City Hall Hustle: The Mystery of the Mayor's Desk

Wherein many questions are asked ... and zilch are answered

Scene: New Year's Eve, inside a dim, musty storeroom in the bowels of City Hall. The Austin City Council is picking through reams of boxes and furniture.

Bill Spelman: Can anyone tell me what exactly the hell we're doing here again?

Randi Shade: I have to hit the SOS Alliance shindig, then the Chamber function – to paraphrase our city manager, a good party is a good party, no matter who's throwing it.

Laura Morrison: I've got the Zilker Neighborhood Association soiree – then Bouldin, then OWANA, then Shoal Creek, then West Austin Neighborhood Group ....

Mike Martinez: You mean WANG?

Laughs and chuckles all around.

Sheryl Cole: I dunno if this idea struck Hizzoner while he was partaking of the favorite recreational materials of Willie Nelson Boulevard's namesake – but we're searching for the mayor's desk!

Gasps all around.

Chris Riley: What? That claptrap I read about in In Fact Daily?

RS: Yeah, I thought that was something Jo Clifton hallucinated during some South American fever dream with Roger Duncan!

Lee Leffingwell: Silence! Yes, we're searching for the mayor's desk. As recalled by Mark Littlefield – who's probably worked on the campaigns of everyone in here – every mayor from Roy Butler, back in the Seven­ties, to Will Wynn, has manned the same desk. Or womanned, in the case of Heronner Carole Keeton Rylander, or whatever she went by in the Eighties. Forgive me – senior moment. Anyway, when we opened the new City Hall in 2004, the desk didn't come along for the ride; nobody knows for sure where it went, hence Jo and Mark's campaign. ... Just think of the decades of accumulated wisdom, the musty history, the gallons of flop sweat ....

All: Eww!

BS: That's what we've convened this special-called meeting for? A desk?

LL: But not just any desk! The mayor's desk is said to bestow incredible political savvy on all who possess it! The charisma of Garcia!

MM: The nuts-and-bolts governance of Wynn!

LL: The steadfastness of Rylander!

MM: The open-mindedness of Todd!

LM: From a desk – a flippin' piece of wood? I don't think so! Quorum or no quorum, I've had it! (She starts rampaging about the storeroom, knocking over furniture and boxes.)

SC: Watch out – she's gone berserker!

Careening around the room, Morrison crashes into a wall, blowing a huge hole in it, before falling down. Smoke fills the room; when it clears, it is revealed that a hidden room lies on the other side of the hole.

RS: [with the rest of the council, entering the room] What the hell is this?

CR: I think I found a light – hold on.

He flips a switch, and a constellation of fantastic lights illuminates the room.

BS: My God – it's the Trail of Lights lights!

SC: That's not all – look, the original contract for the Domain subsidies! And it's inked in ... blood?

LL: [holding a plate of food to his nose] An order of Las Manitas migas! And they're still warm!

LM: What the hell is this place?

A twangy, West Texas voice sounds from offstage: Maybe I can offer some assistance.

All: Show yourself!

Suddenly, the mayor's desk rolls into the scene. More amazingly, the voice belongs to the desk, as its center pen drawer opens and shuts like a mouth, speaking!

Desk: [coughing] Man, I sure could go for a couple fingers of Murphy Oil Soap. I never get any visitors down here!

LL: Are you ...?

Desk: The mayor's desk? Yep. Rubbed elbows with everyone from Roy Butler to Will Wynn until they dumped me down here with these accursed castoffs. It's easy to lose track of time, what with no company other than these old Aqua Fest banners and whatnot.

MM: So, you can speak? I can only imagine the political acumen you must have!

Desk: Acumen, shiiiiit. Don't know nothin' 'bout all that. But I can tell you stories. In fact, I'm trying to block most of them out. But hell, I got some questions of my own, ya know? They don't tell me nothin' here.

All: Sure.

Desk: Well, I recall all that talk in 2000 about light rail. Some voters didn't like it, but I thought it made good sense. Did you get right back on that?

Silence engulfs the room.

Desk: Them single-member districts, where candidates could run from districts instead of citywide – any movement there?

Silence persists.

Desk: [growing agitated] Uh, that police contract you were sure was getting a mite expensive. Any changes there? Anything?

Silence.

Desk: Well, dag nab it, y'all can't still be using that crusty old central library, huh?

LL: [clearing his throat] We'll be opening a new one ... in 2015.

Desk: Not with me, though. I'd rather be kindling than return for decades more of analysis paralysis! Adios, hombres!

A match is dragged across the desktop by an invisible hand, lighting and instantly engulfing the desk in flames.

LL: [defeated, pensive] Would that this wood could teach us ... something.


Happy New Year from the Hustle. More at austinchronicle.com/hustle.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

City Council, central library, light rail, single-member districts, police contracts

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