Strangely absent from the stage -- but not the venue -- were lesser-known mayoral candidates David Buttross and Josiah Ingalls. Nevertheless, Buttross managed to distribute glossy push-cards to attendees and Ingalls, a janitor at the Downtown Hilton, stood awkwardly in a poorly fitting suit and tie at the back of the audience. He was, as one Chronicle staffer put it, "uninvited."
The Chronicle, representative of Austin perhaps now more than ever in its scenester popularity, seemed unapologetic for eschewing an alternative voice in its Austin mayoral debates. A questioning of senior staff writer Michael King resulted in him saying "I don't think he's a serious candidate - do you?"
Political workhorses, journalists, or even local activists, will make the argument that a candidate's viability -- and when they say this, beloveds, don't think for one second they aren't actually meaning the word "electability" -- can and should factor into these debates. Those who do not have a chance of being elected stand to be shut out for the sake of...what? Time? Public interest? For the sake of the desire to feature those more like "the others?"
Nevertheless, a quivering Josiah Ingalls took the stage, saying as he went up "I've got to go up there, they let me talk for two minutes." I asked him if he'd been invited to the forum and he said "No," smiling in a way that showed many years of covering sadness, "but I crashed the party."
As he spoke on stage, I saw not a hobby candidate or someone with nothing else to do but make a name for himself. He was not an unemployed transient looking for a new gig. He was an earnest, minimum-wage earning candidate, perhaps more like all of the youth at the forum there, trying to push his agenda of mental health services and poverty. He said that when he talked about affordability, he was "not talking about $1000 a month for rent." As he spoke, I realized that people were not simply cheering for him -- they were agreeing with him.
The same could be said about the once unknown voice of an alternative paper, not a "serious" newspaper, of course, but a quiet, uncomfortable reminder that the world does not only revolve around the mainstream. Hands wringing, under and unfunded, Josiah Ingalls stood at the back of the Mohawk, uninvited, but there nonetheless.
The ultimate viability of any entity is not in its corporate support, or its over-stocked qualifications, or even its electability, but its ability to be there, real and alive. Our variety of mayoral candidates are not much different from what was once our alternative weekly: a representative voice -- speaking for the lesser few, pushing the agenda of the oft forgotten, and changing the conversation to promote those who go unpromoted.