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Runoff duo proves power of TV

Monday, May 9, 2005 by

Conventional wisdom would have put Gregg Knaupe, the choice of the Austin Police Association PAC, numerous real estate professionals, the EMS PAC and the city’s employees’ union in the June 11 runoff with Place 3 front-runner Margot Clarke. On Thursday, Knaupe’s campaign manager, Mark Littlefield, acknowledged that Jennifer Kim’s television ads might give her the momentum to push Knaupe out of the race on Saturday. That’s part of the reason—perhaps the easiest factor to understand—in analyzing what happened.

Peck Young, one of Kim’s consultants, said, “I think it came down to the fact that we put up TV.” He also credited his candidate’s message, which appealed citywide and reached young people in particular. Young also credited the endorsement of the firefighters, who put out a mailing during the last week of the campaign. Although Kim proved herself to be a prodigious fundraiser, the campaign did not have enough money to do extensive mail pieces and a big get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort. Young and consultant David Butts had to decide whether to gamble on the TV ads and hope they would move the electorate in Kim’s direction, or stick with the more standard mail and ground game. They took a chance, and it paid off.

In Fact Daily asked Knaupe if he thought Kim’s TV ads were the deciding factor. “They absolutely had something to do with it. The two candidates in the runoff did go on TV and there were a lot of new voters who hadn’t voted in a City Council race before, so the best way to reach new voters was through TV,” he said.

Young said Knaupe’s campaign “depended too much on IDs (identified supporters) that I think were way too soft—and the police endorsement. Once we got our fire endorsement and our message out there on TV, people moved to us. We were the one that picked up momentum at the end and that put us in a runoff. In a race in which nobody ever heard of anybody, especially when a bunch were voting on the referendum, TV turned out to be a much better medium of communication.”

Jennifer Kim was low-key but elated after the election. Kim told supporters at her victory party she was in shock that she had made the cut.

“Can you honestly believe we did it? We’re in a run-off,” Kim said to the crowd. “I’m so in shock, y’all. Many of you have been with me since the ground level, when people didn’t even know who Jennifer Kim was… I thank you for your support for me.”

Kim thanked her staff and Austin firefighters, who broke away from police and EMS with their endorsement of her campaign. Although she didn’t say just what her strategy would be for the run-off election, Kim told her crowd it was time to regroup and reload for the run-off election, which will not have the smoking issue on the ballot.

It was all smiles at Clarke’s party, where supporters and campaign workers paused to relax before the next hectic campaign. They were prepared for a runoff from the beginning. The only surprise was their opponent. While all three women in the race saw Knaupe as an interloper, they kept the gloves on in dealing with one another. That could change rather quickly.

Fundraising will continue to be a big issue in the runoff—but the candidates have only five weeks to raise and spend their funds. Young acknowledged that Clarke would have an initial leg up because she signed the city’s “fair campaign pledge,”—part of the package of reforms passed by referendum and added to the City Charter in 1997. The pledge limits the amount a candidate may spend in a campaign to $75,000 and the amount the candidate may contribute to his or her own campaign. Clarke was only bound by the pledge until the filing deadline for the race because none of the other candidates in the race signed the pledge.

But she will be the beneficiary of the Fair Campaign Fund. Clarke said Sunday she does not know how much money she will receive from the fund, but Kim is not eligible because she did not sign the pledge.

Butts cautioned, “Money is only one part of a campaign.” He added, “We’ll have to get out and raise a bunch of money.”

Sheffield ready to back Kim

Young said the Kim campaign would “reach out to some of our former opponents’ supporters” right away. One of those who is ready to take the call is Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield. Sheffield said the APA PAC would meet today to make a decision about its next move. He said Kim was a “close second” behind Knaupe when the group made its endorsement. But Sheffield said he believes the Jackie Goodman’s Place 3 seat should go to a woman. “I think the public was clear on that yesterday. I think that message resonated with the public.” Sheffield had plenty of praise for Kim, calling her “a fresh face, representative of Austin’s future.”

For the Clarke camp, Sunday was a day of rest—mostly. One campaign worker was in the office in the afternoon, getting ready to send out a fundraising letter. It will be harder, perhaps, to raise money now that Knaupe is out of the race. It will be more difficult to paint her as a development candidate, since most of the real estate support went to Knaupe. That could all change this week, of course. But the next five weeks could be very interesting, with both campaigns Increasing their visibility and volume.

While Clarke had the support of numerous groups—including a gaggle of Democratic and environmental organizations—she also had backing from the Austin Toll Party. The other two toll party backed candidates did not fare nearly as well. Place 1 candidate Casey Walker came in second in a field of six. Lee Leffingwell won that race with more than 62 percent of the vote. Place 4 candidate Wes Benedict also came in second to incumbent Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who won with more than 63 percent of the vote.

Austin Toll Party members are optimistic about the future of their movement despite the fact that two of the three candidates they supported in this weekend's City Council races were defeated. Organizer Sal Costello said his group had been working at a financial disadvantage compared to groups such as the Real Estate Council of Austin, which is facing a lawsuit over the contributions made by some of its members. "We had limited resources in reaching as many people as possible, when the other side has all this money and they're breaking the law," he said. He predicted the lawsuit would have major ramifications on the future of elections in Austin.

In the meantime, the Austin Toll Party will continue its support for Clarke in Place 3. "We are eager to keep pushing and educating people. We've got e-mails, we've got different ways of communicating with folks, and we'll just reach out to our base and say this is one of our candidates that's leading and we need you to get to the polls. Margot is substantially ahead, so we think that it won't be an uphill battle."

Challenger Mandy Dealey was upbeat but disappointed after her loss. Calm and prepared, she spoke to her small group of supporters gathered at a restaurant after the vote Saturday. She said she was prepared for the election to go either way but was comfortable with her goals of restoring health and human services funding, social equity and dealing humanely with the homeless.

“For me, this was a wonderful opportunity to talk about extremely important issues and to keep bringing up things that I cared about,” Dealey said. “I always wanted to keep the debate elevated so we could keep it focused on the issues.”

Smokers not quite ready to quit

Big margin in West Austin overwhelmed Eastside opposition

The smoking ban proved to be a hot-button issue for Austin voters, with more than 65,000 people taking part in the election to decide whether smoking should be prohibited in most bars and nightclubs. With relatively strong voter turnout for a city election, the smoking ban passed with 51.83percent of the vote. "When we entered this race, we knew that it would be contentious and we knew that it would be close," said Rodney Ahart with Onward Austin and the American Cancer Society. "But we were hopeful that we would come out on top and end up with a majority of the vote, which we did. We're excited."

The election night party held by Onward Austin at the Hilton Hotel downtown turned into a victory celebration, as early voting returns showed the proposal passing with 52percent. While some individual precincts voted against the proposition by slim margins, that was not enough to derail the proposition. As the cumulative returns were released by the Travis County Clerk's Office, the approval rate for the smoking ban remained between 51 and 52percent all evening.

At the Elysium nightclub on Red River, the election watch party hosted by Keep Austin Free was more subdued. "I think it's a sad day for Austin," said John Wickham, a club owner and City Council candidate who opposed the smoking ban. "It's very sad. Austin isn't going to be the same free and tolerant society that we all fell in love with any more. Welcome to Austin, California."

Wickham said that while the voters may have spoken, there's no guarantee that the ordinance will take effect on September 1, as scheduled. "There are probably some legal avenues that we're going to pursue," he said, referring to the lawsuit filed by club owners over the proposal prior to the election. Although Federal District Judge Sam Sparks dismissed the case, Wickham said they plaintiffs may be back now that the ordinance has passed. "What the judge actually said was that the case was not ripe yet. What he meant by that was we couldn't show harm, yet. I think after this passes we will be able to show harm," Wickham said. "We have seen from speakers at South by Southwest and reporters from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Billboard magazines who have talked about the devastation this has wrought on New York's live music scene."

Supporters of the measure predict the new rule will help musicians and music venues, not hurt them. "Austin is the live music capital because of the musicians because of the talent. Removing smoking from those establishments will not impact our live music status," said Ahart. "We'll be working on actually educating people about what this ordinance is about and the positive benefits it will have for the city, as well as encouraging non-smokers to get out and patronize the hospitality industry."

David Butts, a consultant for Onward Austin, said the group did a good job of identifying voters who would vote for the ordinance. Most of those who signed the group’s petition to put the matter on the ballot favored the ordinance, he said, but not all. “Most of them had never voted in a city election,” he said. Among those who voted early, Butts said, one-fifth were new voters.

City Council voters are accustomed to the constant phone calls from campaigns urging them to vote, Butts said, but that was not necessarily true of those who signed the smoking referendum petition. “It made some of them mad,” he said of the campaign’s phone calls.

Butts praised the efforts of Keep Austin Free, saying the group ran a creative and effective campaign. He noted that the anti-ordinance group spent a lot less money but used radio advertising effectively. After complaints from their own supporters, he said, Onward Austin put up its own radio ads in the final week. Waiting so long was probably a mistake, he said, noting the narrow margin of victory for the ordinance.

The ordinance garnered more support from women than from men, Butts said, and did better in affluent parts of Austin than others. Although the ban is not necessarily a Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative issue, the ban won by 62 percent of the vote at Matthews Elementary School, one the city’s liberal bellwethers. But it also won by 59 percent at conservative Casis Elementary School. Both precincts serve West Austin.

In Montopolis, however, Precinct 428’s voters rejected the ban with 63 percent of the vote. In South Austin, 58 percent of those voting at Dawson Elementary School on South First Street, also opposed the ban. Although much of East Austin and some of South Austin followed the same trend, the smaller turnout at those boxes meant that the vote in West Austin carried more weight.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

How to get people out to vote: Have a hotly contested referendum. The total vote when all items were combined was 14.29 percent or 70,178 votes. But in the smoking ban proposition, there were 65,974 votes cast, more than in any other item. Place 3 votes totaled 59,265. Place 4 drew 57,206 votes and Place 1 54,145. In 2003, 15 percent of those registered voted in the Mayor’s race. A few weeks later, when Council Member Brewster McCracken was elected, only 10 percent of the electorate voted. In 2002, only 9 percent voted in three City Council races. In 2000, only 7 percent voted . . . Still interested ?. . . Gregg Knaupe said Sunday he still has a strong drive to serve his community but as to whether he might want to run again, he said, “I haven’t even given it any thought. Literally, I just put it all out of my mind today” . . . Keeps trying . . . Perennial candidate Jennifer Gale was happy to come in third in her race to unseat Betty Dunkerley. Even though she did not come close to Dunkerley’s 62 percent or Wes Benedict’s 18 percent, Gale still garnered 5,315 votes, or more than 9 percent of the total in that race . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment and Sign Review Board will meet at 5:30pm in the Council chambers at City Hall . . . The group will meet again at 11:30am Thursday to hear an administrative appeal from a building official’s determination on passive energy design. . . Lawmaker remembered . . . Rosary will be said for State Rep. Joe Moreno (D-Houston) at 7pm tonight at Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in Houston. Moreno died early last Friday in a rollover accident as the truck he was driving back to Austin from Houston crashed near LaGrange. Another State Representative and a legislative aide were injured. Moreno’s funeral will be at 10am Tuesday at the Catholic Charismatic Center in Houston, and he will be buried at 4pm Tuesday at the Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota Street, in Austin. In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to: Joe E. Moreno Scholarship Fund at Laredo National Bank.

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