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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Monday, December 12, 2016 by Jo Clifton
Of mudslinging and money in District 10
With very low turnout for early voting, the campaigns for incumbent District 10 City Council Member Sheri Gallo and challenger Alison Alter are making every effort to turn out the vote for Tuesday’s runoff election.
Some of those efforts by the candidates and their supporters have not just slanted the facts but have been outright fabrications.
For example, Gallo untruthfully accused Alter of missing too many meetings of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board and said that was the reason she asked her colleagues to vote to remove Alter and appoint another person to the board. The Austin American-Statesman‘s fact-checker labeled the assertion “Pants on Fire.” At the time that she asked her colleagues to remove Alter, Gallo said it was because Alter planned to run against her.
On the other side, as the Austin Monitor disclosed last week, a supporter of Alter’s, but not her campaign, falsely accused Gallo’s appointment to the Zoning and Platting Commission of having financial ties to Gallo’s husband and failing to disclose those ties on the financial statement she was required to file with the city.
This election has also brought Council races into the Facebook attack era. Opponents of the Austin Oaks planned unit development – at the intersection of MoPac Expressway and Spicewood Springs Road – have a Facebook page called Stop the PUD at Austin Oaks.
Gallo’s opponents at the Arbor political action committee also have a website dedicated to attacks on Gallo, mostly related to her support for various PUDs.
To counter those efforts against Gallo, former Mayor Bruce Todd and former Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken wrote an op-ed piece for the Statesman over the weekend, in which they draw a parallel between trends in Austin and at the national level: “Over the past year, our country has witnessed a disturbing change in our political culture. Cyberbullying, fake news, claims of rigged votes, a breakdown of civility – all are part of a decline in how people express political disagreements and seek to achieve political aims.”
Referring to the Austin Oaks planned unit development, they wrote, “Unfortunately, here in Austin, we are witnessing a particularly toxic episode in this saga. … In terms of pure viciousness and their efforts to shout down residents’ voices, the tactics employed by a faction opposing (Austin Oaks) represent a concerning abandonment of established community norms – even in bare-knuckled Austin politics.”
Todd and McCracken then recount the efforts of the Austin Oaks developer and “over 600 neighbors” to come to an agreement by taking part in a charrette: “Through this process emerged a very different vision for Austin Oaks from the original developer proposal,” they wrote, noting that the new proposal earned the approval of a majority of participants as well as the Zoning and Platting Commission.
“Concurrent with all of this, though,” they continued, “a faction that opposes this plan has embarked on an ugly campaign to smear and silence anyone who utters support for the mediated proposal. They have particularly targeted for retaliation those involved with this mediated process. In particular, (Gallo) and the neighborhood’s board of directors have been subjected to ugly smear campaigns of relentless cyberbullying, innuendo, anonymous attacks and false accusations of corruption and of having financial interests in the redevelopment.”
Stop the PUD at Austin Oaks Facebook page called this commentary “fake news” and labeled Todd and McCracken as lobbyists, a pejorative in much of Austin. However, neither is a registered lobbyist with the city. McCracken has been executive director of the nonprofit Pecan Street Inc. since he left Council in 2009.
Todd told the Monitor on Sunday that he has had “a couple of clients,” including the EMS union, in the past, but that he hasn’t done any lobbying at the city for about five years. He does lobby for out-of-town clients, however.
Alter certainly seems to have an edge over the incumbent in what might be called the anger quotient. Although neighborhoods surrounding the Grove development came to a resolution over what should happen at that PUD, there are still neighbors who are upset about the development. That matter is up for third reading on Thursday, two days after the election.
The Austin Oaks PUD, also the subject of a mediated resolution, is on the same agenda.
Alter also has a financial edge over Gallo, according to the latest round of campaign finance reports, which were filed last week. Those eight-day reports show that Alter received $78,767 from contributors and an additional $64,171 from the city under the Fair Campaign Ordinance, bringing her total since the Oct. 31 report to $142,938.
Gallo reported raising $69,728 over the same period. She did not receive any funds from the city and accused Alter of cheating when she received the city funds; however, it’s clear that Alter was following the city’s regulations.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Sheri Gallo: Austin City Council member who represents District 10