Austin @ Large: Austin at Large

Austin for the Austinites: It's time to bring an end to tribal politics

Austin At Large
My title here at the Chronicle is "city editor." That "city" is Austin. It is not Central Austin. It is not Kirk Mitchell's Austin, as in his slogan "Let's keep Austin Austin." It is not a place where our "core readers" live and everyone else is just a tourist or an unwanted refugee.

I figure this needs repeating every once in a while, because people seem to forget. Likewise, the candidates on the ballot this Saturday are running to represent all of Austin -- thanks to the at-large system that everybody hated until it came time to do something about it, and now they think it's not so bad. The fact that the winners, for years on end now, are the choices of Central Austin does not mean they only represent the 7870-blank ZIP codes.

Place 1 council candidate Kirk Mitchell's supporters are hopping mad at us right now, just as county commissioner candidate Jeff Heckler's supporters (mostly the same people) were hopping mad at us last month, because we betrayed the tenets of the Tribe and endorsed the incumbents in those races. Oddly, I live in Central Austin, as do most of the people I know, and we do the proper progressive things and share the proper progressive goals and hang out at the proper progressive hangouts, which makes us part of the Tribe. Yet we supported the incumbents. Perhaps we too need to be banished and scorned.

As Daryl Slusher is now being banished and scorned and, if Mitchell has his way, burned as a heretic at the ballot box. Such righteousness would explain why Mitchell is angry enough at his former friend not only to run against him, but to haul him into court and try to get him removed from office -- which would have meant Mitchell walked into City Hall without breaking a sweat. This latter fact is why, I think, the Chronicle was so sure it wouldn't support Mitchell that we didn't invite him in for an endorsement meeting. Perhaps we were wrong, but I don't mind drawing the line somewhere. Either you run against people or you try to remove them from office. You don't do both at the same time. This is unbecoming of a candidate who claims to be more ethical than the incumbent or other mere mortals.

Vox Populi, Vox Us

Now, if it was unclear that Slusher actually met the requirements of Austin's stupid-but-straightforward term limit law -- as Mitchell's fellow litigant Linda Curtis charged in her suit against Jackie Goodman -- I might be a little less flummoxed. While I don't think Curtis should be running in Place 3 either, I believe her when she says she has no animus against Goodman, but was making a stand on principle. (Especially since Curtis, in her petition-queen career, has been held to a much more exacting standard than was applied to the mayor pro tem.)

I don't believe Mitchell has any such excuse; he hates Slusher, has gone out of his way to hurt and embarrass Slusher, and went to court to get Slusher bounced on what, in retrospect, seem at best speculative charges -- in other words, by any means necessary. This makes the Mitchell deal entirely too personal and sleazy to make much sense to people who don't know him or Slusher, or who aren't schooled in the internecine politics of the Central Austin Tribe. Or to responsible citizens of any stripe, which I hope includes me and the Chronicle.

During our long and complicated relationship, I have frequently, and not all that cheerfully, disagreed with Slusher on many issues of the day, ever since I first started at the Chronicle more than a decade ago. But in my time covering Austin politics, I've seen a lot worse sellouts -- Louise Epstein, for example, the only candidate for whom the Chronicle has retracted an endorsement. Or Bruce Todd, voting progressive when it was convenient -- and getting support from the Tribe -- and then carrying water for the worst developers and their worst projects. Or even Mayor Wonderful Kirk Watson, stiffing Hyde Park neighbors, among his most loyal supporters, for the most transparent of reasons.

Compared to those inglorious examples, Daryl Slusher (and Karen Sonleitner, for that matter) are hardly traitors to the Tribe. Their crime, I think, is in not pandering to the Tribe -- which, let me repeat, doesn't even include all of Central Austin -- and trying, albeit clumsily at times, to represent the entire city in all its political diversity. Doing what other people want, even a little, is unacceptable to the solons of the Tribe -- the members, supporters, friends, and relations of the Save Our Springs Alliance, the Austin Neighborhoods Council, the Travis County Green Party, and other "grassroots" organizations whose members all know each other, go to the same parties and bitch about Daryl and Karen (and me, I suppose), and laud each other for being more-democratic-than-thou, and who together would not fill the Austin Music Hall.

And They Call It Democracy

It's ironic, at least, that Kirk Mitchell is attacking Slusher on the trail with almost exactly the same language that Slusher used against Bruce Todd in the 1994 mayoral race (a campaign on which both Mitchell and I worked at more-than-grunt level). You know, lobbyists lined up outside the door, boondoggles and subsidies bankrupting the treasury, et cetera. In response, you may remember, Todd called Slusher a jackass. Slusher has yet to call Mitchell a jackass. I will refrain also.

The sad thing, though, is that Todd and his camp were revolted by Slusher -- and by most every real progressive in Austin -- precisely because they weren't part of their Tribe, the west side bleedin'-orange breakfast-at-Holiday-House golfing Tribe that used to run Austin to its benefit. I would much rather have the Central Austin tie-dyed breakfast-at-Las-Manitas disc-golfing Tribe remain in power than to go back to those days, because I agree with them on more issues.

But the biggest issue facing the city, I feel, is to tear down tribal politics entirely, to send packing all who refuse to let Austin be Austin for all Austinites and not just themselves. I thought the point of that 1994 campaign was to do exactly this, but apparently I was mistaken. By insisting on its own loyalty oaths and taboos, and by turning this election season into an inquisition, the Tribe, united behind Mitchell, has shown me it is no more fit to rule -- if in fact it still does rule -- than was the regime that preceded it.

May its days be happy and short. end story

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Kirk Mitchell, Jeff Heckler, Daryl Slusher, Linda Curtis, Jackie Goodman, Place 3, Louise Epstein, Bruce Todd, Kirk Watson, Karen Sonleitner, Save Our Springs Alliance, Austin Neighborhoods Council, Travis County Green Party

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