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Sit-corn city A reporter that spends much time around the new Austin council can get the feeling she’s somehow gotten trapped in an overly-ambitious ethnic television comedy. One recent council day, during the luncheon break, Friedman, Snell, Trevino, Linn, Snell’s female aide, and a Observer editor all squeezed into the city-leased Lincoln Town Car and tore out to the airport to give the key to the city to Vicki Carr, a singer. Ms. Carr is a chicana, much committed to providing scholarships for needy Mexican-Americans. Trevino was the councilman in charge of actually reading the welcoming proclamation and presenting the key to Carr, and he was as excited as a kid about to meet his first football star. Being the mayor and all, Friedman got to drive, which he did with gusto and more than one reference to having learned all he knew at the knee of a New York cab driver. Snell, being of the Negro persuasion, countered with an offer to put on a cap and do the chauffering. “Lemme drive, Boss Man,” he said. Friedman, having none of that, kept to the wheel. As we swooped around the airport parking lot, a uniformed policeman pointed toward a truck, which led us to the airport tarmac. The Town Car’s red lights were blinking and we made an impressive entrance onto the field. “Makes you feel as important as shit, don’t it?” the mayor commented gleefully. Carr got off the plane carrying a pillow \(“my security her to receive the rose and the key and the proclamation. She handed her pillow to one of the AquaFest commodores \(who regularly pipe VIPs aboard the city, complete with a roses, kissed Trevino and assorted children, and made a gracious escape to the baggage area. Then it was on to Symphony Square for lunch with the grand dames of Austin’s cultural scene. “Can’t we go to Greasy Joe’s instead?” lamented Snell. “Don’t quote me on that.” The luncheon was light and greaseless, but pleasant. The symphony women and conductor Akira Endo didn’t waste a second getting down to a tough-minded spiel on the importance of city funding for the arts. On the way back to City Hall, Dr. Linn and Snell’s aide speculated about Endo’s origins and whether it is the Chinese or the Japanese who are reputed to be such great lovers. “It’s the chicano,” Trevino insisted. “No, the black,” Snell said. Friedman, thank God, missed his cue to put in a good word for the Jew. What the reporter realizes with new clarity is that Americans do indeed talk like refugees from the ethnic sit-corns. Of course, the Austin council members don’t know one another very well yet, and they were just making what passes for jocular conversation in liberal circles. This new willingness to bring up differences is refreshing for a time … until it begins to sound as dull and limiting as the good ol’ boyisims that are the standard repertoire of conservative legislators. So maybe it’s just style, and then again maybe it’s something deeper. Meg Greenfield took out after the ethnic TV shows in a recent Newsweek column. Greenfield sees the shows as somehow linked to “the increasing tendency of government, political parties, and an array of private institutions to deal formally and officially with individuals on the basis of their ethnic background.” She asks, “Do we really want government and the various institutions that have some power over our affairs to believe that we should be rewarded or penalized or otherwise dealt with on the basis of whether we were born Lassiters or Vitales or Jeffersons or Morgensterns?” If our politicians think informally in terms of racial cliches, mightn’t that attitude slip over into public policy? It’s something to consider. K.N. 01 elected. Dean Rindy, a new member of the Planning Commission, counters that it’s ridiculous to criticize Friedman “for being what he is a practicing politician. The left canibalizes its own,” Rindy says. “Friedman has never campaigned as a radical. He isn’t a radical. He’s the new center.” Most of the mayor’s liberal and radical supporters seem to accept Rindy’s conclusion, although many of them continue to pressure him to move to the left. Ed Wendler, the more liberal of the locally-famous Wendler brothers \(Ken is he has been disappointed by Friedman’s performance as mayor. “I’ll support him next time,” Wendler says, “but I’ll be fussin’ every step of the way. I don’t want to just walk off on him. I think that’s probably the consensus of the people I’ve worked with. And Friedman is clever enough probably to know he’s got us in this spot.” Mike Cox, a veteran city hall reporter for the Austin daily, faults Friedman for “a certain amount of arrogance especially to the press. I voted for Friedman and most of the news people I know did,” Cox says. “But ask him a serious question and he comes back with a joke. At least Butler could be counted on to answer a question or say ‘no comment.’ And Butler answered phone calls promptly.” Jeff Nightbyrd, editor of The Austin Sun, thinks that Friedman seriously compromised himself in raising money to pay his campaign debts. The race for mayor cost Friedman $63,000, much of it in borrowed money. Since the election, he has accepted contributions to diminish that debt from builders and general contractors, the traditional council money men. “The reality of electoral politics is that the guy has to deal with his campaign debts,” Nightbyrd said. “Friedman has to become more moderate on economic issues.” On other fronts, however, Nightbyrd has high hopes for the new mayor: “I think that on the cultural issues which don’t threaten the banking class, he can be quite progressive. That means a reasonable stand on marijuana, improving things like jail conditions, allowing skinny dipping, and tolerance and encouragement of black, chicano, and longhair cultural activities.” It seems a cinch that Friedman won’t be a kamikaze liberal. In his office in city hall, there’s a framed quotation from Teddy Roosevelt which sums up the new mayor’s pragmatic activism: “It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled; or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; who, at the best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at the least fails while doing greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” So far, most of Friedman’s personal victories have been victories for Austin’s progressive movement as well. Even if the new mayor turns out to be more moderate than his left-wing supporters anticipated, well, as Ed Wendler concludes, “I don’t ever want to lose sight of the fact that his worst is so much better than anything we’ve ever had before.” K.N. The .Texas Observer