City Hall Hustle: Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Gale's farewell hymn closes the council year

City Hall Hustle: Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Photo by Sandy Carson

The singing was faint in City Council chambers, but it was there, accompanying the disembodied voice following the song through whispers and murmurs. The voice belonged to Jennifer Gale, leading the chamber in a fittingly quiet rendition of "Silent Night" on the several video screens in the room.

Before being found dead of still-undetermined causes outside the First English Lutheran Church Wednesday, Dec. 17, council gadfly Gale had signed up to address council during its noontime citizens communications – a forum from which, over the years, she had launched untold campaign announcements, levied accolades and outbursts, and, fittingly if tremulously, sang. In tribute, the council aired footage from Gale's last appearance at a public forum, the Dec. 16 Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee meeting, where she delivered the holiday standard. Whether intentional or not, the city was instructive in letting the recording of her appearance play out beyond the song, for it displayed the jumble of noble intentions and contradictions that Gale was, something lionizations of Gale as "the conscience of Austin" don't address. After singing, Gale announced, "The Bible teaches us that abortion is wrong, and if Mary had an abortion, we wouldn't have [Jesus Christ]"; called for the return of all troops from Iraq; and made an impassioned plea for more comprehensive social services and health care for the homeless. "Our obituaries are full of very young people – those are our failures, that we don't give them proactive health care," Gale said, before attacking county plans to build a low-cost health clinic in Northeast Austin over neighbors' objections.

When the clip finished, council members shared their memories of Gale. Lee Leffing­well remarked he felt fortunate to wish Gale merry Christmas at the subcommittee meeting, saying: "Always be kind to people because you never know when something like this is going to happen. … I wish her godspeed on her final trip west." Mike Mar­tinez spoke next, alluding to some of the since-debunked rumors pertaining to Gale's difficulty in finding shelter as a transgender woman (see "Gale Rumor Untrue"). He also made a specific plea to restart talks on building a planned RV park of permanent shelter for the homeless, derailed by neighborhood protests. "If we would have moved forward last year and built the [project] … maybe she would have had a place to stay independently on her own." Randi Shade echoed Martinez's comments that "there are many more lessons to learn beyond just issues of failure to fund and failure to support services for homeless people. There is so much more to Jennifer Gale's story, including the fact as … a transwoman that her options were significantly limited."

Laura Morrison, who ran against Gale in the spring, recalled a Real Estate Council of Austin candidate forum where Gale "led about 500 suits and their guests at the Four Seasons ballroom in a rendition of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling.'" Brewster McCrack­en, who would have faced Gale in the 2009 mayoral race, recalled a conversation he shared with Gale in 2006, learning she spent time in the Carolinas, served in the Marines, and that "she had always considered herself to be a woman," a fact McCracken said helped him understand "the life progression for folks who are transgendered." "Jennifer was an iconic person," said Sheryl Cole, recalling Gale "repeatedly would call me Sherri Crow." When Gale addressed her correctly just recently, Gale said, "I always knew your name; I just thought it might help you," according to Cole. "You never ran for mayor against Jennifer. You sort of ran with her," said Will Wynn, who had "the distinct privilege" twice. Like all his fellow speakers, he lamented Gale's death as "an opportunity for us to redouble our efforts when it comes to trying to deliver services to the folks who desperately need them." What will that mean in practice? It's a question the city will continue to grapple with.

"Jennifer will be sorely missed," finished Wynn. "Semper fi."


Contact the author at wells@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, Jennifer Gale, Will Wynn, Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison, Randi Shade, Homelessness

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