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Cole announces re-election bid for Place 6 Council seat

Thursday, December 1, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

On Wednesday, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole put to rest any further rumors that she might be running for the mayor’s job, kicking off her re-election campaign in East Austin. Cole joined her three fellow Council members up for re-election in May – Mayor Lee Leffingwell and members Bill Spelman, and Mike Martinez, all of whom declared their candidacies within the last two weeks.

Melba Whatley, president of the Waller Creek Conservancy, introduced Cole to the crowd and the Rev. Joe Parker spoke warmly of Cole. Also attending the event were NAACP President Nelson Linder and former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, two people Cole appointed to the 2012 Charter Revision Commission. 

In 2006, Cole became the first African-American woman elected to City Council. She was re-elected in 2009, and earlier this year she was chosen by her Council colleagues to be mayor pro tem.

Others attending include Council members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo; State Rep. Dawnna Dukes; Planning Commission Members Saundra Kirk and Mandy Dealey; environmentalists Mary Arnold and Roy Waley; former Council Member Betty Dunkerley, Andy Brown, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party; and political consultant David Butts.

Also there were Steve Stewart, head of the EMS employees union; AFSCME Political Action Coordinator Jack Kirfman; and former Council Member Brigid Shea, who may or may not be challenging Leffingwell this spring. Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis and former Council Member Willie Lewis also attended.

In her remarks to the crowd of approximately 50, Cole said that as Austin continues to grow, it’s important for that growth to positively affect all its citizens, not just a few.

“The city of Austin is changing,” Cole said. “And yes, we have opportunities, but we have a disparity of opportunities. We can ignore this at our own peril. … The state and local governments are sending us less and less resources and we are forced at City Hall to spread less and less resources over more and more people.”

As such, Cole continued, City Council and Austin’s citizens need to focus on improving education as a way of reducing poverty and expanding economic opportunity.

“Without education, you can’t earn income. And without income you do not have a tax base. And if you do not have a tax base, you do not have clean water, clean air, safe neighborhoods, and all the things we treasure in the city that we love,” said Cole.

After her speech, Cole told In Fact Daily that, if elected for a third term, she will focus her attention on making government more transparent and on “affordability issues, whether we’re talking about water rates or energy rates or affordable housing.”

“I also will continue to work on clean water, specifically with Waller Creek,” she said. “And we never do enough to work with our school districts in terms of mentoring and partnering and sharing joint resources and planning, because education is the number one determinant of a person’s income.”

Cole’s seat, Place 6, is traditionally the seat set aside for an African-American as part of the city’s so-called “gentlemen’s agreement.” Cole said that if she is re-elected, she will work to eliminate the need for that agreement by helping to set up a new single-member system of Council representation.

“We have not fully had an open dialogue about the process of changing our system of government,” Cole said. “But I know one thing: It’s time to bury the concept of a gentleman’s place.” The Charter Revision Commission – made up of Council-selected citizens – is charged with the task of making recommendations concerning geographic district representation.

Cole told In Fact Daily that a well-constructed single-member system would increase citizen – and particularly minority – participation in government and eliminate the need for a gentleman’s agreement.

“I want to bury the concept that we can only sit in Place 6, that we can’t sit in any other seat or in any other office,” Cole said. “The idea of limiting minorities to particular places and seats needs to be buried.”

The NAACP’s Linder told In Fact Daily that Cole’s dedication to a broader, more inclusive government is why she deserves to be re-elected.

“We need more inclusive government. The system is not responsive enough,” said Linder. “I think she’s open to having a new form of government, which, in my opinion, means single-member districts.

“She’s been very effective, very balanced, very inclusive, very well-qualified. She’s probably the most balanced Council member. She’s good on police brutality, misconduct, the economy. She’s addressed everybody’s concerns: those who are poor and those who are rich.”

Cole has yet to hire a consultant or campaign manager. However, her former consultant David Butts, opined that she did not need a consultant—as yet she has no opponent.

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