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Texans for Accountable Government endorses Council challengers

Thursday, March 29, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

Monday’s Texans for Accountable Government City Council candidate forum – the group’s first – was a spirited affair, if ultimately unfriendly for the two incumbents brave enough to attend. Their bravery of Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Member Bill Spelman in the face of overwhelming audience displeasure may not have been enough to win the group’s endorsements, but it did earn them the respect of TAG Executive Director Heather Fazio and her small but passionate group of civil liberties activists.

After two hours of candidate grilling, the group voted to endorse group member Clay Dafoe for mayor, Laura Pressley for Place 2, self-described anarchist John Duffy in Place 5, and Shaun Ireland in his race against Cole for Place 6. Mayor Lee Leffingwell didn’t attend the event, nor did Council Member Mike Martinez, who had planned on attending but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts, according to his campaign manager, Sylvia Camarillo. The Council member instead attended a fundraiser and the League of Bicycling Voters’ forum.

Fazio told In Fact Daily she was disappointed, but not surprised, by the absence of Leffingwell and Martinez. “Martinez canceled an hour before the forum via text,” she said, “which was really cowardly and disrespectful, but to be expected.”

And Leffingwell? “His majesty didn’t grace us with his presence,” Fazio said. Mayoral candidate Brigid Shea arrived late and did not address the crowd.

Fazio established the tone of the TAG forum early. Before introducing the evening’s moderator, former member Norman Horn, she told the crowd, “If we don’t feel like (the candidates are) really answering the question we’re going to ring the bell and call B.S.”

It was clearly that the economic development agreement Council approved with Apple last week was going to be a sticking point for the group. Dafoe, who Fazio said, “has been calling it like he sees it” at City Council meetings, won enthusiastic support from the crowd when he told them he would not give “massive tax breaks for massive corporations at the expense of our rights.”

“We need to cut out corporate welfare,” Dafoe said. “We as taxpayers shouldn’t pay for their corporate objectives.”

Spelman, who acknowledged that the “great and lively crowd” was probably “not going to be (his) crowd,” defended his support for the Apple deal, arguing that it would bring more than 3,000 jobs into the city at no cost to the taxpayer.

“I think that’s a good deal, and that’s what the Apple deal does,” Spelman said.

Spelman challenger Tina Cannon, who came in as a TAG favorite, surprised some in the audience by coming out in support of the Apple deal as well.

“You’re not going to like this, but we need a smart economic development plan,” Cannon said. “I like the Apple subsidy. We need good-paying jobs. I think it’s a net win. … Plus, Apple offers unparalleled benefits package. As a gay Austinite, for me they offer the best domestic partnership package of any company in the United States.”

The other candidates, however, were clear in their displeasure.

“What can I say about a company that makes billions getting a gift of millions from us just to move here,” said Place 5 hopeful John Rubine. “If they move here they’re doing themselves a favor because this is a fantastic city. They should move here and we shouldn’t pay them a penny.”

Duffy was even more direct: “There should be no public tax money for private corporations,” he said, to loud applause.

Pressley, meanwhile, who sat onstage alone, said the Apple deal was indicative of a general pattern of Council behavior, one, she said, that puts a priority on outside corporate interests over affordability.

“Their goals are not our individual well-being,” she said. “It’s how they can give subsidies and kickbacks to large developers and big money: that’s what important to this Council, not what’s good for us.”

But Mayor Pro Tem Cole said she voted for the agreement because she believes it will help keep Austin affordable in the long run.

“Ninety-three percent of the jobs will be going to Austinites,” Cole said. “I looked at (the agreement) as an investment in parks and affordable housing and in Austin.”

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