City Hall Hustle: Lee Leffingwell's Big Adventure
The new mayor promises a safe landing
When Randi Shade rolled out the City Council's present to outgoing Mayor Will Wynn – a new, sleek street bicycle, complete with basket, compass, and shock-white streamers on the handlebars – the first thing that came to mind was that most famous of film bikes, the one belonging to Pee-Wee Herman in his titular Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, the Rosebud that sent the hapless manchild to the nonexistent basement of the Alamo and back, in search of the thing that made him whole. In the midst of the economic uncertainty enveloping the city and the boyish, boosterish qualities Wynn has displayed as chief for the last six years, one might be tempted to paraphrase Pee Wee's petulant whine: "I don't want another crappy mayor!"
Although the occasion at City Hall was the swearing-in of the new council – Mayor Lee Leffingwell, new Council Member Chris Riley, and quasi-new Council Member Bill Spelman, plus incumbents Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez – it began with remarks by Wynn (after a spirited performance of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Shelley King that surely broke the 70-decibel mark – just what is City Hall zoned, anyway?). "In my nine years on this dais, I have served ... with six different City Council combinations, I have served under two different mayors, I have served alongside three city managers, and I promise ya, I leave office more optimistic than I've ever been," Wynn said. "Being your mayor, serving on your City Council, has been the honor of my life," he concluded, before each council member and City Manager Marc Ott bestowed plaudits – bike included – on the soon-to-be ex-officio.
But as one mayor left public life, another assumed the office. After the formal swearing-in, administered by District Judge Lora Livingston, Leffingwell delivered remarks to the capacity crowd. "You know, this is my third swearing-in in four years, and I have to tell ya, of the three, this one's my favorite," he cracked before addressing the challenges ahead – the $30 million deficit the city faces in its current budget deliberations. Leffingwell metaphorically flew back to his earlier days as a pilot. "This is the first day of our trip together," he said. "There will certainly be some turbulence. We are likely to be rerouted a time or two. But I promise you that we will, finally, arrive safely at our destination."
The rest of the inaugurates spoke and, in their comments from the podium and to the Hustle afterward, delivered a glimpse into their priorities on council. Spelman spoke to the terminal democracy that envelops Austin's political discussions, saying "agreement is not always necessarily good – disagreement is not always necessarily bad." In his speech, he specifically cited costly and divisive Water Treatment Plant No. 4 – meaning the go-along to get-along that previously prevailed in pushing the project along may be due for re-examination. Riley also named the controversial plant on his to-do list; as Riley takes over Leffingwell's unexpired term, he plans to "hit the ground running and get an awful lot done just in the next 18 months." Sheryl Cole cited the need to continue Austin's economic expansion as a way out of the recession – formerly a solid vote with departed Wynn and Brewster McCracken, she may be the most unabashedly pro-business member on the new dais – but also spoke to the racial reconciliation required in the wake of the Nathaniel Sanders II shooting. Earlier, Cole made the motion nominating Martinez as mayor pro tem, the position formerly filled by McCracken that acts as mayor in the mayor's absence. A magnanimous gesture, the Hustle noted, as Cole and Martinez joined council at the same time, and the position reflects seniority. "And I'm taller than Mike, that's why its such a magnanimous gesture," Cole joked, before adding more seriously that she supported Martinez's bid, noting that he and Leffingwell "are so close, and that was obviously what they wanted to do." Mayor Pro Tem Martinez rattled off a laundry list of priorities: "We're gonna talk about things like single-member districts again; we're gonna talk about the city attorney being appointed by the council as opposed to the city manager; we're gonna create more transparency in government and make sure folks in this community ... understand and know that they run this government. Not us, not staff, not attorneys, but the people."
On that hopeful note, we'll leave the last word to the inheritor of the City Hall playhouse, Leffingwell: "Now is the time, and the future of this great city is up to us. It's not up to me; it's not up to this council; it's up to all of us working together. So if you hear just one thing I say today, please hear me say that Austin is only what we make it together."
For more on the new council, watch "City Hall Hustle: We Leffed, We Cried," at austinchronicle.com/hustle.