The Austin Chronicle

D6: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

By Amy Kamp, October 31, 2014, 11:20am, Newsdesk

The point of a dog whistle is plausible deniability: If you interpret a politician's message as saying something bigoted, he can always claim he was misunderstood. So, for the purpose of plausible deniability, we can't know for sure what Matt Stillwell hoped to accomplish with his latest flyer.

The flyer, titled "Meet the Candidates for Austin City Council District 6," lists various "facts" about Stillwell's opponents, such as how many children they have, and their marital status. Throughout the campaign, Stillwell's repeatedly called himself a "family man." Is it a coincidence that his only Dem competitor, Jimmy Flannigan, is gay and childless? Or is it a dog whistle, meant to make Flannigan less appealing to more conservative "family values" voters who might otherwise appreciate his moderate politics? Again, there's that plausible deniability making it hard to say for sure. When asked, Stillwell said that while he doesn't personally think that having children or being married makes someone more fit for office, he thinks "it's a factor people want to consider."

Mackenzie Kelly gets tarred with the same brush in the flyer, which points out that she's a single mother. Kelly says the flyer "doesn't represent who I am as a candidate," and that it "lacks class."

However, there are other, undeniable problems with the flyer. Under the profile of Jay Wiley, it says, "River Place has not been fully annexed, meaning Wiley would be ineligible to hold office if elected." For the record, Wiley is eligible to hold office in D6. While he owns a home in River Place, which is in D6, he rented an apartment in Anderson Mill and established residency there in order to run for office. It's not an uncommon practice, and it's hard to fault Wiley for doing it. Stillwell claims that the flyer doesn't actually say that Wiley is ineligible, only that he would be ineligible if he lived in River Place. Readers can see the flyer for themselves and decide how much sense that explanation makes. Wiley is taking the matter in stride, saying, "Matt's a good guy, I like him. He's wrong about our residency. At the end of long campaign you will see candidates who are losing start to get desperate and flail."

While the profile of Flannigan may not contain anything as pointedly untrue as that of Wiley, Flannigan, the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and others who are active in Austin's LGBT community are upset by its mischaracterization of Flannigan's tenure at AGLCC. The flyer states, "Flannigan was removed as the president of the [AGLCC] in 2009 with a vote of no confidence from the Board of Directors, resulting from his management of the Gay Pride Festival." What the flyer fails to mention is that Flannigan was later reinstated, and served as president until recently. It's a pretty big omission, even in a flyer "designed," as Stillwell puts it, "to make me look good."

There are other statements in the flyer that the Chronicle believes to be false and is continuing to investigate. Kate X Messer, who has reported on AGLCC, PRIDE, and Flannigan extensively, will provide a more comprehensive report of the AGLCC story later.

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