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Down But Not Out

Shea urges supporters to keep fighting

By Amy Smith, 2:29AM, Sun. May. 13, 2012

Brigid Shea
Brigid Shea
photo by Jana Birchum

When she finally threw in the towel, Brigid Shea joked that her concession speech won't be legally binding in the event Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s numbers begin to "magically" fall below 50 percent. Then she launched into a pull-yourself-up pep talk to a cheering crowd, urging them to continue pressing for change at City Hall.

“This election was about the future of our city,” she told supporters at Mexita's restaurant in East Austin. “Thank you for being so passionate about your city. We have raised the issue of affordability, we have changed the conversation around incentives … we did that you guys!” She pointed to changes already made in campaign finance loopholes during the course of the mayoral race, and she rallied the troops to continue watch-dogging who’s getting the big contracts at the city.

Addressing neighborhoods and their assorted battles, she said, “We have an enviable city, where our urban neighborhoods are still beautiful and thriving because of the passion. You guys are making Austin what it is, not the mayor and council!”

Shea's party (which oddly enough remained upbeat for much of the night) included Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathi Tovo, former state Rep. Ann Kitchen, and Shea's former dais mate Council Member Jackie Goodman. Had Shea gotten into a runoff to continue raising the issues, she may have had a better outcome. It was pointed out that a Shea victory would have given the city its first ever woman-majority council.

Conceding to Leffingwell by phone, Shea told him she hopes affordability issues make it onto the agenda and she offered to help if it is welcomed. “I feel we raised really substantial issues that are on the minds of so many Austinites,” she said later. Starting the race late in the game against tough odds, Shea loaned her campaign $25,000 to help gain footing. She picked up momentum but it wasn't enough to take on an incumbent. Toward the end of the run, Shea loaned her campaign $40,000. “We felt we needed to do that to get our message out," she said. "We were trying really hard to raise money but we felt we needed the additional money to really make our case about the need to change direction for the city. I think that helped us get closer.”

Leffingwell felt Shea gaining steam. Four days before the election, he loaned his campaign $30,000, adding enough fuel to avoid a runoff but leaving his campaign with a $90,000 debt. With the additional funding, Leffingwell pounded Shea on her contracts with the city and on her past support for corporate incentives, which she campaigned against in the mayor's race.

Context: Shea had supported giving incentives to companies as part of a "smart growth" agenda initiated by Democratic Sen. and former mayor Kirk Watson.

In the mid-Nineties, Watson challenged the Chamber's candidate and rode into power with the help of the environmental community. This was at a time when developers were still licking their wounds over passage of the Save Our Springs water quality protection ordinance. Watson set about trying to steer big companies away from the sensitive watershed areas of the Edwards Aquifer. He offered the companies incentives to move elsewhere, including Downtown, which he envisioned turning into a 24-hour city, much as it is today.

Shea backed Watson’s leadership on the issue because she felt it was a win-win for both the aquifer and the revitalization of Downtown. It was a risk. Intel's decision to build Downtown was a much-celebrated move (reluctantly for some enviros who weren’t keen on incentives), but the mood darkened, not long after construction began. The economy took a nosedive and Intel pulled the plug on the project, leaving an ugly shell.

Sometime after that, a small group of business and community leaders gathered to discuss what to do with the concrete stain along West Fifth. Watson wasn't at the meeting but Shea was there, ready to help try to clean up the mess.

At the end of Saturday evening, Save Our Springs Alliance’s Bill Bunch, who has had a few famous feuds with Shea, hugged the defeated candidate and kissed her on the forehead. “You’re amazing,” he said.

Shea's next move? She isn't sure, but she doesn't think it will involve city contracting, at least not in the near future. She has a developing interest in consumer behavior change to help protect the planet against global warming. One thing is certain: "I will continue being active as a citizen."

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