Reporter’s Notebook: Kerfuffles big and small
Monday, December 12, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano
Behold the future… Rejoice, for this Tuesday will at last bring to a close 2016’s relentlessly sadistic cycle of political campaigning. Despair, however, for the events leading up to it may also presage a ghoulish spectacle of local tactics to come. In other words, the marquee runoff race – the battle between District 10 City Council Member Sheri Gallo and her opponent, Alison Alter – has turned weird. In addition to the bizarre website GalloForSale.com (funded by the Arbor political action committee), Gallo has received the brunt of the Austin Chronicle’s dogged coverage of, at best, minor campaign mishaps and, at worst, quarter-baked nonscandals. All of that culminated last week with the appearance of a new flier in voters’ mailboxes that sought to link the mild-mannered Gallo to none other than President-elect Donald Trump. Featuring a large portrait of the alt-right’s champion on one side, the flier’s reverse declares that “Sheri Gallo is backed by Donald Trump’s Republicans” and that Alter, a “Progressive Democrat,” is “fighting for the values we share.” It’s unclear whether the intent of the mailer – which was sent by the Austinites for Equity political action committee – was to imply that Gallo maintains any belief that Mexican immigrants are predisposed to rape, Muslim-Americans should be recorded in a national registry or President Barack Obama was born in Africa. What the PAC’s effort does settle, however, is that Trump’s characteristic deployment of degradational smears is not entirely unique. For more on the District 10 runoff, see today’s story by Jo Clifton.
Changing their tune… The Austin Music Commission looks to be taking up the issue of busking – musicians’ performance of unamplified music in public for donations from passersby – in an effort to get the activity allowed in the live music capital of the world. The issue has bedeviled the commission and music supporters here for years, with a 2014 effort by the previous commission getting bogged down in the city’s legal department. The hangup is that every attempt to legalize busking, which is allowed in many other major cities throughout the U.S., has produced language that conflicts with the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance. Commissioner Barbara Rappaport asked city staff to gather previous actions and progress on the issue as well as to research ordinances in cities such as New Orleans, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, that allow for reasonably amplified public performance by musicians. Several commissioners expressed disbelief that musicians in Austin would be effectively prohibited from such a practice. Commissioner Buddy Quaid noted that when he lived in Los Angeles, he was able to busk after obtaining a $5 permit. Rappaport said she plans to revisit the issue with former Music Commission Chair Brad Spies to determine why previous efforts to legalize busking have stalled. She and Commissioner Graham Reynolds opted to add an item to the group’s January meeting to explore the issue further.
An offensive offense… During a recent discussion at the Public Safety Commission about how members of the public can complain about bad behavior by police officers, Commissioner Preston Tyree asked a question that caught city staff and his fellow commissioners off-guard: “How do police officers complain about their interactions with the public?” If somebody insults an officer or spits at one, he asked, is there a way cops can report that? “Because if not, we have a really biased system,” he said. Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said there was not much officers could do about insults hurled by citizens. On the other hand, “If you spit on an officer, that would be an offense and we would document that in an offense report,” he said. Quipped Tyree: “That’s a good way to make a complaint, right?”
Twitter and its discontents… An apparent misinterpretation of Mayor Steve Adler’s remarks about the city’s next big transportation project caused a minor kerfuffle on Twitter last week. Adler spoke at the Congress for the New Urbanism Central Texas Chapter’s annual luncheon on Wednesday. During his speech, transportation activist Jay Blazek Crossley tweeted, “Austin’s @mayoradler calls for a regional transportation bond package in 2020 on the order of the recent $54B Seattle transit vote.” Crossley was referring to the tax hike package recently approved by Seattle metro voters that will invest billions in short- and long-term public transit projects, including light rail extensions. While campaigning for his own $720 million mobility bond, Adler used Seattle’s gigantic referendum to downplay the scale of his package. So with that fight still fresh in everyone’s mind, is Adler already pivoting to the Next Big Thing? Not quite, Jason Stanford, Adler’s spokesman, told the Austin Monitor. Adler’s comments at the luncheon were far short of any direct call for a new election, said Standford, and were merely designed to start a larger conversation about uniting the region to solve larger transportation issues. “He wants to come up with big solutions to meet the scale of the problem,” Stanford said. The episode demonstrates once again that there remains in Austin only one transportation policy Twitter account that is absolutely vital and indispensable.
Today’s stories come from the notebooks of Jack Craver, Caleb Pritchard and Chad Swiatecki.
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