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Diverse crowd shows up to kick off Spelman re-election campaign

Thursday, January 19, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

City Council Member Bill Spelman kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday in a room full of supporters representing some of the more disparate, even opposing, constituencies in the city.

Acknowledging the variety of political philosophies in the room, and at the same time his reputation as one of the Council’s consensus builders, Spelman told the crowd at Scholz Garten that the best way for the city to move forward is to acknowledge that “we’re all Austin” and that “we all have to figure out how to deal with our common problems.”

“Try as we might, we can’t blame (real estate lawyer) David Armbrust or (neighborhood activist) Jeff Jack or (environmentalist) Robin Rather because they’re us … none of us is the enemy,” said Spelman. “Our common enemy is what threatens Austin’s weirdness. It’s all the mistakes other cities made and that we might make too. It’s all the common solutions to all the common problems produced by common cities that could be anywhere. Austin is different.

“This place doesn’t feel like anywhere else in the world, and we need to keep it that way.”

Among those in attendance at the event were Travis County Democratic Party Chair Andy Brown, former Council Member and possible mayoral candidate Brigid Shea, former State Rep. Ann Kitchen, Roy Whaley of the Austin Sierra Club, real estate attorney Jerry Harris from Brown McCarroll, various neighborhood activists and real estate lobbyists, and Spelman’s Council colleagues Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison, and Kathie Tovo.

Perhaps to drive the city-unity point home, the campaign enlisted Robin Rather and real estate lawyer Nikelle Meade to introduce the Council member. Meade applauded Spelman for making the “really tough decisions” during his first two terms, “knowing that everyone’s not going to be happy, but when they’re in the best interests of the city of Austin.”

“(Spelman) is thoughtful in his deliberations. He bases his decisions on facts and hard data, not just on emotion,” said Meade. “He never has an illegitimate dog in the fight; he always is thinking about the city of Austin. It’s not about special interests; it’s not about some squeaky wheel. … On every issue, he’s really going to drill down, do the research, really study the issue, and he’s going to make his decision based on real facts and information. And that’s what we really need on our City Council.”

Spelman, who is currently running unopposed, said that if Austin is going to find solutions to its most serious problems going forward, it needs to continue to evolve and adapt.

“Austinites are smart enough to know that in a globalizing world, success – not just financial success or economic success but the success of living a good life, one that’s happy and productive – that kind of success doesn’t depend on size, population, or economic power. … It depends on innovating and adapting to changing circumstances, making helpful mistakes and learning from them, looking our problems straight in the eye and solving them. Keeping Austin weird is not just a semi-cool slogan; it’s a real key to survival in a brutal, difficult, changing world,” said Spelman.

The Council member then pointed to several efforts he had been a part of over the past three years as examples of the kind of progressive legislative innovation he thinks the city will need more of in the future. They included pushing the Austin Water Utility to move forward with its water reclamation program, imposing restrictions on payday lending houses, requiring crisis pregnancy centers to inform the public if they don’t provide abortion services, and increasing the number of low-to-modest-income Austinites getting free tax help from groups like Foundation Communities.

“All of this is really weird,” Spelman said. “Cities pick up trash, they sell potable water, and they answer 9-1-1 calls. They do not typically … use water twice, regulate lenders and pregnancy centers, or help people save money. But that’s what our changing world is calling for, and that’s what we need to do. Our continued ability to adapt, working within our Austin DNA, is critical for surviving and thriving as a city in the coming years.”

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