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Mayor draws little opposition as 18 candidates vie for council seats

Thursday, March 23, 2000 by

Lewis gets two opponents while most scramble for two open seats

You've heard about low voter turnout for council elections, well how about low candidate turnout? The dearth of kamikaze candidates to take on Mayor Kirk Preston Watson is understandable. So is the lack of challengers trying to unseat incumbent Place 6 Council Member Willie Lewis. Even the fields for open seats for Places 2 and 5 on the council are not overly populated, compared to past years when high numbers usually vie for council positions when they don't have to take on an incumbent.

Five minutes before the 5 p.m. filing deadline yesterday, Mayor Watson was standing in the doorway at the City Clerk's office as if Ronney Reynolds might show up at the last minute to file for a rematch. Didn't happen. Council Member Daryl Slusher joked with Watson, sticking his head out the door to see if Watson's chief opponent for 1997 might be striding toward the clerk's office. With no real opposition, Watson gets to steamroller two homeless cross-dressers and a cab driver. Jennifer Lauren Gale, 39 years of age, was the only candidate in the mayor's race to get on the ballot by petition. The other homeless candidate, Albert Leslie Cochran, 48, paid the filing fee, as did cab driver Dale Adrian Reed, 53.

Despite the nonopposition, Watson's machine is nevertheless in high gear. His campaign manager, Barbara Rush, sent out a press release saying that as of the yesterday, "contributors have donated over $110,000 to Watson's campaign." And that was before his birthday bash and fund-raiser last night at the Broken Spoke featuring Jerry Jeff Walker. which drew an estimated 400 people.

Place 2 candidates

The Place 2 contest to succeed Council Member Gus Garcia, who's hanging it up after three terms, promises to be interesting, with attorney Rafael Quintanilla, 53, and environmentalist Raul Ruben Alvarez, 33, having the resources to wage formidable campaigns. Alvarez was profiled by In Fact Daily Jan. 11, Quintanilla by In Fact Daily Feb. 17. Quintanilla currently serves on the board of Austin Community College. Alvarez is environmental justice director for the state Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. The other Hispanic in the race is Gloria Mata Pennington, 62, who retired at the end of January from her job with the Parks and Recreation Department, where she was manager of senior services programs for the elderly (In Fact Daily Jan. 21).

Certain to add flavor to the debate in Place 2 is Montgomery Lee "Monty" Markland, who turns 22 today, and has a Young Republican look similar to Chad Crow, who was also 22 when he waged a high-energy campaign last year trying to knock off incumbent Slusher, with no effect. Markland, introduced by In Fact Daily March 8, has a well thought out web site but raises eyebrows with his call for opening Austin's electric market to competition, an action that would jeopardize funding of city programs that benefit from profits the utility generates.

Also running in Place 2 are David H. "Breadman" Blakely, 78, who gets his nickname from delivering food to elders, and Raymond Blanchette, 69. Both Blakely and Blanchette are retired from the U.S. Air Force and both have previously sought elective office. Blakely (In Fact Daily Feb. 25) ran as a Republican for state representative in District 51 in both 1996 and 1998. In 1996 he lost to incumbent Glen Maxey in the general election, and in 1998 he placed third in the Republican primary. Blakely tells In Fact Daily the $500 he spent on filing fees for this campaign is all he will spend.

Blanchette ran for mayor in 1997, limited his campaign spending to $500, and garnered 197 votes to place seventh in a field of eight candidates. On the campaign trail that year nearly every answer he gave at candidate forums was answered by referring to his experience in the Air Force, experience that has virtually nothing to do with being mayor. (See In Fact Nos. 87, 88 and 90, April 1997.)

Place 5 candidates

Who's going to succeed Council Member Bill Spelman, who is stepping down without seeking a second term? The front-runners in terms of campaign firepower are neighborhood activist Mary Clare Barry, 49, and downtown developer William Patrick Wynn, 38. This race pits a candidate with money against one with grassroots support–a classic Austin match-up, although Wynn is not the bugaboo developer's candidate of years past; for example, last year as chair of the Downtown Austin Association he gave the group's chair emeritus award to the Save Our Springs Alliance.

Barry, an architectural intern on leave from her job with the Texas Department of Transportation, has long been active in the Austin Neighborhoods Council and was the group's representative to Texas Neighborhoods Together, which lobbied the Texas Legislature in 1999 for neighbor friendly laws. (See In Fact No. 168, November 1998.) She has corralled a herd of neighborhood leaders to back her campaign and managed to attract all the experienced grassroots political consultants who helped put Spelman in office in 1997, including Blizzard Fawal & Associates.

Wynn announced via a press release with a long list of powerful backers on Feb. 14–the same day that Spelman announced he would not run again. Since then he's kept a fairly low profile. Formerly with Faison-Stone Inc., Wynn is president of Civitas Investments Inc., which has restored two historic buildings on 6th Street. A much higher profile project is in the works, a 495,000-square-foot, 27-story office tower called Congress at 4th that would take up much of the block. Wynn is partnered with Tom Stacy of T. Stacy & Associates and Highgate Holdings on the project valued at $99 million, according to the Austin American-Statesman's story of June 11, 1999. Highgate Holdings flipped the Austin Centre at 701 Brazos in 1998 with a profit of $35 million after less than two years ownership, according to the article. Stacy and Highgate owned the Scarbrough Building, Littlefield Office Building, Perry Brooks Building, and Stephen F. Austin Hotel.

If Barry and Wynn are the meat and potatoes of the Place 5 race the spice has to be Linda Jean Curtis, 49, who, as reported at length by In Fact Daily March 17, has a rich history of hell-raising in this town. She works as an interviewer for the Gallup Organization. The other two candidates also ought to be interesting. Amy Juliet Babich, 47, has gained notoriety over the years with a seemingly endless stream of published letters to the editor of the Austin Chronicle, usually on the theme of bicycles are good, cars bad. She owns a home-based bicycle retail shop and works part-time in a state library job. Paul Roger "Chip" Howe, 48, a clinical coordinator for brain-injured adults at the Mary Lee Foundation Rehabilitation Center, has been running an active campaign, sending a steady flow of press releases to note fund-raisers and other events he's attending. With former Mayor Pro Tem Max Nofziger for a political consultant, he has some experienced guidance in low- or no-budget campaigns.

Place 6 candidates

Council Member Willie Clyde Lewis, 63, seeks a second term on the council. He is retired from both the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed and owns rental properties. Lewis has been vigorous in attacking perceived problems in the city's contracting with minority and women-owned business enterprises and changes to the city's ordinance are forthcoming.

Two other African American candidates are offering a change of pace. Nelson E. Linder, 41, is an insurance agent. According to a Statesman article of Jan. 29, he is co-founder of the Garvey/Washington/Allen Project, "a group that preaches racial pride and self-reliance." As reported by In Fact Daily March 7, Linder says he graduated from Huston-Tillotson College in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in business administration. His campaign manager is Akwasi Evans, publisher of Nokoa-The Observer, a community newspaper.

Danny Thomas, 49, is a senior police officer with 21 years in the Austin Police Department. A Statesman article of Jan. 19 said Thomas is minister of the Eph'phatha Full Gospel Baptist Church. The March 2000 issue of The Police Line newsletter published by the Austin Police Association, says the church on Chicon Street started with 35 members in 1997 and has grown to more than 700. Thomas is a past president of the Texas Peace Officers Association. The Police Line says Thomas is a 1969 graduate of Anderson High School and earned a degree in law enforcement from Austin Community College. He has not returned phone calls from In Fact Daily.

Few candidates cut the mustard to get on ballot free with petitions

Four of 18 candidates succeeded in valid petition, Curtis tried and failed

Only 4 of 18 candidates for mayor and council demonstrated community support by submitting a valid petition with the necessary 312 signatures of registered city voters needed to get on the ballot without paying a filing fee. Homeless candidate Jennifer Lauren Gale was the only mayoral candidate to go the petition route. Raul Ruben Alvarez turned the trick in Place 2. Both Amy Juliet Babich and Mary Clare Barry did so in Place 5.

Linda Jean Curtis, to whom gathering signatures is as easy as falling out of bed, turned in petitions to get her name on the ballot yesterday at 11:17 a.m. Although City Clerk Shirley Brown used her entire staff for the rest of the day trying to verify the petitions, by the 5 p.m. deadline only 269 of the 543 signatures had been verified. Brown says she would have kept her staff at it until all 543 names on Curtis' petitions had been checked but it would be possible that the 43 needed wouldn't be found. "So rather than run the risk, she paid," Brown says of Curtis. Brown said at one point Curtis asked that her petitions be checked by sampling instead of line by line. But Section 141.069 of the Texas Election Code allows sampling only if a petition is required to contain more than 1,000 signatures.

Curtis–whose group Austinites for a Little Less Corruption won a federal lawsuit that overturned the previous City Clerk's rejection of a petition to get a campaign finance measure on the ballot–was sanguine about her own petition's failure to make the grade. Curtis says she should have turned the petitions in a day sooner to allow more time for verification.

The fatal mistake Curtis made was not putting voter registration numbers on the petition. Although no longer legally required because of another federal court victory by Curtis, without voter registration numbers, petition verification is tedious and slow. Brown said Barry's petition was verified yesterday in an hour and a half because it came in with voter registration numbers. "We warned (Curtis) if she didn't have the voter registration numbers it would be difficult to verify (her petition) within the time allowed," Brown said.

Curtis says she was more interested in talking to voters than getting voter registration numbers on her petitions. And she says she figures some of the places she petitioned for signatures, such as gay bars, may have clients with lower than average rates of voter registration. That's a trend she hopes to reverse by reaching out to register gays and lesbians to vote in time to cast ballots in the May 6 council election.

Does Watson shave his legs?… Mayor Kirk Watson's fund-raiser at the Broken Spoke attracted a crowd of about 400 last night, according to the estimate by club owner James White. In Fact Daily asked hizzoner if he planned to buy a new miniskirt with some of the funds raised, since two of his opponents are transvestites. Watson had previously told Austin American-Statesman columnist John Kelso that he was worried about competing with opponent Leslie Cochran, since Cochran had nicer legs. Watson said, "I was just being self-deprecating. I really do think I have the best legs." Jerry Jeff Walker serenaded the mayor with a better than usual rendition of Happy Birthday before returning to more traditional dance music… Bradley deal today… Mary Gay Maxwell, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOSA), said she could not predict how many people would come to speak at today's public hearing on the proposed Bradley Settlement. However, she said the group's political action arm had been employing phone banks to rally the troops against the proposal.

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