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Willie Lewis campaign files criminal complaint over independent expenditures

Friday, April 28, 2000 by

Austin Police PAC and Thomas Henderson named as defendants

Incumbent Council Member Willie Lewis' reelection campaign raised the political stakes higher yesterday in the Place 6 council contest by filing a criminal complaint against the Austin Police Political Action Committee (AP PAC) and Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, the former Dallas Cowboy, convicted felon and Texas lottery winner. The complaint, filed by Lewis' campaign manager, David Terrell, alleges a failure to properly report independent expenditures as required by City Code Chapter 2-9-21. The expenditures were made to support the candidacy of Lewis' strongest opponent, Senior Police Officer Danny Thomas. Insurance agent Nelson Linder is the other candidate in the Place 6 race.

The complaint alleges three violations of City Code by AP PAC and one by Henderson. AP PAC is accused of not filing a complete report, not filing a timely report, and not providing the appropriate sworn statement that the expenditures were independent, that they were not made in cooperation with the campaign, and that strategic communications were not made with the campaign staff or any agent of the Danny Thomas Campaign. The complaint alleges that the sworn affidavit provided with the original report filed with the city clerk by AP PAC is not based on personal knowledge or subject to perjury, which the complainant believes is required by state law.

The complaint against Henderson is that his report filed with the city April 17 fails to state the purpose, date and recipient of the expenditures as required by the City Code, and also failed to provide a proper sworn statement attesting to the independent nature of the expenditures.

"This is against AP PAC and Henderson," Terrell tells In Fact Daily. "Neither followed the law. We'll let the prosecutors decide if that's the case."

Both the AP PAC and Henderson tell In Fact Daily they filed exactly what they were instructed to file by the city clerk's office. In Fact Daily could not reach City Clerk Shirley Brown last night for verification.

Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association, said he physically picked up the correct form for filing independent expenditures yesterday. AP PAC President Sean Mannix says that form was completed and filed yesterday. AP PAC's original report was filed April 25–after Willie Lewis' attorneys filed a written demand with the city clerk and city attorney to enforce the city's election laws. AP PAC's report was filed on a form designed by attorney Jim Cousar of Thompson & Knight because AP PAC said the city clerk's office did not have a form for reports of independent expenditures. (See In Fact Daily April 25 and April 27.) "We refiled the other form," Mannix says. He says he looks forward to the matter going before a judge so that clearer guidance will be provided about what should be filed.

Henderson, reached last night in Miami where he is vacationing, said his associate, Gigi Edwards, visited the city clerk's office and was instructed how to file and then did so, after Henderson signed the report. Edwards tells In Fact Daily that she talked to a receptionist in the city clerk's office on one occasion and to City Clerk Brown on another occasion. "We filled out the paperwork we got and I went down and talked to her face-to-face," Edwards says. Edwards said she would obtain the city's form today to refile properly. Henderson says, "We filed in a timely fashion and followed the rules as best we knew how…I filed in good faith what I thought was proper. I think Willie Lewis is running scared and yelling 'fire' in a movie theater."

Lewis might have reason to be concerned if the African-American community had the final say on who will be elected in Place 6. Thomas far outdistanced the incumbent in a straw poll conducted at an East Austin forum last night by the Leadership Austin Class of 2000, and Lewis trailed third and last, far behind Linder. (See separate story, below.)

As reported by In Fact Daily yesterday, AP PAC has already dumped $9,800 into signs and mailers in support of the Danny Thomas Campaign. Henderson is spending $25,000 on television and print ads, starting with an ad in this week's Austin Chronicle that cost $1,177, he said. A quarter-page ad that will run May 1 in the Austin American-Statesman will cost $2,200, he said. And $19,995 will be spent airing 30-second commercials on all Austin TV stations beginning May 3, Henderson said.

Henderson said the TV ad was filmed at his track facility in East Austin. He describes the script as follows: "I'm Thomas Henderson. You know the work I've done in East Austin. We need an absolute advocate for East Austin, and we don't have that now. Vote for Danny Thomas. He's for economic development, protecting our environment and supporting our youth." Henderson said the commercial ends after he turns to a crowd of a hundred people and says, "He's our choice, right?" And the crowd screams, "Right!"

Of the criminal complaint, Henderson says, "I think this is more about the publicity than anything substantive."

Lewis' campaign manager, Terrell, said the Municipal Court clerk's office told him when he filed the report, "They said they'll get back to me in about two weeks. I really didn't expect anything to happen before the election, but the so-called wheels of justice grind slowly. I wanted to get it in the pipeline."

A former municipal court judge said the normal process for criminal complaints filed with Municipal Court would be for a prosecutor to examine the complainant's affidavit and if warranted draft a formal criminal complaint, which would be mailed to the defendants, since these are Class C misdemeanor charges.

Danny Thomas Campaign supporters see the criminal complaint as an outright political attack by the Willie Lewis Campaign. "Willie Lewis is not supported by the African-American community, and never has been," says Thomas' campaign manager, Linda Dailey. "Willie Lewis could care less (about East Austin) and people know that."

The prime movers behind the criminal complaint were attorneys Fred Lewis (not related to the candidate) and Cristen Feldman, who are representing Willie Lewis without pay. These lawyers researched and reviewed the alleged violations before Terrell filed the complaint. Both lawyers are involved in organizations trying to clean up the money aspects of the political system, and not just in Austin. Feldman works with Texans for Public Justice, which has been successful in gaining nationwide publicity over campaign finance issues in state elections. Fred Lewis is executive director of Campaigns for People and has long been active in campaign finance. Fred Lewis was an advisor to the citizens group Austinites for a Little Less Corruption that petitioned and won a court case to get a City Charter amendment on the ballot. Voters approved that in November 1997, setting up the $100 campaign contribution limits that, in effect, gave rise to the independent expenditures that in this year's council elections are cropping up for the first time.

At root, the flap over these independent expenditures is proof of the political axiom that it's difficult if not impossible to get money out of politics. There are many tributaries contributing to the river of cash that goes into our political system, and when one route is dammed the money will take another course. Today in Austin, we no longer have mega-contributors like musician Don Henley, the Real Estate Council of Austin–and law firms like Brown Maroney & Oaks Hartline, Fulbright & Jaworski, Winstead Sechrest, Drenner & Stuart, and Vinson & Elkins–writing huge checks directly to the candidate (See the In Fact 100 report of top contributors, In Fact No. 117, Oct. 29, 1997). The $100 contribution limit approved by voters in 1997 has sent money coursing in another direction with PACs and wealthy individuals choosing to take the message directly to the voters. Instead of the political candidates controlling the message, a variety of voices are singing their own songs–and swearing they're not reading off the same page.

In the Danny Thomas Campaign it's difficult to believe that the expenditures made by AP PAC and Thomas Henderson are truly independent: Danny Thomas, a 21-year veteran of the Austin Police Department, is one of AP PAC's own, not some outsider. Thomas forfeited the appearance of an arm's length relationship with Henderson when he decided to put his campaign office in a building owned by Henderson. Nevertheless, AP PAC officials and Henderson are willing to swear in writing that they did not consult with Thomas over campaign signs, political mailers, and media buys.

"I swear to you and everybody this is my expenditure," Henderson tells In Fact Daily. "I won the lottery. I have some money. I'm not trying to hide anything…If some form was not completed we can amend that, but I'm not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes."

Thomas is just as adamant that the expenditures by Henderson and AP PAC are truly independent. "I'm a godly person and I'm being honest with you," Thomas says. "When I say I don't know anything I don't. What Hollywood did, he did…Anything I say to you, you can take it to the bank."

Of the AP PAC and Henderson support, Thomas said, "They would not say anything to me because they knew it would be a violation." Thomas is resigned to dealing with the flak over these expenditures, saying, "I put this in God's hands. I will run a clean campaign."

Rough night for incumbent Lewis at hostile East Austin candidate forum

Straw poll shows Thomas the crowd favorite, Linder second, Lewis last

More than a hundred people eventually showed up at the candidates forum last night sponsored by the Leadership Austin Class of 2000. The crowd in the theater of the Millennium Youth Entertainment Center was mostly African Americans, and the 150-seat theater was emotionally charged, and never more so than when the Place 6 candidates–all African Americans–confronted the questions of concern to East Austin.

There to kick off the evening's event was former Council Member Eric Mitchell, who more than anyone had pushed to get the facility built in the first place. What had been a boarded up shopping center for years is now an attractive structure with bowling alley, theater, video arcade and snack bar. Mitchell–the one-term council member who was unseated by Willie Lewis in 1997–had lost none of the disdain for his political foe who, on the night Lewis beat him, Mitchell called a "house nigger."

"I don't even know why I'm here," Mitchell said. "I guess they need something inflammatory so people will write about it." The ever-blunt Mitchell said, "A lot of people manipulate the system and manipulate us. I feel like we have an embarrassment for a black official who will go along to get along," referring to Willie Lewis. Mitchell said, "People work hard to manipulate us and we fall for it, and it's going to continue till we get off our butts and make something happen."

The first time around, Lewis wasn't in the room when the Place 6 candidates were put on the griddle shortly before 7 p.m. Opponents Danny Thomas and Nelson Linder were questioned and Melinda Murphy, who hosted the event for Leadership Austin, would not permit Lewis' campaign manager, David Terrell, to speak in his stead. Terrell said Lewis was en route.

At 7:40 p.m. the Place 6 candidates were called back to take the floor again, while waiting for the Place 2 candidates to get in from the Circle C forum. (As it turned out, they never made it). The last half hour was marked by the kind of crowd response typical of African American churches, with audience members calling out for more when a candidate hit a hot-button issue. The audience was mostly hostile to Lewis, loudly behind Thomas, and friendly toward Linder.

Thomas hammered Lewis for his earlier absence (attending a Circle C forum) saying, "This is the most important forum and Mr. Lewis went somewhere else first." Lewis came back to that remark. He said, "Say what you may about where I was, because good judgment is needed. If you're not in office you cannot serve in the capacity you desire to serve."

When a moderator asked, "Why are you committed to East Austin?" Lewis said he lives and owns a business in East Austin. "I came to Austin as an adult when these gentlemen (his opponents) were still children." Thomas answered by saying, "I chose to run because too many times we've been neglected…I want to serve the people of Austin, but my heart is right here," he added, thumping the table.

When moderators bent the rules and allowed audience members to ask questions, the atmosphere heated up even more. Lewis was asked to comment on a remark he'd allegedly made at a previous forum, that he had no allegiance to East Austin. Lewis replied, "I said I don't hold allegiance to any group…I'm independent. I'm retired twice. I don't have to do what the people want me to do–I do what Lewis wants me to do."

A seemingly innocuous question was posed by Dr. Nathanial Thomas, a minister in the same church in which Danny Thomas preaches. The minister said that Lewis had answered an e-mail questionnaire on how to revitalize East Austin by saying he would encourage the right kind of retail growth. "What is the right kind of retail?" the minister asked. "The type people want," Lewis replied. "A yogurt shop on East 11th would not succeed…Yogurt shops will not make money because African Americans do not buy that much yogurt. If they did, there would be a yogurt shop in East Austin."

Lewis' remark over what African Americans would eat drew snickers from the audience, and when Danny Thomas next spoke, he looked up at the crowd, paused for effect, and said, "Now you know why we need a change." The remark drew whoops of laughter and loud applause. "Never underestimate our people," Danny Thomas said. "We want the best like everybody else. Let's not second-guess what we might not want. We need to pull up our sleeves and get out with the people."

East Austin Straw Poll for Candidates

The Leadership Austin Class of 2000 conducted a straw poll last night, asking each audience member to mark their preference for candidates in the mayoral contest and three council races on a paper ballot. Results were tallied after the forum.

Mayor

Place 2 *

Place 5

Place 6

Watson: 36

Quintanilla: 20

Curtis: 30

Thomas: 37

Gale: 5

Alvarez: 12

Wynn: 18

Linder: 21

Cochran: 3

Pennington: 6

Barry: 5

Lewis: 11

Reed: 1

Blakely: 2

Babich: 1

Blanchette: 1

Howe: 0

Markland: 0

* Note: Place 2 candidates never arrived. Reed in the mayoral contest and Babich in Place 5 were no-shows.

Restrained and polite Circle C Ranch hosts a peaceful candidate forum

Markedly different atmosphere prevails in wake of annexation settlement

Former Council Member Eric Mitchell got the most applause of any speaker at Thursday's candidate forum at Kiker Elementary School, located in Circle C Ranch. Mitchell was standing in for Place 6 candidate Danny Thomas, who was committed to another forum in East Austin. Twenty-seven people showed up at the forum, a radically reduced number from the hordes who attended a program last year when the Circle C Homeowners Association was still litigating over annexation by the City of Austin. The city settled that litigation in connection with the Bradley Settlement at a cost of $7.6 million for a new fire station and other improvements.

Mitchell, who has lived in Oak Hill for the past 20 years, said, "African-American representation in this community is embarrassing." Referring to the incumbent, Mitchell said, "He lets the mayor shut him up by saying (you've said) enough." Criticizing both the mayor and Austin's campaign funding limits, Mitchell said he would like to run for mayor himself, "but I can't raise $1.2 million, one-hundred dollars at a time."

Mitchell said he could not answer questions about Thomas' specific proposals for improving traffic flow in southwest Austin. But he said that he had convinced Thomas to oppose single-member districts. "Ethnic representation is wrong," Mitchell said. The city needs a combination of council members elected at-large and from geographic areas.

Watson told the gathering that he has driven from Circle C to downtown Austin in morning rush-hour traffic. He assured the group their traffic problems would be addressed.

All six candidates for Place 2 made presentations to the forum. Responding to questions, Rafael Quintanilla said, "I can see we need to complete MoPac and not just complete the frontage roads." However, he said he could not make a commitment on extending State Highway (SH) 45 to I-35. Markland said both SH 130 and SH 45 should be completed. "We don't have to choose."

The audience asked Council Member Willie Lewis if he supported the pay raise proposed for council members by Gus Garcia and Bill Spelman, who are leaving the council June 15. Lewis said, "It was not something I would initiate." However, he said the council has not had a pay raise since 1987, and "we should do one." When asked if he supported extending SH 45 to I-35, he said he was not sure.

Ken Rigsbee of the Circle C Political Action Committee said that five of 12 members of the PAC would make these recommendations to the full committee concerning endorsements: Mayor Kirk Watson for mayor, Monty Markland and Rafael Quintanilla for Place 2, Will Wynn for Place 5 and Danny Thomas for Place 6. Rigsbee said he would send an e-mail to the other members asking for their opinions on each of the races, but he expects the preliminary recommendations to be accepted by the full committee.

Watson on race… Mayor Kirk Watson said last night at the East Austin forum that the city has made progress on racial reconciliation. "It's taught me a great deal and taught me there's a great deal more to do," he said. Watson said he has asked the city manager to devise a program against racial profiling. "I want to say we're a leader in the nation in there being no racial profiling," Watson said, "and not just by the police," he added, referring to home lending. On the recommendations of the Police Oversight Focus Group, Watson said, "I haven't completed my review of the report but I will be deferential on how the report came out."… Curtis crowd favorite…While most fireworks at the East Austin candidate forum last night crackled in the Place 6 contest, a Place 5 candidate was a smash hit with harsh rhetoric. Time and again the crowd called out for Linda Curtis to pour it on. She said the council has been doing deals and doesn't have money for East Austin. Regarding the need for the Austin Police Department to open its disciplinary records like the Travis County Sheriff's Department, Curtis, a supporter of the Sunshine Project for Police Accountability said, "APD stalling makes people feel like they're hiding something. If they're smart they'll open the records to shut people up." She closed by saying, "Conspire with me to take over City Hall."

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