Naked City

Off the Desk

Democrats Duck. Opening day of the House, the People's Chamber, provides a moment of ceremonial civility each legislative session, one of those rare days that brings together gay-lesbian advocate Democrat Debra Danburg and House homophobe Warren Chisum. The occasion for this year's ecumenicism was the election of the speaker. Danburg and Chisum each delivered one of several speeches seconding the re-election of Pete Laney, and once elected (by acclamation) Laney reminded legislators of issues awaiting them. High on the speaker's list is campaign finance reform. He also touched on redistricting, already the subject of considerable Capitol buzz.

One redistricting rumor, which started a week earlier and several blocks farther south, has Republicans redlining a large number of conservative suburban voters into the district of Austin Democrat Elliott Naishtat. "A former governor of the state of Texas," Naishtat said, "advised me at the Paramount Theatre premiere of All the Pretty Horses -- she said, 'Elliot, they're coming after you big time on redistricting.' I said, 'I'm not that concerned because my chief of staff, Dorothy Brown, who used to work for you, governor, will be handling redistricting issues for me.' To which Ann Richards said to me in all seriousness, 'Elliott, you're not listening to me -- they are coming after you big time.'" Naishtat campaigned against George W. Bush and as chair last session of the Human Services Committee blocked the governor's punitive welfare reform measures. It's a safe bet that the districts of Glen Maxey, D-Austin, and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston -- who also fought the governor's agenda as well as his candidacy -- are also on the GOP hit list. Republicans hold most of the cards in the redistricting process, so Texas Democrats who didn't give themselves over (most did) to a Bush presidential campaign that began in the 1997 legislative session have reason to be concerned...

No Summit Talks. Mayor Kirk Watson was scheduled to debate Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy Thursday, Jan. 11, at the 360 Summit -- until someone pulled the plug. Levy -- the city's most prolific e-mailer -- has long engaged in an electronic epistolary campaign against Watson and the City Council. He complains that they pay little attention to "the human condition agenda" -- cops, traffic, traffic accidents, homicide, the library -- and that he wants to create a constituency for that agenda. "Homicides are down in Baltimore," Levy told "Off the Desk," "but they're up in Austin." He said that the mayor didn't want to debate.

"I haven't seen the e-mails," Watson replied, but the cancellation didn't seem like the end of the world to the mayor. "Originally, I thought it would be a fun deal ... I haven't spent a lot of time on it and it just didn't work out." Watson added that late in the process, he discovered there was a new debate format in the works. Autumn Rich, of Holland Rich Marketing & Events, the agency coordinating the annual gabfest founded by tech community leaders Peter Zandan and Steve Papermaster, also said the mayor was on until Levy decided he didn't like the debate format. "He sent me an e-mail on Dec. 28," Rich said, "saying 'if this is your format, find another horse.'" Levy said he never thought it was over, and was working on a new format with local news anchor (and debate moderator) Neal Spelce. Rich claims Levy abruptly backed out, then proposed a new format a week before the event, and she cancelled the debate because of lack of time. Levy says Rich caved when the mayor lost his nerve and called Zandan and shouted at him. Rich says she made the decision ...

How do you spell "yatta yatta yatta"?

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Debra Danburg, Warren Chisum, Pete Laney, Elliott Naishtat, Dorothy Brown, George W. Bush, Ann Richards, Glen Maxey, Garnet Coleman, Kirk Watson, Mike Levy, Neal Spelce, Austin 360, Autumn Rich

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