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City Council races head into final stretch

Friday, April 24, 2009 by Austin Monitor

There was a flurry of activity in the mayoral and City Council races Thursday in anticipation of the start of Early Voting on Monday.


The Austin Chronicle endorsed Lee Leffingwell for Mayor, Chris Riley for Place 1, Mike Martinez for Place 2, Bill Spelman for Place 5 and Sheryl Cole for Place 6.


The Chronicle essentially argued that Leffingwell was a better choice than McCracken because he was more mature. In their words, they said the two candidates were like choosing between “your stodgy but reliable dad or your energetic younger brother.”


The Chronicle argued strongly in favor of the stodgy choice: Leffingwell. The editorial team said Leffingwell’s been “the most reliable and thoughtful advocate for protecting core city services and those policies indispensable to citizens’ quality of life: social services, environmental protection, neighborhood programs, public outreach.”


They did not ignore the candidacy of Carole Keeton Strayhorn. “We would add, for the record and as a warning to voters, that either Leffingwell or McCracken would be leagues above former Mayor Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Austin‘s most prominent political chameleon,” they said.


The Austin American-Statesman has endorsed McCracken, citing his vision and energy, especially in bringing green jobs to Austin.


Although the Chronicle said McCracken “offers often more visible enthusiasm,” they pointed out his notorious tendency to change his mind on issues. They concluded “his consistent flaw has been his inconsistency, as his enthusiasms outstrip his judgment.”


The endorsement immediately drew pointed letters from Tim League, co-owner of the Alamo Drafthouse, and Don Pitts, an Austin Music Foundation board member, who both accused the weekly of ignoring their core audience: film and music lovers. Pitts was offended that the Chronicle endorsement didn’t even mention McCracken’s support for Austin’s entertainment industries, stating that “the paper local musicians and filmmakers rely on for our livelihood (and that gets most of its revenue from OUR livelihoods), has just told us to ‘shut up and sing.’”


Tim League wrote, “in my 13 years as a resident of Austin, I have never felt so alienated from the Chronicle editorial staff.” And ended with a bit of inspired hyperbole: “The ‘stodgy father figures’ and those who endorse them cannot win this war. If they do, Austin and a lot of what I love about this town runs the risk of dying.”


The Chronicle endorsed Chris Riley in the other truly-contested race this election: Place 1. The paper lamented that the two candidates, Riley and Perla Cavazos, could not both be elected. In the end, the editors went with Riley, because he’s “the more broadly experienced candidate with extensive, specific knowledge of city programs, as well as applied progressive credentials that he can bring to the council on his first day.”


The Place 1 race appears to be close, and both campaigns released TV ads yesterday to rally voters to their side. Cavazos’ ad was essentially a very subtle attack ad, taking aim at Riley’s emphasis on downtown development. The ad shows Cavazos downtown, where she asks: “From valet parking to $500,000 condos, do you ever wonder if you’re still in Austin ?” The ad doesn’t mention specific policy goals, but Cavazos emphasizes that “In today’s economy we need to address the human side” of the city’s problems. See the ad, which began running on Thursday at .


The ad for Chris Riley, Cavazos’ opponent, is much more in the tradition Austin political ad watchers have come to expect. Riley introduces himself and says, “These are serious times and we need serious leadership.” The setting is first a park and then in front of a small home. His ad emphasizes his experience and promises to “move Austin forward by creating green jobs, improving public transit and protecting affordability.” See his ad, which also began running yesterday at


The public safety unions, which already endorsed Leffingwell, took an opportunity to today to take a shot at McCracken, who continued to say this week that any salary cuts for city employees must include those in public safety. During City Manager Marc Ott’s briefing on the city’s financial position on Wednesday, McCracken once again suggested that police and EMS contracts be renegotiated, and also suggested that all city employees, including council members, take a one percent pay cut.


The letter, signed by leaders in the police, fire and EMS unions, said that the proposal was “premature and political.” Still, the unions admitted that they were “aware of the possibility that salary cuts for city employees could become necessary at some point in the future, if city tax revenue continues to dramatically decline.” (In fact, city staff has predicted the city will be almost $30 million in the red next year.) The letter stated that Leffingwell has “made it very clear to us that if all city employees are ever asked to accept a salary cut, then public safety salaries should also be on the table. We have not yet reached that time, but if we do, our commitment is to be part of the solution.”

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