[Hpn] Leslie: Austin's Most Famous Homeless Person FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Wed, 17 May 2000 19:53:23 -0700 (PDT)


FWD 17 May 2000 via Food Not Bombs list (FNB info at end of post)
From: the slave <keith_v@yahoo.com>

LESLIE: AUSTIN'S MOST FAMOUS HOMELESS PERSON

For those not in the know, Leslie is sort of an Austin icon these days. And he
is homeless cross-dresser! He recently ran for mayor and came in second. Read
some of the articles below from the Austin American-Statesman.

Be sure to check out http://austin360.com/community/leslie.html for some rather
lovely pictures of Leslie.

Index:
 Kelso: Why Leslie has Watson a bit worried -- Jan. 25, 2000
 Leslie to run for mayor -- Jan. 22, 2000
 Leslie arrested -- June 18, 1999
 The trouble with Leslie -- May 25, 1999

___________________________________________________
Why Leslie has Watson a bit worried


By John Kelso
American-Statesman Staff

Published: Jan. 26, 2000

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson's worst nightmare may be standing right now in front
of One American Center at Congress Avenue and Sixth Street in bad makeup, pink
Spandex and stacked heels.

Leslie Cochran, the city's human weather gauge (the more pants he has on, the
cooler it is), is running for mayor. Although the crossdresser has no money, he
has one advantage over Watson -- better name recognition. He's like Madonna. He
can go by one name, and you still know who he is.

For some time, the Downtown Austin Alliance has tried to get Leslie off the
corner in front of One American Center because all that leg clashes with the
high rise's image. Maybe this mayoral stunt will fix the problem.

"The rumor is that the DAA is endorsing his campaign so he'll be inside the
mayor's office instead of on the street corner," Watson said. He understands
the scope of the competition.

"My fear is that this will not be an issue-oriented campaign but (about) who
has the best legs, and then I know I'm a dead man," Watson said. "The only
problem I've got is that I've seen freckles where I never really wanted to."
The mayor was referring to Leslie's freckles, not his own.

For his part, Leslie is selling, on the street, Christmasy glossy photos and
T-shirts that show him in a plaid skirt. Both T-shirts and photos come with the
slogan, "Have you been naughty or nice?" These items were given to Leslie by
Yclip.com, the startup that made a name for itself with a $50,000 print ad
campaign that features large color photos of Leslie in his tiara. The items are
leftovers from the office Christmas party.

During the last mayoral election, only 17 percent of the registered voters
voted. That means there's an enormous untapped pool out there. What if Leslie
becomes Circle C's revenge?

It wouldn't be the first political miracle to occur here. Remember flower
salesman and former hippie City Council Member Max Nofziger? Leslie could be
following in is footsteps, although in much higher heels.

Leslie thinks he has a shot. "That's because most of the people who will vote
for me usually don't vote," he said. "So I'm going to go out there and get them
to vote."

With what message? Helping the homeless one person at a time, starting with
himself. The first thing he'd do if elected? "Move into an apartment and get
off the street," he said.

The guy knows how to bargain. When he was offered $450 to model for the
Yclip.com ad campaign, he bartered for them to throw in a $110 electric razor
by Braun, "which is the top of the line," Leslie said. He said he also held out
for an additional $40 to do his laundry.

"I had a lot of clothes," Leslie explained. "I shop at the best Dumpsters in
town."

That could change. By summer Leslie could be hitting Victoria's Secret.


______________________________________________________________

American-Statesman Staff

Leslie Cochran has entered the Austin mayoral race against Jennifer Gale and
incumbent Kirk Watson.

After an arrest last summer, Cochran became a symbol in the city's wrestling
match with itself - how to preserve the cultural aspects (and quirks) in the
face of a business and development boom. He has become an Austin icon of sorts
in high heels at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue.

Watson, who raised about $775,000 in his first race three years ago, said new
campaign restrictions will probably make his campaign budget a lot smaller this
year, possibly as low as $150,000.

A 1997 charter amendment limited campaign contributions to no more than $100,
along with other restrictions.

But a big campaign may not be necessary for Watson. He faces opposition from
two homeless people who have never held public office: Jennifer Gale, a
perennial candidate for council, and Cochran.

______________________________________________________

Downtown fixture 'Leslie' arrested for public camping

By Bob Banta
American-Statesman Staff

Published: June 18, 1999

Albert Leslie Cochran -- known for the outlandish dresses he wears outside his
portable cardboard home on a downtown Austin street corner -- was arrested
Thursday on charges of violating the city ordinance against camping in public.

Cochran, 47, was in jail Thursday night on the Class C misdemeanor, according
to Central Booking Facility officials. The fine for the offense is $220.

Police said Cochran was arrested about 9:45 a.m. A large cardboard "house"
Cochran built on a wheeled cart was taken to a parking lot at the Austin Police
Department headquarters about noon. Officers made an inventory of its contents,
which consisted of clothing, stuffed animals and other items.

Cochran has been controversial because his presence at West Sixth Street and
Congress Avenue is considered by some merchants to be an eyesore.

Austin police have arrested Cochran at least 28 times since 1996 on
misdemeanors ranging from public camping to human waste-related charges. Most
of the charges have been dismissed, according to court records.

Cochran was arrested May 5, 1997, and jailed on seven charges, including public
intoxication, obstruction of a highway and indecent exposure, Travis County
sheriff's spokesman Curtis Weeks said. All the charges were dismissed.

Of the 23 municipal and five county cases against him since 1996 -- all
misdemeanors -- 19 have been dismissed, usually for lack of evidence or, in
five instances, because the arresting officer didn't appear at trial.

Two charges led to acquittals. Five other cases are pending.

Cochran was found guilty twice of public intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor.

According to records, his most recent arrest was April 2, for public camping.


Staff writer Claire Osborn contributed to this report

__________________________________________________________

The trouble with Leslie
Business alliance sees homeless cross-dresser as offensive

By Ben Wear
American-Statesman Staff

Published: May 25, 1999

If you get to Austin, you've got to see the homeless guy in the thong and tiara
on Congress Avenue.

That's what college student Abbi Ellenstein heard in Indiana and from her aunt,
who lives here. So one recent noontime, the vacationing Ellenstein made the
pilgrimage to the northwest corner of Congress and Sixth Street, where Leslie,
who prefers to be referred to as a female, parks a substantial cart each day
with his belongings.

Leslie sported a lacy black thong, high heels and a bodaciously padded halter
top. Ellenstein gave him $20. They posed for a snapshot, Leslie coquettishly
showing a bony swath of freckled upper leg. Upper, upper leg.

"Evansville, where I'm from, you don't see that," Ellenstein said. "That's
really an important part of America to have that sort of freedom."

Not everyone has the same take on America and Leslie, whose full name is Albert
Leslie Cochran. The management of One American Center, according to Downtown
Austin Alliance executive director Charles Betts, has lost potential
ground-floor renters spooked by Leslie and the element he attracts -- a
Scripture-shouting man dubbed the Preacherman has lately staked out a nearby
patch of sidewalk.

Building management had no comment on Leslie.

Betts and his organization have taken up the cause, urging top city officials,
including Mayor Kirk Watson, to crack down. The city, they say, has looked the
other way while Leslie flouts city laws.

Actually, Austin police have arrested Leslie at least 28 times since 1996 on
misdemeanors ranging from public camping to "human waste" -- urinating or
defecating outside. Most of the charges have been dismissed.

The pressure from the Downtown Austin Alliance to do something about Leslie has
put Watson and other Austin officials in a bind. Pumping up downtown is one of
their priorities. But so is helping the homeless. And being seen as raining on
Leslie's parade might be unpopular.

Watson says the city is trying to find middle ground, allowing Leslie his
eccentricities as long as he doesn't cross some ill-defined line and become a
nuisance.

"The media's kind of made Leslie an icon around town," Betts said. "I'm not
sure that flashing your butt on Sixth and Congress, that that's the kind of
icon to have. I find it somewhat offensive. People sure wouldn't want to walk
by with their kids. . . . One American Center has long since stopped seeing any
humor there."

Most Austinites do, however, judging from the smiles of many of the suited or
pantyhosed downtown workers who passed by Leslie one day last week. Starbucks
workers give him coffee. A law firm on One American Center's second floor has
adopted him almost as a mascot -- one lawyer bought him a Longhorn cheerleader
outfit. And Leslie elicited huge cheers in January when he crashed the Ricky
Williams parade, occupying the rumble seat of an antique car and waving
daintily to the crowd like a beauty queen. Never mind Leslie's lengthy rap
sheet. Never mind the startling displays of gluteus maximus. Never mind what he
may be or what he may attract.

Leslie, a newcomer who wasn't even here in Austin's libertine heyday of 30
years ago, nonetheless has become a symbol of what the city once was and maybe
wishes it still were. Jeff Friedman, Austin's bushy-haired boy mayor of the
mid-'70s who went on to more lucrative work as a lawyer, says Leslie is
carrying on his slender shoulders the eccentric legacy of Crazy Carl Hickerson,
flower twirler about town, and before Carl, the late Bicycle Annie, who for
decades could be spotted here and there morosely toting her life's possessions.


"They each provide an anchor for Austin as its culture expands," said Friedman,
elected to the Austin City Council in 1971 and mayor in 1975 at age 30.
"There's always somebody that brings you back to Austin when it was just a
small, comfortable, low-key, non-high-powered city. Austin I think is one of
the three most tolerant cities in this country, in the sense that we accept
people at face value and only give them a harsh look when they've proven not
worthy. Everyone is given an opportunity. . . . Hell, I'm living proof."

Life of Leslie

Something most people probably don't know about Leslie: He was married at one
time, or so he says.

"Turned out the girl I was married to never divorced any of her other husbands
and I got it annulled," said Leslie, who is now 47, citing the date of the
brief marriage as either 1985 or 1986.

Other Leslie facts, according to Leslie, most of them impossible to confirm: He
grew up south of Miami, briefly attended Florida State University on an
academic scholarship, spent nine months in the Naval Reserve in 1974 and 1975,
worked for Safeway grocery stores in Seattle, skinned road-kill in Colorado and
tanned the hides, worked as a disc jockey near Steamboat Springs, Colo., lived
in a converted bookmobile in Shreveport, La., Tampa, Fla., and Atlanta, and
then took a year to ride a three-wheeled bicycle to Austin.

He arrived in Austin in Jan. 24, 1996, he says, and rang up his first local
arrest -- for camping in a public place -- less than three weeks later.

Another thing worth knowing about Leslie: He not only looks funny, he is funny.


Reporter: Where'd you grow up?

Leslie: I never did.

So why the provocative women's clothing?

Leslie says he "entered the gay world" about the time he turned 40. The skimpy
clothing, he says, began on his bicycle trip, to beat the heat. Now he simply
wants to maintain his tan, he says. But Leslie clearly relishes the attention.
He asked more than once when the interview might make it into print.

Why is he homeless, Leslie was asked.

"Why didn't Hemingway have a job?" he answers, forgetting for the moment that
the great novelist was at one time a newspaper reporter. Leslie over the years
had written many chapters of a book on being homeless, he said, a tome that he
charges was thrown away by Austin police after one of his arrests.

"Basically, my protest (against police) is my job. It doesn't pay anything. But
it's more important."

Constrained from panhandling by the law, Leslie says he gets by on unsolicited
donations, such as Ellenstein's, and meals from the various shelters for the
homeless. Cigarettes, Leslie says, he mostly bums. He returned the favor last
week, sharing a smoke with a Starbucks employee.

Mike Hodges, executive director of the Texas Press Association on West Fifth
Street, involuntarily became Leslie's de facto landlord about six months ago.
Each evening, after a stint at the Black Cat Lounge, Leslie's typical
after-hours hangout on East Sixth, he wheels his cart into the association's
carport and spends the night.

Before he moved in, Hodges says, the multicar garage was haunted by drug users,
reeked of urine and was repeatedly tagged with graffiti. That stopped when
Leslie homesteaded. Leslie kept the place clean.

Hodges says Betts lobbied him to evict Leslie. Betts says he suggested to
Hodges that Leslie should sleep at the Salvation Army instead. Then Hodges
learned that his insurance company would not cover any incidents related to
Leslie's quasi-authorized presence. Hodges reluctantly told him to move on.

"I don't think me housing him here or kicking him out is going to have any
effect on Sixth and Congress," Hodges said. "I'm the loser in this. I'm going
back to having crackheads and urine in my garage. . . . It's hard not to like
him. It's just hard to look at him."

Charges dismissed

Leslie's cart is plastered with signs decrying his treatment by the police,
including one saying they "put me in jail on false charges for six and a half
months."

Leslie was arrested on May 5, 1997, Travis County sheriff's office spokesman
Curtis Weeks said, and jailed for seven charges, including public intoxication,
obstruction of a highway and indecent exposure. Unable to post bail, Leslie
stayed in jail until Nov. 14 that year.

All the charges were dismissed.

In fact, of the 23 Municipal Court and five county court cases against Leslie
since 1996 (all of them misdemeanors), 19 have been dismissed -- usually for
lack of evidence or, in five instances, because the arresting officer didn't
appear at trial. Police spokeswoman Sally Muir, while unable to say why
officers didn't make it to court in those cases, said a variety of reasons,
ranging from taking vacation to testifying on more serious crimes at county or
district court, could explain the absences. Two charges led to not-guilty
verdicts. Five other cases are pending. Leslie was found guilty twice of public
intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor.

His most recent arrest was April 2, for public camping -- at the Texas Press
Association.

The mayor says he walks back and forth about 10 times a week between his City
Hall mayoral office and his law office in the Littlefield Building, just across
Congress from Leslie's "office." They often say "hi" to each other, Watson
says, and he once stood in line at a tobacco store behind Leslie, who was
wearing the relatively chaste cheerleader outfit.

How do you solve a problem like Leslie? The mayor struggles to answer the
question.

"It is not a violation of law to stand or sit on a street corner," Watson said.
"And it is not a violation of law to be a little eccentric, or even a whole lot
eccentric. But those who either choose to be that way, or just are that way,
have a responsibility to everyone to act in a reasonable manner."

The city, Watson says, will "monitor the situation. . . . If Leslie starts
causing problems, Leslie needs to be dealt with."

Sgt. John Hutto, who works a walking beat downtown, deals with Leslie on a
regular basis.

"I call him Albert," Hutto said. "I refuse to call him Leslie."

He says police officers have been a bit frustrated about all the dismissals,
although he acknowledges officers bear some responsibility for not showing up
to court.

"But when we do show up, we're not getting a lot of support," he said.

Juries, said Municipal Court clerk Paul Martin, "will not convict Leslie."

Hutto, while immune to Leslie's charms, understands the situation as a perfect
marriage of a man and his milieu.

"It's amazing when I'm sitting at the corner and I have out-of-town visitors
come up and say, 'Can't you do something?' I say, 'Ma'am, welcome to Austin.' "

=====
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