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Kitchen rallies support as recall effort remains in holding pattern

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

A group shrouded in mystery failed to deliver on its promise of a political blockbuster on Monday, in the process digging up new questions to pile upon a tall stack of older unanswered ones. After teasing a big announcement late last week, the group – known as Austin4All – declared that it had gathered enough signatures to force City Council Member Ann Kitchen into a recall election. However, as of Monday evening, the group hadn’t submitted its petition to the city clerk.

Austin4All’s co-directors, Rachel Kania and Tori Moreland, did not respond to an email from the Austin Monitor asking when – or, indeed, if – they plan on turning the petition in. In earlier messages, they explained that they were both in Iowa for the presidential nominating caucuses on Monday night.

The recall effort is purportedly a reaction to Kitchen’s attempts to tighten regulations imposed on transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. Austin4All’s petition is a separate venture from another petition that aims to bring the regulations to a voter referendum. After announcing that they had collected enough signatures, the organizers of that effort quickly delivered the petition to the Office of the City Clerk.

If Austin4All’s boasts prove to be true, Kitchen will have five days after verification of the signatures to resign or to face a recall referendum as early as May.

Should that happen, Kitchen won’t go down without a fight – nor without support. On Monday morning, scores of supporters gathered at a South Austin coffee shop in Kitchen’s District 5. Planning Commissioner Tom Nuckols blasted what he characterized as a “deceptive campaign” used to gather the signatures.

According to a written statement provided by the organizers of the event, “Austin4All is claiming that Ann Kitchen is pushing for restrictions on all BBQ and food trailers. The PAC is hiring on Craigslist saying that the reason is ‘… to help keep Uber and other small businesses in Austin flourishing.’”

Onion Creek resident Kathy Pillmore has a harsher take on the situation. “This petulant attempt by unknown yet well-funded individuals to unseat (Kitchen) is childish at best and a major distraction at worst,” she said.

Council Member Delia Garza also attended the gathering to give her colleague her full-throated support. “It’s been a privilege and honor to serve with Ann. She’s one of the most thoughtful, fiery advocates up there. You don’t go against Ann. We’ve learned that,” Garza said to cheers. “I definitely, definitely stand with Ann.”

On Monday afternoon, nearly the entire Council demonstrated its support for Kitchen at a press conference outside City Hall.

Council Member Greg Casar organized the event, which was attended by Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Ora Houston, Garza, Pio Renteria, Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo and Sheri Gallo. Casar announced that he is ready to campaign on Kitchen’s behalf if a recall election is triggered, a sentiment echoed by Adler, who panned the idea of a recall triggered by a political disagreement.

“I just went through a campaign a year ago. The citizens of this city said they wanted us to start moving forward in a different direction and in a new way,” the mayor said. “This feels like old Austin, where people picked sides, where people didn’t listen to each other, where we weren’t trying to achieve the best results in the city. What’s happening here is wrong.”

Indeed, Austin4All’s existence may predate the city’s new system of geographical representation. In 2014, a group with the same name conducted a petition drive whose aim and organizers raised questions.

The Monitor found documents from January of that year showing that an Austin4All incorporated in Hays County as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit – which are forbidden from participating “in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” When asked on Monday whether that was the same group, Moreland said, “We had no involvement and cannot speak to any affiliation.”

There are no other records of another Austin4All, let alone one that is filed as a political action committee, as the group appears to claim to be. According to campaign finance rules, any group that spends more than $500 must report the expenditures. As of the most recent filing deadline, no such records exist.

Kitchen said that she views the recall effort as an attack on her constituents, who made Kitchen one of only two Council members who were elected without having to face a runoff. “Now they’ve got someone from the outside,” Kitchen told the gaggle of press outside City Hall. “They don’t know who’s funding it, they’re telling lies throughout the neighborhood, they’re not identifying themselves. So it’s really a threat to the people of District 5 who have the representative that they chose. And I think it is a horrible precedent for this new system that we have and a threat for the entire city.”

In a press release issued on Monday morning, Kania and Moreland said that Austin4All is a “progressive, non-partisan organization of pro-growth, pro-innovation, and pro-technology Austinites.” Moreland repeated that claim in an email to the Monitor sent later that afternoon.

“We are fundraising from progressive leaders in Austin,” she wrote. “Our donors will surprise you if you are hoping this is a partisan action or traditional political operation.”

Moreland did not respond to a follow-up email requesting a list of the group’s donors.

The claim that the group is “progressive” raised eyebrows on Monday. In conversations at both pro-Kitchen events, her supporters pointed out that both Kania and Moreland are professionally linked to the presidential campaigns of Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, two prominent voices of conservative and libertarian policies. Kania also worked on Council Member Don Zimmerman’s campaign, a fact the outspoken conservative acknowledged on Monday before saying that he’s staying neutral on the recall imbroglio.

“Libertarianism and progressivism are both incredibly loaded terms,” Moreland explained to the Monitor. “Rachel and I both share nuanced ideologies that I think transcend our own personal viewpoints and are very reflective of young, forward-thinking Austinites and business owners.”

Kania seconded that sentiment in the group’s press release. It quotes her as saying that Kitchen’s TNC regulations would put Austinites out of work. Kania concludes, “We will not stand for that. Austin4All is here to ensure that our local politicians and policies are responsive to the wants and desires of Austin’s young, forward-thinking populus (sic).”

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