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Election Notes

Endorsements and dollars accumulate as campaigns hit stretch

By Michael King, Fri., May 5, 2006

Election Notes
Photo By John Anderson

Names & Money

Municipal election campaign endorsements, one by one, are generally worth just about the paper they're no longer printed on – e-mail and the Web having supplanted much of the pulp-rolling in recent years, beyond the campaign door hangers moving swiftly from front porches to recycling bins all over town this week. We've reported before about the dubious consultant lobbying and overlapping memberships that underlie many of the endorsing groups, and endorsements often say more about the endorsing groups than the candidates – that is, voters should take them all with a large grain of salt. That said, it's helpful to note a preponderance of endorsements, decision-splitting, and any special-interest trends that the endorsements might suggest. Here we go:

• Mayor: Unsurprisingly, incumbent Will Wynn has collected virtually every endorsement to be had, from AFSCME (city employees' union) to the West Austin Democrats, and beyond. Challenger and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas doesn't even have a Web site to list endorsements – www.wynnagain.com helpfully notes that the Austin Police Association and the city-county EMS employee association awarded "dual endorsements," recognizing Thomas' service and his previous career as an APD officer. Since the public employees' unions are inevitably described as "all-powerful" in local pol-buzz, one might surmise a close race for mayor. One would surmise wrong; although it is possible that some toll-road backlash against Wynn and some Props. 1 and 2 protest vote might go Thomas-ward.

• Place 2: This three-way race is a little more competitive, with Hispanic Chamber chair Eliza May giving a hard run to Austin firefighters union president Mike Martinez. May has only a handful of endorsements, but they include the influential Austin Neighborhoods Council, Mexican American Democrats, and West Austin Democrats, as well as Eastside newspapers The Villager and La Prensa. Martinez boasts roughly three times as many group endorsements – ranging from all the organized labor endorsements, most of the Democratic clubs, and several business groups – as well as the Statesman and the Chronicle, and even the Austin Toll Party (dual with Wes Benedict). Libertarian longshot Benedict lists no other formal endorsements, but he has run often enough to pick up some Anglo and name-ID vote regardless.

• Place 5: Incumbent Brewster McCracken has the lion's share of the endorsements, including the unions, most of the Democratic clubs, the newspapers, and a couple of seemingly unlikely names, the Austin Women's Political Caucus (dual) and the Texas Environmental Democrats. Of his opponents, only Kedron Touvell has left a visible ding in McCracken's re-election veneer, winning the endorsements of AWPC (dual), the Central Austin Dems, the Austin Toll Party/PET PAC and the local Sierra Club, because of his anti-toll, pro-Props. 1 and 2 positions. The ATP loss must have galled toll warrior Mark Hopkins; neither he nor Colin Kalmbacher are demonstrating significant traction.

Place 6: We're not handicapping, but on the stump this appears to be the closest race, although the endorsements argue otherwise. Sheryl Cole is way out in front with a couple dozen – the city unions, most of the Dem clubs, the Chronicle, and even the Toll Party, although that one might have seemed to belong by right to Oak Hill resident Darrell Pierce. Pierce has received the nod from the Southwest Austin Dems, the Circle C PAC, some small business PACs, and The Villager. His big pickup last week was the Statesman endorsement, for his business background and for "geographic balance." He also notes individual backing of several former council members, including Jackie Goodman, Charles Urdy, former mayor Lee Cooke, and most curiously, former Place 6 Council Member Eric Mitchell (now of Atlanta), who declares, "Darrell will be a champion for not only those who look like him, but a champion for the Austin community at-large." DeWayne Lofton boasts only the Black Women's Political Caucus, the Mexican American Democrats, and the Lesbian Gay Political Caucus.


The Money Race

Austin's increasingly creaky campaign-finance law – likely to be tinkered upward by Prop. 5 – has one major virtue: the $100 individual limit requires candidates to reach out to large numbers of Austinites to gather sufficient support to run a citywide campaign. By default, however, it favors the personally wealthy and incumbents, and we've yet to summon the public will to do anything about the PACs, which run their own heavily financed campaigns. But reviewing the numbers can echo or counterpoint the endorsement lists. The eight-day pre-election reports are due this Friday, May 5; here's what we know now.

• Mayor: As of early April, Wynn had raised over $100,000 and had nearly $60,000 on hand. Thomas had raised $7,400 and had $3,600.

• Place 2: By early April, both Martinez and May had raised about $30,000, but $12,000 of May's is a self-loan. Both were down to the $20,000 range in cash on hand, but Martinez will probably get some independent bounce from public safety PAC spending. Benedict shows spending only a few hundred dollars of his own money on his filing fee and Web site.

• Place 5: McCracken had spent $25,000 by early April, mostly on administration, but had another $40,000 to spend. Touvell had spent a couple thousand, apparently of his own money, and showed nothing on hand. Kalmbacher had a few hundred, Hopkins less.

• Place 6: Cole had raised a lot, nearly $60,000 (including a $20,000 self-loan) and had spent a lot (nearly $40,000). She had $21,000 on hand, still well more than Pierce's $12,000 (of $30,000 collected). An anomaly of Pierce's contributions is that more than $4,000 came from out of town (beyond the near suburbs), with more than 40 contributors from 14 different states and D.C., ranging from California to New Jersey. "My wife and I have a lot of friends and family out of town or in other states, and that's where I started," Pierce said, "with the low-hanging fruit." Cole had 11 out-of-town contributors, six out-of-state. Lofton, who raised a couple thousand dollars and spent $3,300, had no out-of-town contributors.

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