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TV ads confirm the approach of City Council Election Day

Monday, April 28, 2008 by Austin Monitor

With just under two weeks to go before Election Day, a City Council campaign that has been flying below the radar of the average Austin voter will begin making its presence known to the masses in the form of television ads designed to drive voters to the polls, if not to distraction, as well.


Beyond spending for a few yard signs, consultants and some pizza for the campaign workers, most of the campaigns have held back large amounts of money in order to make a media buy during early voting and up to May 10. TV ads are by far the most expensive, but most candidates believe they are the best way to reach the largest number of voters. Look for the number and frequency of TV ads to increase on the local airwaves and cable systems over the next 12 days.


Some are already running TV ads, even if they are not in the race. Northcross area store owner Rick Culleton stepped up his campaign against Lee Leffingwell and added Jennifer Kim to his list of targets last week. Culleton’s attacks on the incumbents now appear regularly in a television commercial.


“Why do people think the City Council pays more attention to politically connected special interests than to our neighborhoods? It’s because of politicians like Jennifer Kim and Leffingwell,” says the voiceover in the commercial paid for by Culleton, the owner of Discount Electronics.


No mention of the Wal-Mart but some of Culleton’s earlier ads attached to his business ad in the Austin Chronicle appeared to not quite meet state political ad guidelines. After the election, the Texas Ethics Commission will investigate a complaint by former consultant Mike Blizzard about Culleton’s ad on behalf of Place 1 candidate Jason Meeker, which criticized Leffingwell. Alan Demling is also running for Place 1.


Culleton’s television spot accuses Leffingwell and Kim of voting for to create the fund that would have loaned $750,000 to the owners of Las Manitas so they could move their restaurant but remain on Congress Avenue. Leffingwell favored the loan when the idea first came up but ended up voting against it—along with Council Member Sheryl Cole.


The Perez sisters, who own Las Manitas, rejected the terms of the loan but the city never officially stated that the program would be dismantled. At the time, the program was designed to retain businesses on Congress Avenue and East Sixth Street.


Culleton also criticizes Kim and Leffingwell for voting in favor of a $15,000 raise for Council members. Kim has consistently stated that although she voted for the raise, she is not taking that amount in her paycheck.


The ad concludes by saying the city needs to elect Kim challenger, Randi Shade, and Leffingwell opponent Meeker “to bring change to City Hall.”


Meeker has said on numerous occasions that he had no knowledge of Culleton’s Chronicle advertising before seeing the ads.


In response to Culleton’s TV ad, Shade released the following statement:  “I’ve been made aware today that Mr. Rick Culleton, the owner of Discount  Electronics, has begun airing television commercials which are critical of Jennifer Kim and which advocate for my candidacy. I want to make clear that I have never met with or talked to Mr. Culleton about my campaign, and have no previous association with him.”


Shade said Culleton did make an unsolicited online contribution to her campaign last week, but maintained that she is “in no way involved in his effort and have not received any notification from him regarding any of his independent expenditures.”


For her part, Kim started running a spot this past weekend that highlights the fact that she has not accepted the pay raise and opposes payments to the Domain. It concludes with her saying, “I’m sure not perfect but I’ll stand up for you on the City Council.”


In the race for Place 4, Cid Galindo and Laura Morrison make clear in their TV spots that they both want to “manage growth.” But they stress different aspects and the informed observer will hear very real differences between the two.


Galindo points to his plan to alleviate traffic congestion and sprawl, “putting an end to unmanaged growth.” 


Morrison, on the other hand, begins her TV ad by attacking the current City Council for rushing to make deals with developers. She says the Council has “given away millions to certain developers. Now they’re rushing to sell the last five acres of prime city land on Lady Bird Lake for more high rises. That’s just not right.”


Morrison is referring, of course, to the city’s plan to sell the old Green Water Treatment Plant on Cesar Chavez. Developers are currently putting together bids and plans for the site. However, the Council stressed the need to build workforce housing—not expensive condos.


“We’ve been saying if we don’t do high rises, you could get more affordability,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. Because of infrastructure requirements, it is more expensive to build high rises than mid-rise structures.


Robin Cravey, who won the American-Statesman’s endorsement this weekend, is also running in Place 4, along with Jennifer Gale, Sam Osemene and Ken Vasseau.

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