Austin @ Large: Jackie Opts Out
Has Goodman cleared the way for Will Wynn's coronation?
If you still think that limiting council campaign contributions returns power to the people, you should have a conversation with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who will not be running for mayor this spring even though by all appearances she really wants to. "Practically speaking, the question is whether I can raise enough money," she says. Her colleague and prospective opponent Will Wynn has been fundraising for months, in preparation for a re-election run for his Place 5 seat and then, upon Mayor Gus Garcia's decision not to seek another term, for the top slot. "And that's without putting in a dime of his own money," Goodman notes. "And he put $90,000 of his own money into his council race in 2000." Presumably, to become Mayor Wynn he will -- if need be -- spend substantially more. "The fundraising expectations would be like in the old days, but I'm still dealing with the $100 limit."
As greens go, Goodman has been a pretty good fundraiser, holding her own in two elections -- including her 1993 victory, which saw the highest turnout of any election in Austin history -- before the $100 limit was instituted in 1998. But after last year's arduous double campaign -- first to bust term limits (and defend against a subsequent lawsuit) and then to win her fourth term -- Goodman would be starting from scratch. At best, she says, it would take all her time to campaign and tin-cup, and then who would be doing her job? "With all the issues we're dealing with right now, it's an incredible amount of work," she says. "I could talk about it while I was campaigning, but not in sound bites. And then who would understand me?"
So, after 10 years on the Austin City Council, Jackie Goodman has taken a pass on what's probably her best chance ever to move to the center of the dais. Her opting out leaves Wynn, after only two years on the council, with a largely unobstructed path to the mayor's chair (no undue offense to Max Nofziger, but still). This is not good news for the city. I like Will Wynn. I think he's a worthy citizen and leader, and we could do a lot worse -- have, in fact, done a lot worse -- in a mayor. But it sucks that the race may well be over, more than a month before candidate filing even begins, just because Will Wynn has the biggest bank account. I assume others agree. Wynn may even agree. And I don't think Goodman will argue the point.
Not Good News
It's also a drag that Wynn will, apparently, have no one more robust than Max Nofziger with whom to debate and discuss Austin's future. I guess I was out sick the day that Austin reached such consensus on the critical issues -- how to tighten our belts now, how to rebuild the economy later, how to accommodate whatever growth is inevitable without encouraging more than we want, how to bring back affordability and equity -- that an actual mayoral race became unnecessary. Now, more than ever, would be a good time to have four or five solid mayoral candidates, preferably with both experience and money. Right now, we don't even have two.
So it's up to us now, fellow citizens, to not give a free pass and a blank check, along with the keys to the city, to Will Wynn -- or, more aptly, to the local elite who see in him a reflection of themselves. Perhaps they too will be disappointed. At this point, Wynn seems to understand that being mayor of Austin in 2003 is likely to be more frustrating than glamorous, regardless of his personal ambitions. And as a sitting council member, he knows that even the mayor has to count to four.
"If Will wins, I hope he'll be available to meet and talk about issues in depth," says Goodman, who will still enjoy two more years of the next mayor's company. "If Max wins, we've always been able to talk to each other. But I expect either of them, or anyone else, to come in, acknowledge that we don't have a strong-mayor government, and that we all have to work hard. No one person, not even the mayor, is going to fix the economy for us."
Right now, though, Wynn is leading the Mayor's Task Force on the Economy, which basically requires him to run on that issue even if he didn't want to and which conversely means that the work of that task force will be scrutinized for subliminal messages to the voters. ("There's a fine line, for anyone, between being a good council member and campaigning on the bully pulpit," Goodman says.) Mayor Garcia's strategy, from the outset, has been to task council members with issues playing to their strengths -- Daryl Slusher got the environment, Danny Thomas public safety, Betty Dunkerley health care -- but the magnitude of the downturn, and the subsequent shifts in the political winds, have made the economy too important to be left to Wynn alone. "We need to lay the foundation now for economic development in the future," Goodman says. "I'd like this to be an opportunity to get our ducks in a row."
A Free Duck
Goodman notes that she's working "on a parallel track" on some of the economic issues -- like support for small businesses and for the creative community -- that Wynn's task force has embraced. "I'm dealing with the workaday problems that small businesses -- especially music, arts, restaurants -- face, especially in a time like this. We need to see what the city can do and get some insight ourselves into what we're doing. That's right up my alley." On top of that, she's grappling alongside Dunkerley with health care -- "I don't want Betty to have to be the only one. I have a different perspective on these complex issues" -- and with the ongoing saga of neighborhood planning and with affordable housing efforts and with maintaining support for social services and ... well, it's a lot of ducks.
Especially for a lame duck, which -- barring some as-yet-unconceived strategy for beating term limits in 2005 -- Goodman may have effectively become. "A lame duck is a free and independent duck," she responds. "It still takes four votes to do anything, and I'm still the senior member of the council, and voters don't seem to think I'm a loose cannon. I'm free to work on the issues I care about, my motives are pure, and my expertise is still at hand. I think if you" -- that is, Wynn, or whoever -- "decided never to let me have my way on anything, that would be detrimental to the community. And if you gang up on me just for the fun of it, then maybe you belong in the Texas Legislature."