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Reporter’s Notebook: Is back

Monday, January 22, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Lee’s new team?… Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell never had the noted social media chops of his successor (or his successor’s spokesperson, at least), and after he stepped down in 2015, his Twitter account mostly retired with him. In 2017, he posted a handful of tweets that mostly reminisced about his time at City Hall. However, the new year has brought a new tone from the last mayor of Austin’s at-large City Council system. On Jan. 16, Leffingwell retweeted Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia who had shared a story about Delta Airlines’ windfall from the recent revision of the nation’s tax code that was signed into law by President Donald Trump. Rather than tear into the company for benefiting from what most Democrats have framed as massive handouts to corporations at the expense of the middle class, Leffingwell, a former Delta pilot, said, “Good on them,” and asked about profit-sharing for retirees. The next day, he shared an image posted by @MilitaryCourage purporting to show U.S. soldiers kneeling around a wounded Afghan, with a caption that reads in part, “Role models. Not found in sports arenas.” “Not found in sports arenas,’” the former mayor quoted, adding, “Certainly not in the NFL.” The conservative commentary continued on Sunday when Leffingwell retweeted another Republican member of Congress, this time North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, the chair of the far-right Freedom Caucus. While the rule of thumb is that retweets don’t necessarily translate to endorsements, it’s hard not to read this one that way given Meadows’ statement regarding the ongoing shutdown of the federal government. “Please share if you agree,” he says. “It is completely unacceptable to withhold the salary of our military men and women because you want a separate, unrelated DACA deal. End this now. #SchumerShutdown.”

Would Marx be an urbanist?… A housing committee for the Austin Democratic Socialists of America recently released a position paper on CodeNEXT that endorsed a number of positions advocated by urbanists, including eliminating off-street parking requirements, allowing greater residential density throughout the urban core and replacing use-based zoning entirely with form-based zoning, to promote mixed uses. It also proposed dramatically increasing subsidized housing through a major affordable housing bond. In response, local activist Andrew Dobbs penned a lengthy rebuke on his blog, titled, “Urbanism Is Not Socialist or Progressive.” The DSA has erred, wrote Dobbs, by “relying on received conventional wisdom.” They would be well-served, he wrote, to familiarize themselves with Marx’s theory of “absolute ground rent,” by which “all real estate property in an area is owned by a small number of landlords who form a monopoly as a class.” Dobbs shared his piece on a popular Facebook forum for urbanists, #ATXUrbanists, only to see it removed shortly thereafter by moderators. One member of the discussion group, Patrick Goetz, protested the removal, noting that, although he disagreed with “much of the content” of Dobbs’ essay, he “found it to be well written and carefully reasoned.”

Boo!… Advocates of “speed cushions” beware: Nothing will work in Jester Estates, the Northwest neighborhood whose fierce opposition to the new traffic-calming measures prompted the city Transportation Department to remove the cushions only six months after installing them. In reporting the controversy, an Austin Monitor reporter was told that Jester residents who attended a public meeting on the matter had booed a young child who spoke in favor of the speed cushions on Jester Boulevard, saying they made her feel safer playing in the neighborhood. Asked if that account was accurate, Susanne Paul, who led the movement against the speed cushions, conceded the story was at least partially true. “I don’t know that she was significantly booed but I think there may have been one or two people who may have booed,” she said. However, added Paul, the little girl’s testimony did not strike her as candid. “It sounded very scripted,” she said.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard and Jack Craver.

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