The Year That Wasn't
Top 10 Political Moments1. Thomas Henderson's Run for Council Gets Short-Circuited. The former Cowboys star and East Austin gadfly was disqualified from running for Austin City Council because of a sexual offense he committed 17 years ago. Henderson wasn't sore for long: He went on to win $28 million in the Texas Lottery, which he used to pay -- excuse us, pave -- the way for Danny Thomas to unseat Willie Lewis on the City Council.
2. Bushfest. For an hour or so, after the networks declared Al Gore the winner in Florida, George W. Bush looked like toast. Then, the networks reverse themselves and Bush is back in the running. Then Bush is named the winner and thousands of his supporters wait in the cold rain for him to appear. He doesn't. The networks beat a retreat on the Florida prognostications and five weeks of legal wrangling began.
3. After Bushfest. As the media hordes spent weeks violating the Austin camping ban, Bushies rushed to defend the Governor's Mansion from the rabble we used to call "typical Austinites." As protests go, fairly weak stuff, but it's been a while since Austinites lined up holding signs and screaming at each other
4. Kirk Watson Wins Again. When your opponents include a taxi driver and a pair of homeless cross-dressers, it's good to win and win big. So when Watson strode into Palmer Auditorium in May after winning another term in the mayor's office with 84% of the vote, he knew he had a mandate. He's been using it ever since.
5. Austin's Environmental Movement Implodes. In one stroke, Austin's environmental movement was split in twain, as two of its leading lights, Robin Rather and George Cofer, defected to support the city's settlement with Circle C developer Gary Bradley. The New Enviros, later joined by former council member Brigid Shea, take with them much of the movement's mainstream sex appeal, leaving behind the hard-core activists -- like Save Our Springs Alliance leader Bill Bunch -- that business and political leaders find so easy not to like.
6. The End of the 7-0 Council. Finally, enough of this consensus stuff. Council Member Beverly Griffith's showdown with Mayor Kirk Watson over the inclusion of bonds for parks and affordable housing on the November ballot defined the fault line in what is no longer a unanimous City Council. And the leaders of the green coalition who rallied around Griffith found they now occupy the Pacific side of the divide.
7. Adios, Gus Garcia. Not just the Mexican-American community, but the entire city, said farewell to Austin's most popular elected official by christening Gus Garcia Municipal Park in his honor before he'd even left the dais. In Garcia, the Eastside had an advocate who for more than 20 years stood up for his unofficial constituents while demonstrating the wit and charm it takes to stay afloat in mainstream politics. Garcia is, of course, not really retired, but his place at the center of Austin public life will be hard to fill.
8. Incentives Become Mainstream. The deal to bring Intel downtown was a towering moment precisely because it barely merited a blip on the city news radar. Even two years before, the idea of offering a corporate giant millions in incentives to plunk itself down in the city limits would have been laughed out of City Hall. The backlash, on the other hand, has only just begun.
9. Light Rail? Not Now. Up until the very last minute, light rail's fate was too close to call. The events in Palm Beach County quickly overshadowed it, but 15 years of pushing for -- and pushing against -- light rail in Austin culminated in moments of drama and dejection on Election Night. You had to be there.
10. Goodbye, Rainey Street? The last real neighborhood in the 78701 zip code has been endangered and embattled for years, but the homeowners on Rainey Street seem to have finally convinced people in power that yes, they want to sell out and see their 'hood replaced by looming towers. As the year ended, it looked like it might actually happen.