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Leffingwell to file for Mayor today

Friday, January 16, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Confirming a widely expected decision, City Council veteran Lee Leffingwell said Thursday he intends to file the documents required to join the race for Mayor of Austin this morning.


A retired Delta pilot who was born and raised in Austin, Leffingwell, 69, joins Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken and former Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, both of whom have been collecting funds for the race since last year.


Asked about his late entry into the race from a financial standpoint, Leffingwell said, “Certainly it’s a disadvantage that I’ll be starting a campaign late and I’ve tried to address that issue by making a pledge to myself to loan the campaign the amount (McCracken or Strayhorn, whichever is highest) have raised through Dec. 31.” According to a report filed with the City Clerk on Thursday, Strayhorn raised more than $41,000.


Leffingwell gave In Fact Daily a preview of the issues he will be stressing in his campaign, beginning with stabilizing the economy.


The city manager is going to present a menu of possible cuts to the City Council in February. However, Leffingwell says, “Public safety and social services are the last place we should cut. I’ve never supported across the board cuts and I think they should be prioritized according to the most important needs of the city, so those are among the highest priorities and…we absolutely can’t afford to make cuts that impact the quality or quantity of public safety or social services.”


Leffingwell said his plan includes creation of a “green collar” job training strategy. He said he would ask all area workforce development groups and major employers to join forces on a Green Collar Jobs Council to decide how to increase such training. Leffingwell said American YouthWorks currently has such a training program, teaching young people how to install solar panels and weatherize homes and build green structures.


“Everybody that I know is going to be focusing on a green economy. We’re going to be focusing on ways to conserve energy and water and a lot of this is going to come about by the use of renewable energy and conservation techniques,” he said. There has been much talk nationally, as well as locally, about solving the Global Warming problems, cutting dependence on foreign oil and meeting energy demands by revving up the use of renewable energy. However, Leffingwell pointed out that Austin doesn’t have the workforce to actually implement these proposals.


In addition, Leffingwell promised to pursue a bond election for both road and sidewalks and a new rail election “by no later than May 2010.” He acknowledged that the current recession could affect the plans for that election.


McCracken has also focused on the possibilities for Austin related to the envisioned “green economy” and he has advocated having another rail election, pushing at one point for such an election this spring. That was before the economy sputtered, however.


Asked how his aspirations differ from McCracken’s, Leffingwell said, “While I’m not ceding the vision thing, I tend to concentrate on achievable goals.” McCracken, he said, seems to be more of a long-range planner. As for his other declared rival, Strayhorn, Leffingwell points out that she started her political life as a Democrat, switched to the Republican Party, and then became an independent. Both Leffingwell and McCracken are Democrats. Leffingwell said he has been inspired by the leadership of President-elect Barack Obama and hopes to tap into the energy and enthusiasm for public service Obama has generated.


He added, “I have a couple of ideas that I think will inspire citizenship, by which I mean ideas that will encourage broader participation in the local government process. We have a lot of interests that are very active but I think we need to engage the population as a whole.”


One thing Leffingwell hopes to do from the Mayor’s office is create something he calls AustinCorps, a citywide internship program for high school and college students. This would teach students about local government and allow the city to trade its knowledge base for work that the students could perform. Leffingwell calls this a signature issue, one he enjoys envisioning.


In addition to publishing all of the city’s finances on the city’s web site, doubling the time between posting of meeting agendas and the actual meeting, and holding more Council meetings in different parts of the city, Leffingwell said, “One of my first priorities will be to establish what I call the Mayor’s Cabinet.” This would include people from the business and environmental communities as well as non-profits and neighborhoods. The makeup would have to be diverse and reflect the ethnic makeup of Austin, he said.


Leffingwell campaign consultant Mark Nathan, said, “This is a very aggressive but achievable set of initiatives that I believe can help Austin advance the ball in some important areas.  Lee’s style has always been to focus on projects that can help make a positive impact in people’s everyday lives sooner rather than later, and this agenda is no different. The big picture is abundantly clear to Lee, but he’s also got a great eye for small details and tends to focus on trying to make progress in the here and now.” David Butts, local longtime political consultant, is also working for Leffingwell.


Leffingwell said he intends to make a formal announcement on Saturday.

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