Green Queen

    Beverly Griffith's populist ideas, once held by a majority of the council, are finding few friends as Mayor Watson turns the council's agenda toward transportation.

    Man in the Middle

    "Personally," says Council Member Daryl Slusher, "I think Austin is growing way too fast."

    Compromising Raul

    Raul Alvarez was elected by environmental community but is not yet voting with it.

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Will Wynn, Beverly Griffith, Raul Alvarez, Jackie Goodman, Kirk Watson, transportation bonds, Daryl Slusher, Danny Thomas, Sand Beach Reserve, light rail

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