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Eckhardt Father and Daughter Day at Scholz

A centennial celebration provides platform to stump for county judge

By Amy Smith, Fri., Oct. 4, 2013

A campaign poster of Bob Eckhardt
A campaign poster of Bob Eckhardt

For a few hours Monday night, Scholz Garten seemed to be transported back to the era of The Gay Place, the 1961 Billy Lee Brammer novel set in Austin at a time when hard-partying Democrats had the run of Texas. "This is a grizzled crowd," one attendee said to her friend approvingly as she surveyed the silver-haired men and women scattered among the picnic benches on the historic patio portrayed in Brammer's book.

Sarah Eckhardt warms up the crowd.
Sarah Eckhardt warms up the crowd.
Photo by John Anderson

The grizzled factor was understandable, given that the occasion was a celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of Bob Eckhardt, the liberal congressman, former state legislator, cartoonist, and co-founder of the Texas Observer. The birthday bash also served as a campaign event for Eckhardt's daughter, county judge candidate Sarah Eckhardt, providing her an opportunity to hold up her progressive credentials against those of Democratic primary opponent Andy Brown. The two are in a tough race to succeed County Judge Sam Biscoe, who retires next year.

Many of the elder Eckhardt's protégés, admirers, and younger comrades were on hand, including Observer founding editor Ronnie Dugger, and former state Sens. Babe Schwartz and Gonzalo Barrientos. They extolled the late congressman's contributions while also reminding the crowd that Travis County needs the younger Eckhardt to follow in her father's footsteps. Dugger talked about his Observer days with Bob Eckhardt, Barrientos lauded his legal work helping to end the segregation of Hispanic school students in Texas, and Schwartz cut to the chase: "Let's not forget that we're here to honor old Bob, but I want to tell you what we're really here for – to elect Sarah."

After their remarks, Eckhardt turned the microphone over to family members and others to remember "old Bob" and maybe say a few words about Sarah. The birthday bash/fundraiser drew a crowd of 300 people, according to Eckhardt's campaign staff. Gauging the number of out-and-proud supporters is trickier because the invitation was extended to the public, at no charge. And because of political allegiances to Brown, former chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, some politicians and political players are staying mum on which candidate they support. Nevertheless, this was an impressive group of boldfaced names, including: former Texas Land Commissioners Garry Mauro (who endorsed Eckhardt at the event) and Bob Armstrong; state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, former Reps. Ann Kitchen (a supporter), Glen Maxey, and Debra Danburg; former Appeals Court Justice Diane Henson and attorney Karin Crump (who'll both vie for District Judge John Dietz's seat, should he retire); judicial candidate Chantal Eldridge, City Council Member Chris Riley, former Council Member Jennifer Kim, Pct. 2 County Commissioner candidates Garry Brown and Brigid Shea, and Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb.

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