Nov. 7: Election Day. It was a dark and stormy night
By 8pm, the crowd that officers from the APD and U.S. Secret Service had herded into the Congress Avenue mosh pit had peaked -- shortly before the intermittent downpours started. In front of the crowd was the Capitol. Behind was a section of street reserved for print journalists, and behind that, curb-to-curb across Congress, a six-story press riser for TV reporters.
At ground level, Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan stood by, nervously explaining the electoral calculus by which Bush would win without Florida, which CNN had just called for Gore-Lieberman. Sullivan, one of the most amiable and accessible members of the Bush campaign team, admitted he was "pretty nervous."
Next in the press pit was Sullivan's former boss, Lieutenant Gov. Rick Perry, who immediately launched into a campaign speech. "George Bush," Perry told reporters, "will have the opportunity to see to it that all our children go to the best schools in the world." Perry pressed on: "Parents and grandparents will soon be able to look at the man in the White House and let him be a role model for all children." Somehow, though, it didn't make sense to continue in the campaign mode. Sullivan understood this. So did Gov. Bush, who hastily left the Shoreline Grill at the Four Seasons -- where the family was scheduled to watch election returns -- and retired to the Governor's Mansion.
Shortly after 1am, the crowd -- diminished by rain, wind, cold weather, and Wayne Newton -- got word that Florida, which had been moved from the Gore column into undecided, was now declared a win for Bush. But not for long. As the last 10% of the Florida vote came in, the gap narrowed from some 20,000 to 1,210 votes. By 2:45am, reporters huddled around press-tent monitors, listening to a Florida secretary of state employee describe the state's mail-in votes (there were 2,200 in 1996), accepted up to 10 days after the election. As the street sweepers cleaned up behind the crowd on Congress, Bush campaign finance chair Don Evans came out and said the election was on hold. Gov. Bush never emerged from the mansion.
Watching the street scene and the presidential and light rail elections -- Vignette co-founder Ross Garber said the close finish recalled a phrase one of his sales managers once used: Bush won by "'point-shit' over infinity." Garber, who invested a great deal of time and money in the light rail campaign, was gracious discussing Gerald Daugherty, who led the light rail opponents. "Gerald Daugherty deserves a trophy," Garber said. "He believed in something for eight years. He worked hard at it. He won. And it's citizens like him that make the United States special."
Garber wasn't entirely upbeat: "Austin proceeds into the 21st century, and we will find out in 50 years if we stay competitive or not. And it'll be really unfortunate if we lose to some other city that won with light rail." Garber said the tech community remains invested in the community, despite this loss.
He apparently means it. While he was waiting for Bush to appear at the Capitol gates, former City Council member Brigid Shea was at the Hyatt, praising Vignette's offer to invest $5 to $7 million in the long-neglected lower Waller Creek. In 1998, voters approved joint funding for Waller Creek improvements and the Convention Center expansion. The expansion is under way. Yet the Waller Creek makeover is as stagnant as the water in the tiny tributary that runs along Vignette's downtown property. Apparently the project cost was much higher than expected, and there isn't enough city money to get it underway. Shea, an independent consultant with the city's Smart Growth project, says Vignette's contribution would cover public bike/pedestrian trails on both sides of the creek, plus landscaping and a wet-pond to recirculate water that accumulates in parking lots when it rains.