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Defiant Shade draws distinctions, affirms place in runoff election

Friday, May 20, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

If anyone was entertaining thoughts that Council Member Randi Shade would be drifting quietly off the Austin political stage following her disappointing showing on Election Day, the incumbent put those notions to bed Thursday at City Hall.

Speaking to a large crowd of supporters and media, Shade made it clear that not only would she be engaging her challenger Kathie Tovo in a runoff election but also that her approach this time around was going to be much more focused.

“The stakes are too high – and the difference between me and my opponent too big – for us to quit this race,” she said. “I’ve literally been inundated with hundreds of phone calls and emails since Saturday from people urging me to stay in this race.”

Last Saturday, Tovo won nearly 47 percent of the vote in the race for the Place 3 Council spot. Shade, meanwhile, earned only 33 percent. Considering that disparity, there were some who were both expecting and advising Shade to stand down. 

Joining Shade were Mayor Lee Leffingwell, recently re-elected Council Member Chris Riley, former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, and Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks, among others.

Asked how she planned to change her approach for the runoff, Shade said the key would be to draw clearer distinctions between herself and Tovo, something she said she didn’t do during the general election.

“I didn’t do a good enough job making sure that I distinguished myself from my opponent,” Shade said. “It was very distracting to have as many people in the race; there’s been a lot of negativity. Going forward, given the fact that these issues and decisions are so critical, I think we’re going to energize a lot of voters who just didn’t show up.”

Shade went on to draw some of those distinctions.

First she defended her controversial vote on the construction of Water Treatment Plant 4, an issue that rankled environmentalists and fueled much of the momentum of the electorate toward Tovo. “(WTP4) is absolutely critical to ensuring that Austin has a safe, adequate supply of drinking water for the next generation,” Shade said.

Shade argued that Tovo’s refusal to say whether she would vote to stop construction on the plant is a tacit admission that she would. And that, Shade said, would cost the “citizens of Austin millions and millions of dollars.”

“We’re passed the point of stopping this,” Shade went on. “If we stop construction, it would mean literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people out of work immediately. It would mean that we would have sunk literally hundreds of millions of dollars into a project that we just put on hold. “

Reached after the press conference, Tovo told In Fact Daily that Shade’s claims are based on a “faulty assumption.”

“I’m always going to make sure that we’ve got a safe and secure and ample water supply. Period,” Tovo said. “The WTP4 project is now under way and I’m going to protect the financial interests of the city. I am going to make sure the city proceeds in the most economically efficient manner because the Council has a responsibility to save taxpayers as much money as possible.“

At the news conference, representatives of the city’s public safety unions stood behind Shade to show their continued support for her campaign. In response, Shade assured them and the city that public safety would be her “top priority,” a claim she said Tovo could not make.

“I’ve supported putting more firefighters, cops, and paramedics on the street,” she said, “and I’ve supported paying the kinds of salaries that get us the very best public safety personnel we can get.” Tovo, on the other hand, has “said very clearly that she believes we spend too much money on public safety,” Shade continued. “She’s said she believes that our investments in public safety personnel are financially unsustainable.”

Tovo once again took issue with the incumbent’s claims, calling them proof of “desperation from a failing campaign.”

“This shows that she’s grasping at straws and now fabricating mistruths about my record,” Tovo said. “I’ve never made a statement like that. I fully support the role that public safety plays, and I do not support cutting the number of police, firefighters, or paramedics.”

In the end, who wins the runoff, and ultimately the Council seat, will depend on how well the candidates can inspire voters and drive turnout over the anemic 7 percent seen last Saturday. Higher turnout, Shade said, is what she’s counting on.

“We’d better get more turnout; people better pay attention,” Shade said. “This is a very serious race with a lot at stake, so we expect to turn out more voters because of the energy and hard work of the people in this room and many of the other people they represent.

“This (election) is about a city that’s got vitality and energy, and we share many of the same values. You can’t fight change but you can make change smart.”

As for changes in her campaign, Tovo said there will be few, mainly having to do with staff members leaving and new names from other, now-completed campaigns coming in. Tovo said yesterday that Jim Wick, who ran Council Member Laura Morrison’s successful re-election campaign, will be joining her team as deputy campaign manager. Another former Morrison staffer, Shawn Badgley, will take over as field director.

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