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Point Austin: Campaign Summer Fun

On the road to 10-1, races begin to take shape

By Michael King, Fri., May 16, 2014

What a difference a day makes.

That's true in politics as in romance, as I learned again Tuesday afternoon. No sooner had I updated the Chronicle's master list of mayoral and City Council candidates, current as of that morning – when three more candidates filed campaign treasurer designations. (As soon as I escape Wednes­day's press deadline, I'll return to that task.) By rough and certainly transitory count, that makes 52 semi-official Council candidates – CTDs are only the first step, as official filing for the offices doesn't begin until July 21 – with another half-dozen likely to declare in the next few days. (See "The Road to 10-1 ... Is Getting Crowded," on our Elections page, austinchronicle.com/elections.)

Add the four semi-official mayoral candidates – and a likely fifth, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, apparently ready to declare any day now – and we've got a cornucopia of would-be public officials in the Austin mix, certainly a testimony to the citywide energy unleashed by the new single-member district system. As I've written before, the more the merrier – it's undeniably a good thing that more folks become engaged with our municipal issues, although I also hope that the turnout of November voters will be at least proportional, in each district, to the number of balloted candidates.

We might well find over time that the shift from spring to fall – and from perhaps 40,000 to 200,000 voters – has a more profound effect on our local politics than the districting system itself. In this first round, because of the sheer number of potential candidates, the shift is almost certain to result in mid-December run-offs in several races – and the distinct possibility that those much smaller run-offs could devolve into the same old neighborhoods and voters determining the final outcomes.

Patterns Emerge

It's still very early, and candidates have just begun holding "kick-offs" of one kind or another in consort with the start of the fund­raising season on May 8. But a few things are being established. At the mayoral level, relatively unknown Steve Adler is defining himself as the bearer of a "New Way Forward" – ostensibly different from City Hall business-as-usual – and hoping to parlay his background as a civil rights and property attorney and philanthropist into a broad coalition of voters. Adler holds the advantage – and disadvantage – of having no immediate political record, the precisely opposite situation of Council Member Mike Martinez, who must both run on, and defend, his eight-year tenure on Council. (Presumably, the same will be true for Cole.) We're still learning about newcomers Todd Phelps and Randall Stephens, largely outside those traditional public policy circles altogether.

In the Council races, the sheer numbers are daunting. Although some of these folks appear to be wide-eyed hobbyists, apparently convinced that running for Council is as easy as block-walking in the Texas summer sun, quite a few grassroots activists should have a better handle on the real work involved. Three of the "minority voter opportunity" districts (1, 3, 4) are burgeoning with candidates of varying credentials – and the other, District 2, is currently a strong match between former firefighter and assistant attorney general Delia Garza with small-businessman and Dove Springs advocate Edward Reyes.

District 3 features 10 announced candidates, including the long-simmering intrafamilia battle between PODER's Susana Almanza and her brother, Cesar Chavez neighborhood advocate Sabino "Pio" Renteria. District 4 also lists 10 candidates, including several veteran community activists – and merits a rare shout-out to former candidate Chelsea Brass who, when she learned another candidate (Katrina Daniel) shared a quite similar background and policy positions, bowed out and endorsed her opponent. (Brass might be too sensible to be a politician.)

District 9 (central city) matches the only two Council incumbents (Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo), plus newcomer Erin McGann; and the far west races (6, 8, and 10), in these officially nonpartisan campaigns, include several Republicans who will make the not unreasonable argument that City Hall "diversity" should be political as well as ethnic. We'll see.

Apple Pie

Early on, there's less to distinguish candidates on the "issue" scale, as nearly everyone has been citing variations on "affordability, traffic, water, public safety, education" as the themes he or she is most likely to focus on in the coming campaign. "Throwing out the bums" at City Hall will certainly be a subtext, although the recent Zandan poll indicating Austinites are, on the whole, fairly satisfied with their city might somewhat diminish that emphasis (although satisfied people are, lamentably, the ones least likely to vote). I won't embarrass by name – yet – one candidate who announced last week that he will seek to lower property taxes, hire more police officers, and acquire more parks for his district, because he's far from the only would-be council member who will promise to deliver that magic act from the dais.

I do recommend that candidates spend a good deal of time watching incumbent council members wrestle with the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, as they attempt to lower property taxes, hire more police officers, and maintain city parks, libraries, and social services. I promise: It ain't as easy as block-walking in the Texas summer sun.

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