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The Outsider

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History, as Henry Ford so famously remarked, is bunk.

Unfortunately, Henry was wrong.

That's why it's both exhilarating and disquieting to see our formerly timid, fearful, can't-we-all-just-get-along, please-Mr. Developer-give-us-more-campaign-contributions-and-we'll-be good City Council cast off its chains.

In the last few weeks, Mayor and Council have turned the city upside down.

By nixing both the Centennial extension and any new high-speed arterial between Woodman Road and the Highway 24 bypass, they sent a pointed message to the development community. Steve Schuck, Doug Stimple, Rocky Scott and the pro-developer boys learned too late what the Beatles really meant -- money can't buy you love, and politicians don't stay bought. Votes trump dollars, and, as any analysis of the last two municipal elections clearly shows, the voting majority in April elections is found within the high-turnout precincts in the city core.

And as if thumbing their noses at the cement people wasn't enough, the entire Council signed a resolution putting the municipal stamp of approval on PrideFest, the gay community's annual wingding. Predictably, the far right went crazy; less predictably, the rest of the community greeted the whole thing with a collective yawn. Five or six thousand folks participated in PrideFest, including all of a dozen protesters. Right-wing talk-show fixture Chuck Baker was, when last heard, trying to whip his listeners into a "Recall da Mayor" frenzy.

I suspect that da Mayor herself would welcome such an attempt, since it would serve only to unite 90 percent of the community in opposition to the recall. I know that I'd be part of the 90 percent; it's been truly wonderful to watch Mary Lou abandon the role of chief ribbon-cutter and meeting facilitator, and become The Mayor.

Anyway, back to our history lesson: The last time we had a progressive, independent and community-minded Council majority was in the early '70s. Then, energized by popular dismay with the excesses of development, Council sought to create the planning infrastructure for controlled, sustainable and appropriate development. But because of a nationwide natural-gas supply crunch, Council declared a moratorium on new natural-gas hookups. The economy had already started to weaken, but the business community blamed Council for the ensuing real-estate disaster.

In subsequent elections, the voters tossed out the communitarians and installed pro-business Council members in their place. Jobs came first; community aesthetics and long-term planning were scarcely ever mentioned.

Our sprawling, prosperous, ugly and comfortable community is their legacy.

Now that we have too many jobs, rather than none at all, the communitarians are back in the saddle. But for how long? If history's any guide, the voters'll get rid of them as soon as the economy goes south.

And for you students of applied politics, note how skillfully Messrs. Schuck, Stimple, Scott et al. have set up the City Council to take the fall. I'd guess that the current bunch has no more than a couple of years to put its stamp on the community, before it's business as usual once again.

Remember, guys, resolutions and studies mean nothing; action means everything.

If you're not afraid of Dr. Dobson, why should the Chamber, the HBA and the Realtors bother you? They're just a few thousand savvy activists who have controlled city elections for a generation. Ignore their concerns; they'll support you anyway!

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