Meeker Officially Declares for Council

RG4N spokesman challenges Leffingwell.

After what seemed like an eternity of almost-but-not-quite declaring, Jason Meeker, the communications chairman of Responsible Growth for Northcross, finally made it official: He is challenging incumbent Lee Leffingwell for Place 1 on the City Council.

Standing in the strip mall marking lot that houses Zinger Hardware, Terra Toys, and other small businesses that he believes will be threatened by the Wal-Mart Supercenter planned for the former Northcross Mall property across Anderson Lane, Meeker called Leffingwell and his supporters "Austin insiders" who were more interested in downtown development and benefiting developers than standing up for neighborhoods.

Since his announcement and the press Q&A that followed was relatively brief, I have transcribed the entire event after the jump. We presume that the requisite inflammatory comments will quickly get posted by our mild-mannered blog regulars.

I’m Jason Meeker. You might know me from my work with Responsible Growth for Northcross. You might know about the issue with the Wal-Mart Supercenter that is proposed over here at Northcross Mall, and it seems to have caused a little bit of trouble since 2006, and that fight is still on. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I’m here to tell you that last Friday, I filed the necessary paperwork at City Hall so I can launch a campaign for City Council. So today, I’m saying: I am Jason Meeker and I’m launching my campaign for Austin City Council Place 1.

I’m asking voters all over Austin, not just in this area, voters all over Austin, to join this campaign against the Austin insiders who choose downtown development over preserving our neighborhoods. I’m not running because of what Wal-Mart wants to do with my neighborhood. I’m not running just because of that. I’m running because these kinds of things are going to keep happening in neighborhoods all over Austin. I am running because if something like this happens to your neighborhood or to your small business, you need someone on the inside for you, who will listen to you, and who will work for you, and who will fight for you. You don’t have that now. I’m running because when it comes to City Hall, you need a guy on the inside who will help you out.

Now, I’m running against Allen Demling and also Lee Leffingwell. There are two opponents in this race, and they’re saying there’s one opponent in this race I cannot beat. And that’s true – I cannot beat Allen Demling when it comes to growing beards. [Laughter] He’s got me.

But my real opponent, incumbent Lee Leffingwell, has a big war chest. And he has support from all the insiders in Austin and all their money. And I’ve got an active base of support too. Some of you here today, and I know you’re out there beyond this here. And I know my active base of support, something you don’t usually find with a first-time candidate, can also be ignited, just as we have been against the Wal-Mart right here. And I know I have the energy to fight for you and run a full scale campaign, so that’s why I’m saying I’m going to do it. I am going to do it.

And they say it can’t be done, well all I have to say is this: New York Giants, they beat the Patriots; Eli Manning, he beat Tom Brady; Meeker can beat Leffingwell. We have to do this. Because for neighborhoods to have a fight, we need to have someone who’s going to fight for them on the inside. For neighborhoods and Downtown to achieve a real balance, finally, we need new leadership on Austin City Council. So let’s work together. Talk to me. Share with me your frustrations about City Hall. And I know I’m not the only one who has them. I’m gonna need your help, I’m gonna need you to take my side, so we can take on City Hall together.

So join this campaign for change. Give me your time, your money, your energy, fight with me. This is my campaign, but it’s really your campaign. It’s about your neighborhoods, it’s about your city, it’s about your time to have your insider on the inside. I’m Jason Meeker and I’m running for City Council. I’ll be happy to take your questions.

The Austin Chronicle: Are you worried that the loss in court [by RG4N] will be viewed as a negative by the voters?
Meeker: The loss in court should definitely be considered by the voters. The fact is, that case is still being fought in the court of public opinion. Our group, Responsible Growth for Northcross, has not made a final decision whether or not to appeal. There is still a live lawsuit with Allandale Neighborhood Association. They’re going to appeal their decision. So that fight still goes on.

But the greater fight is how it is indicative that neighborhoods had to go to court to solve their problem. It is a sad thing when my opponent, Lee Leffingwell, did not come out and fight for the neighborhoods. The only time he came and spoke to Responsible Growth for Northcross is when he said, “City staff tells me there’s nothing I can do about it.” Well I think we need someone on the inside who can work a little bit harder and not just take their marching orders from city staff and from the insiders at city hall.

Question from another journalist: Besides Northcross, are there any other particular issues that you have with Council Member Leffingwell? The way he votes or the issues that are important to him?
Meeker: You know, Lee Leffingwell is a real nice guy. He’s like a favorite uncle you may have, you know, you have a Thanksgiving dinner there, and you get along with him real well until you bring up politics. So, I don’t want to get into an argument with him too much, but there are some things that are troubling to me, definitely with the Northcross situation that I just outlined, where he did not stand for neighborhoods, but there are other things, and I’m going to roll them out through this campaign.

One thing that I think should concern a lot of voters is his stance on nuclear power. He came out in favor of nuclear power in the Austin American-Statesman in September. That’s a huge issue. That’s sure to be a financial boondoggle to the citizens of Austin, and I think it has environmental repercussions that the citizens of Austin are not going to stand for, so that’s real interesting. And I’ve already heard that since I’ve brought this issue up, Lee Leffingwell, he was in an editorial that stated Austin needs to consider having nuclear power, [he] has now come out and backtracked from that. So which one is it? Is he for nuclear power? Is he against nuclear power? Is it just now that I’ve exposed some political heat on it that he has to go run away from the issue?

That’s what I’m talking about – I’m running against a guy who, when exposed to political heat, changes his positions. I’m not that guy. When the political heat comes, I will stick with my position. I will stick with the position on the sides of people that I would be on the inside for.

Journalist: Needing to consider nuclear power, though, is not the same thing as being in favor of it.
Meeker: You’ll have to ask Lee to specify his position. It sounded like to me in that article that he was in favor of considering nuclear power for Austin. And I think a lot of people in Austin would not consider nuclear power for Austin.

Another journalist: What makes you particularly qualified?
Meeker: Certainly my engagement with Responsible Growth for Northcross has given me some time in the public eye. But what makes me qualified is the fact that I am the demographic of Austin, Texas. I am in that same age group, and I am a small businessman who’s working hard to support my family, and I understand that the city politics are affecting the way that the city is now and the way it’s going to be in the next 10-plus, 20-plus, 30-plus years, and those issues are important to me as I want to be a part of how my city grows and develops. I love Austin, Texas, and the reason why I’m running is not just to be in opposition against the people who I think are doing things wrong, but it’s to fight for a better Austin, and I want to be on the inside and I want to be your insider in order to do that.

Journalist: Why Place 1? Do you think Council Member Leffingwell is particularly vulnerable?
Meeker: I’ve been encouraged by people I asked whether or not to run for this particular seat, and I was given a lot of support from a lot of people. You know, it’s a seat that is open. It’s not Leffingwell’s seat, it’s the people of Austin’s seat. And so I’m running for that seat for the people of Austin. Leffingwell needed to have an opponent, and I’m happy to oppose him for this particular seat.

Austin Chronicle: I realize you’re not campaigning strictly on the Northcross issue, but if you had been on the City Council when the Northcross issue came up, what would you have done differently from Lee Leffingwell?
Meeker: Let me answer that in greater detail another time, because I’ve talked so much about Responsible Growth for Northcross you know I’ll go on for a good10 minutes. [Ed. note: He did indeed answer the question later; I’ll print his response when I get time.] But the basic answer is that no City Council people came out fully against this development when it was apparent, clearly apparent, that the citizens had been given a raw deal. The neighborhoods around here roundly rejected it. The city asked, with the developer, for the neighborhood’s input. The neighborhoods rejected the plan. At that point – at any point in it – but at that point, the City Council could have taken a harder stance. They did not. There’s a lot more to that, but I could take up a whole hour. But right there, standing up for the people would be a good way to start.

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