Beside the Point

A Ceremony of Innocence

"It is not easy to withstand the huge personal temptations that come with power. It is not easy to bear the extraordinary pressures and the complex conniving world of politics. It is not easy to do these things in the midst of a city that promotes the notion that it wants to be a global city yet weird or unique."

And so David Chapel's pastor, the Rev. Joseph Park­er Jr., offering the invocation at last week's swearing-in ceremony for the new City Council, identified the dilemma new members Laura Morrison and Randi Shade face with the rest of the council (if not all of Austin): how to prevent the city from becoming a further victim of its own success.

While the inaugural adepts didn't wax as eloquently – unless shout-outs to campaign managers pluck your heartstrings – what they may have lacked in reverence they made up in levity. Re-elected member Lee Lef­fing­well, speaking first, kept things light yet leaned on one particularly sturdy pillar of wisdom: "Austin is kind of like the great philosopher Yogi Berra's favorite restaurant. He says: 'Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded.' Well, it's crowded here in Austin, but people keep coming. ... So the question is, how do we accommodate that kind of growth and still protect our natural environment, our quality of life, and our essential character as a city?"

"I've worked so hard in this community as a volunteer," said Randi Shade, speaking next. "I've worked for public servants before, elected officials, but to actually take the oath, I take it really seriously, and I don't think I understood how emotionally that would affect me." She said if she could impart just one point that evening, "it would be just that I love this community; I'm motivated to serve it. This is a new way for me to step up, and I am sure I won't be perfect, but I will do the very best that I can to be responsive and accessible to each and every one of you." Recounting a magazine profile which queried her on what "inspires her style," she recalled her answer: Austin, Texas. "I'm a little bit Hoffbrau and a little bit Fleming's. I think that's true."

Laura Morrison took the opportunity to answer a question she had posed during the election: What does her campaign slogan, "A city that works for all of us," look like? It's "a community where we all have an opportunity for a home, for a good job, and a sense of security. It's a city with a safety net and that provides access to basic services and parks, no matter where you live or how much money you make. It's a city that respects our environment and uses our natural resources wisely so we don't compromise the future for our children and our grandchildren." Noting that her family swam at Barton Springs their first week here in 1981, "The first day after the election I went swimming in Barton Springs. ... I now consider it part of my job description to go swimming [there]. I'm pretty psyched about that." Mayor Will Wynn wasn't immune to reminiscence either. Now "with my sixth and final City Council," Wynn said. "I have served in really good times, and I have served in really bad times, and then I served in good times again." Then someone from the audience stopped the roller coaster by shouting a simple question: What times are we in now? "And now we are serving, in my opinion, in somewhat uncertain times. But at no time in my eight years on the Austin City Council dais, trying my best to serve the city, have I felt more optimistic about where we are as a community and what our future looks like."

The optimism was shared by newly tapped Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken, who, as the longest-serving council member, assumed the title from outgoing Betty Dun­ker­ley. McCracken promised the Chron's City Hall Hustle cameras that the largely ceremonial position won't go to his head: "We will not have any Alexander Haig, 'I'm in control' moments here in Austin." (Not until the actual mayoral election, right?)

The council doesn't reconvene until July 24. When it does, may another line from the Rev. Parker reverberate among them: "Protect them from losing their wits, their nerves, or their souls in the heady atmosphere of local governmental affairs so that we the people may flourish in a city blessed with liberty and peace and justice."

Direct council prayers and entreaties to wdunbar@austinchronicle.com.


See "Swearing-In Day at City Hall " for photos of the event.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, Laura Morrison, Randi Shade, Will Wynn, Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken, Inauguration

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