Piece of Cake

Unless some bold, new usurper steps up to join the timid challengers for Place 6, the race will likely resemble a one-man-band with Eric Mitchell beating all the drums and blowing all the whistles. With Mitchell's only challengers promising little competition, it is possible that Mitchell may coast into office unimpeded. Restaurateur John Goode is floundering over his decision to run in the face of charges that his personal and business affairs are in shambles, and retired engineer Willie Lewis is cowed by the incumbent's strong financial backing. Contending that support for Mitchell has waned during his term and that he is imminently defeatable, Goode and Lewis seem inspired more by a desire to unseat Mitchell than by any specific political agenda. One wonders, then, if Mitchell is as vulnerable as they say, why has no stronger challenger entered the race?

In his three years on the council, Mitchell has made a name for himself as a fearsome opponent to and ferocious supporter of African-American interests, while simultaneously catering to and profiting from the support of the West Austin business community. His efforts to redevelop East Austin have some community members casting Mitchell as a hero, while other Eastside neighbors say Mitchell is merely acting in the interests of himself and his cronies who stand to benefit. His often combative and sometimes rude behavior on the dais has earned Mitchell a reputation as a force to be reckoned with. It hasn't done much for his coalition-building, but in many cases, Mitchell has pushed through his initiatives without the benefit of cooperation, often relying solely on the threat that a lack of support signaled racist sentiment. Political consultant David Butts, who has worked on campaigns for Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith, says it's possible that no one else will choose to take on Mitchell, fearing his penchant for brutal, personal attacks.

Mitchell's supporters may be a vocal bunch, but one oft-forgotten fact is that, although Place 6 is supposed to be an East Austin seat, Mitchell did not carry the area's voting precincts in the 1994 race. Opponents say that he has now lost the support of several of the West and Northeast Austin communities which he carried in the first election. However, his campaign cup overflows with the support of wealthy real estate developers, who are fueling Mitchell's already blinding momentum toward a second term.

Mitchell's campaign manager Preston Irvin would not release any information regarding his candidacy, and Mitchell did not return phone calls.

Goode, owner of Mr. Bones Barbeque on
Hwy 71 and an Austin businessman since the early 1980s, was primed for battle with Mitchell until his financial history came to light in the local press. Bounced checks, unpaid child support, bankruptcies, and tax liens are just the beginning of Goode's troubles, which he chalks up to "extenuating circumstances." Goode argues that "personal business problems have nothing at all to do with a person's abilities." Dropping names of Austin notables who were behind him until the revelations about his finances, Goode says he may decide to stay in the race after all. Pointing out that East Austin deserves the choice of a fellow Eastside resident for the council seat which represents their district, Goode criticizes Mitchell, a resident of Oak Hill in Southwest Austin, for his development-focused politics. Mitchell "has aligned himself with people who have done nothing but pimp the black community. He doesn't care about Austin, and he doesn't give a damn about East Austin."

Lewis echoes that concern about Mitchell's commitment to East Austin. "I think I'm more knowledgeable in the part of town he's quote-unquote supposed to be `representing'. What difference does it make in his life if something doesn't get done in East Austin?" he asks. Lewis is also critical of Mitchell's confrontational and often belligerent style, saying "people my age realize that there are other ways to do things." Lewis, however willing he may be to run against Mitchell, is still fishing for backers and political consultants willing to sign on to his effort. He was courting Mark Yznaga, another former consultant to Slusher and Griffith, but Yznaga declined in the belief that stronger candidates will emerge in the next few weeks. Butts agrees that Lewis' candidacy seems weak. "Eric Mitchell is beatable, but a nobody can't beat him," he says.

Despite the lack of formidable challengers, political insiders point out that the fat lady doesn't sing until March 19, the filing deadline for all council races. "By the end of March the question is going to be who's not running, instead of who is," says Yznaga. Mitchell's former council nemesis, Brigid Shea, feels that an unchallenged Mitchell candidacy "would be unfortunate for the entire city... by sending the message that bullying and self-dealing are okay." Many Mitchell detractors have their hopes pinned on the rumor that former University of Texas student body president Toni Luckett intends to take on Mitchell; she could not be reached for comment.

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