The Backstage Crew
Council Candidates' Consultants Direct the Show
The Dream Team Scheme
Meet Alfred Stanley, Dean Rindy, and David Butts, Austin's premier liberal/Democratic consultants. Over the past 25 years, they've changed the face of Austin politics and the minds of Austin voters. Their influence is now so strong that of the nine councilmembers elected during the last three elections (four years), they lay claim to everyone but Ronney Reynolds, Eric Mitchell, and Max Nofziger. Now they're putting their consultant heads together in hopes of making Kirk Watson their seventh councilmember in the Nineties. That's seventh, as in Seventh Heaven, since the consultant dream team promises that Watson's election will get them one step closer to the environmental consciousness for which they've labored a quarter of a century.
"This election is more about changing the way we do business in this city than anything else, about the way we manage and direct growth." - Watson consultant David Butts
Change has been Butts' life goal. Spirited into activism by the societal upheaval of the Sixties, Butts grew up on JFK, MLK, and LBJ. He cut his political teeth in 1960 at tender age of 10, handing out leaflets for Kennedy in small-town Meridian, Texas, and fighting with Baptist kids who knocked Kennedy's Catholicism. "Yep," he laughs, "I was JFK's fighter and defender." In 1970, Butts moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas, when the city was half as large and City Hall twice as corrupt. "It was backwater politics," says Butts. "It was a small group of entrenched decision-makers at the city with very little concern for the environment. They had a what's-best-for-business- is-best-for-Austin view."
But the political atmosphere at UT was perfect for Butts, providing the stimulus that would bring new leadership to the council. It was a hotbed of environmental, racial, and student activism, what with anti-war protests and the growing dissension over the voting age, then 21. Shortly after arriving at UT, Butts met 26-year-old Dean Rindy -- who had just finished working at the Austin American-Statesman and had lost a bid to become a state legislator. "He was a little more full of himself then," laughs Butts. "Everything was a crusade. Of course, we all thought that."
Butts launched a successful crusade in 1970 to lower the voting age in Texas to 18. The next step was an all-out effort by both Butts and Rindy to register all those liberal-minded university students. The following year, Butts helped organize a student effort that in 1971 elected progressive, young Jeff Friedman to the council, and brought in the first black councilmember, Berl Handcox. In 1973, Butts and other students put together an enviro/liberal slate that brought student Bob Binder into office. Rindy became a council aide for Binder until 1975, when Binder lost his re-election bid. Butts also turned his enthusiasm to the state and county levels, getting students to put now-congressman Lloyd Doggett and Roe v. Wade attorney Sarah Weddington (who supports Ronney Reynolds in this race) into the state Lege, and helping make Ann Richards a Travis County Commissioner. After his experiences in these races, Butts soon used his organizational skills professionally, and was paid to manage Emma Lou Linn's unsuccessful council re-election bid in 1977. Interestingly, it was Linn who appointed Rindy to the city's Planning Commission in 1975.
Rindy's time on the planning commission helped him, he says, introduce environmental politics to Austin. Rindy became an editor and journalist with the Austin Sun (forefather of The Austin Chronicle) in the late Seventies, writing what Rindy says were the first articles on the threat that excess development poses to Barton Creek. Rindy had also co-chaired the environmental committee that helped create the Austin Tomorrow plan, which recommended that development remain within an environmentally safe North-South corridor. That it has instead sprawled to the west is one of Austin's "greatest tragedies," says Rindy. "The city should have bought outlying land for a fee-simple price, and we would have never had these battles with FM Properties. It was a tragic lack of vision."
Dean Rindy's time on the planning commission helped him, he says, introduce environmental politics to Austin.
Meanwhile, Rindy had begun doing media for a friend's PR firm, Public Address, which worked for non-profit organizations. "It was successful," jokes Rindy. "We never made a profit." When the far right opposed an initiative to prevent discrimination based on sexual preference, Butts recommended that members of Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus turn to Rindy for help. Rindy put together commercials that helped defeat the opposition. They were such a hit that Rindy was soon receiving calls from other potential clients. His media consulting career was off the ground. Together, the three consultants helped build the Cooksey Council between 1985 and 1988, considered by some to be one of the strongest environmental councils in city history (others remember it as the council which approved more suburban development than any other council in history).
Butts and Rindy were also involved in the key movement in recent political history, one that is still helping to determine the shape of the council -- the 1992 fight to pass the Save Our Springs (S.O.S.) development ordinance. The groundswell from that campaign lasted until the following year, enabling Rindy and Butts to put Brigid Shea into office, while Stanley gilded the pathway for then-environmentalist councilmember Jackie Goodman. The result was the first pro-environmental council since the Cooksey years, with Max Nofziger and Gus Garcia rounding out the liberal majority with Shea and Goodman. When Nofziger and Shea stepped down last year, they were replaced by enviros Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith, both candidates of Butts' and Rindy's. Stanley, meanwhile -- who as a Bruce Todd operative had been a bitter foe of Slusher's in 1994 -- helped Goodman keep her seat last year.
The dream team now wants to add Watson to their collection. They say Watson would ensure that the liberal majority would remain intact, perhaps making this the most environmentally minded council ever. That falls in line with Watson's pitch that the city needs to start looking at broad master plans, instead of simply reacting to issues.
But others worry about Stanley's ties to the belles of the fundraising world -- big business and developers. They fear that Watson could become a turncoat, much like Todd, who is seen as a candidate who promised to be environmentally sensitive but failed to deliver. Some can't forget that Stanley has worked for Todd for the past five years. It's a stretch to blame a fundraiser for a candidates' shortcomings, but it can't be overlooked that in the church of the environment, Todd often played the Judas, taking environmentalists to the campaign dance in 1991 and 1994 but going home after the victory party with the Chamber of Commerce and Freeport-McMoRan. Stanley veritably bristles at the allegations: "I find that insulting and repulsive," replies Stanley. "No one has ever had the guts to say that to my face. I work for people because I believe they have something to offer our community. My clients are of high integrity and aren't for sale."
Stanley himself lost the trust of many environmentalists when he publicly criticized the environmental council majority in 1995 for refusing to extend sewage lines to the Freeport PUD. But Butts and Rindy, for the most part, still hold that trust, and are likely to ease any hard feelings the environmental community may have about Watson's backing.
And they say Watson is the only candidate with the business support and the environmental sensibility, who can take what they've been working on for 25 years and lead the city into the new age. "Our struggle has not been in vain, but we still have a long way to go," says Rindy.
"Things are definitely better than 20 years ago," says Butts. "If nothing else, we've recognized the cost of growth. It impacts the air, the environment, schools, everything. Since 1970, [progressives] have helped change the shape of Austin politics. But more importantly, there's been an attitudinal change in the public that's influenced by the living experience that people are having. That can't be manufactured by campaigns. This election is more about changing the way we do business in this city than anything else, about the way we manage and direct growth."
Managing Watson's campaign is Carol Butler who, despite the $481,004 the candidate has raised so far, calls the campaign grassroots. That's hard to believe, considering that the Watson campaign was the first to put out television commercials. You see, the Texas native is learned in state and national races, which, of course, rely heavily on mass media. Butler helped get Attorney General Dan Morales into office and was the North Texas Political Director for the Clinton/Gore Campaign in 1992. Before joining Watson's campaign in February, she was running campaigns for Democratic congressional aspirants.
"I'm a big fan of Bobby Kennedy's," she says. "I believe in giving something back. Politics and government should be about making life fair. Working in politics is the best way to further those principles, to have some impact on the world."
That Watson, former chair of the Texas Air Control Board, was able to bring on such an experienced hand is evidence of his state and national connections. Watson's opponents might say it's evidence of his state and national aspirations. Only time will tell. -- Alex de Marban
Big Max Attack
A common trait among campaign employees is that they all believe their candidate will win. That's no longer true for Max Nofziger's campaign coordinator, Linda Curtis.
"The liberal Democratic machine here in Austin is deep and corrupt," says Curtis, who complains that former Councilmember Nofziger isn't getting his just desserts after nine years as a reliable environmental vote. "They're planning on steamrolling over little Max Nofziger, and they might just smash old Max, I don't know. They have the organization and the lack of guts to do that. It makes me sick."
"They're planning on steamrolling over little Max Nofziger, and they might just smash old Max, I don't know. They have the organization and the lack of guts to do that. It makes me sick." - Nofziger campaign coordinator Linda Curtis
Yep, things don't look good for old Max, but his struggles are at least motivating for Curtis, 46, whose lifework is reforming the elections process. Looks like Curtis came to the right place: She says Texas has the most restrictive election laws in the country. She moved here in 1993 from Virginia, where she helped get the New Alliance Party on the presidential ballot. Shortly after arriving in Texas, Curtis joined a coalition that introduced a state legislative bill for fair ballot access, in hopes of breaking down the state's two-party system. The bill didn't pass, but in the following year she worked on a petition drive for the same purpose. The petitioners didn't gather enough signatures, but Curtis sued the state, claiming that the state had excessively arduous requirements for such petitions. She won a major victory, she says, when the 5th Circuit ruled that petitioners are not required to obtain voters' registration numbers, making the signature-gathering process significantly easier.
Curtis moved a step closer to her election reform goal in 1995. That's when, as a member of Priorities First!, she led the fight against the proposed $20 million baseball stadium. "The effort forged a new electoral base in Austin of people who agree that we need fiscal and political reform," she says. Curtis used that base last year in gathering enough signatures to put campaign finance reform on the local ballot, with the so-called "Austinites for a Little Less Corruption" campaign. That petition was also invalidated, as petitioners ran up against the same problem: no voter registration numbers. She's appealing that decision, too, but the ruling won't come in time to put the issue to a vote on May 3. That's a major blow for little Max, who has made campaign finance reform one of his issues, and who hoped it would bring supportive voters to the polls on E-day. But that won't stop Curtis: "If Max doesn't win, I'll still be here. I'm not leaving Texas. They need me here." -- Alex de Marban
Gagging the Consultants
"I am the spokesperson for my campaign," declares mayoral candidate and six-year Councilmember Ronney Reynolds. Interpretation: I'm not allowing any of my consultants to speak with you, thank you very much.
Ah, so that's why Reynolds' campaign workers didn't return repeated phone calls. In fact, said Reynolds, "I'd appreciate it if you'd stop calling my consultants... They are paid to run my campaign. They are not getting paid to deal with the media."
But Reynolds' executive order came down a little too late. The Chronicle did gather some information from Reynolds' amiable campaign coordinator, Loretta Voss, a community activist (past President of the Settlement Club, a home for emotionally troubled children) who helped her boss win his last campaign. She listed Reynolds' honchos, and well, at least judging from their recent results, they couldn't have gotten Bill Clinton elected as dogcatcher. Could that be why Reynolds is keeping a tight lid on their names?
One is David Weeks, of Weeks & Correa, a television commercial guru. Weeks is known as the consultant for the rich and the Republican. According to the weekly political newsletter In Fact, Weeks & Correa was paid $229,505 for consulting and video on behalf of supporters of the failed baseball stadium proposal in 1995. In the past two years, the firm also worked for unsuccessful council candidates Rick Wheeler, Jeff Hart, and Becky Motal, as well as Republican Jo Baylor on her failed bid for the state house. Ouch. The firm did win in 1994, with Mayor Bruce Todd's squeaker of a re-election campaign over Daryl Slusher.
Voss also says Reynolds has hired Jeff Montgomery, of Texas Research, to do his polling and phone banking. Montgomery is a former juvenile delinquent from Hollywood who turned his life around, went to Occidental College, and got a degree in rhetoric. He helped Reynolds on the last two campaigns, but late last year, did not anticipate working for Reynolds this time. That's because Montgomery had a conflict of interest: He was a Town Lake jogging partner of Kirk Watson. (He won't comment now on what made him change his mind.) Montgomery is a major local player, but he hasn't done many local races lately. He did help out on the losing side of the baseball stadium initiative. And in 1996, he came in for some criticism while doing polling for council candidate Becky Motal; he was accused of push-polling, whereby a candidate uses a poll to dessiminate an opponent's dirty laundry under the guise of "educating" the voters. Specifically, Montgomery's poll informed voters about Jackie Goodman's arrest -- more than 26 years ago -- for marijuana.
Jeff Smith, of Opinion Analysts, will do Reynolds' mailing lists. Smith is hailed by both the right and left as an objective pollster who covers his bases. Brigid Shea used him before she left office in 1996.
Also working for Reynolds is Joe Counter, a consultant from Houston who says he usually gigs for Republicans. Counter says, "I've been brought on board to make sure the trains run on time." Prior to Reynolds' gag order, apparently, Counter told me that Counter himself would handle all requests for information. "Ronney has his own style of running," says Counter. "He's very hands-on." You can say that again. -- Alex de Marban
Lewis Leans on the Left
With all the experts working on Willie Lewis's campaign, one would think he could just start picking out carpet samples for the Place 6 office. In fact, just the opposite is true. Lewis will need all the help he can get to defeat the infamous incumbent, Eric Mitchell. Legend has it that in a secret powwow among Austin's left-leaning leaders, Lewis was handpicked to be the good-guy David to go up against the Councilmember's Goliath. Whether or not such a smoke-filled session ever took place, it is certainly true that Lewis has called out the usual suspects from Austin's progressive political establishment to breathe life into a campaign which promises a few tricks up its sleeve. The way the race is shaping up so far, Lewis is going to need all the magic he can muster, and maybe a couple of miracles.
With very little fundraising muscle behind the campaign, it is certain that the roundtable of political giants involved are working for little or no pay. Besides their mutual loathing of Mitchell, their volunteerism reflects not so much generosity as their mutual love of a good fight, and of the power to affect the course of politics. Some are working day and night for Lewis' victory, and others are merely offering sage advice, but between them, Todd Main, Robert Hernandez, Jeff Smith, Mark Yznaga, and David Butts are responsible for spinning nearly every progressive political candidate and issue of the past decade into the hearts of Austin voters.
Lewis' campaign manager is the preppy-looking Main, 32, who never quite got around to pursuing the international business he had studied at Michigan State. Since moving to Austin in 1990, he's been behind campaigns for S.O.S. and for Councilmember Beverly Griffith. Though both were successful, he projects a seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward victory. "I win some and I lose some," he says. The beauty of that scenario is that consultants get paid either way, and Main manages to make a living solely off of political consulting, a field which boasts few so dedicated.
Already involved in environmental activism by the time he earned his Bachelor's degree, Main immediately began his career managing the campaigns of several Michigan state representatives. After a move to Cleveland, where he managed campaigns for statewide races and worked for the consumer advocacy group Citizen Action, Main transferred to Austin as the staff director of Citizen Action's Texas branch. Main says he is committed to candidates who take a strong stand favoring environmental protection and campaign finance reform. "I think that elected officials ought to be people who aren't out to increase their personal wealth because of their public service," he says, harping on a favorite anti-Mitchell leitmotif.
"I think you can present people a shade better or a shade worse than they are in real life, but you can't turn people into monsters or heroes. You gotta mold with the clay that you're given." - direct mail wizard Robert Hernandez
"I love what I do. In my own way, I am helping the way the city is run," says Hernandez, who has also worked on campaigns for S.O.S., Senator Lloyd Doggett, and State Representatives Glen Maxey and Sherri Greenberg. Hernandez admits that his work strongly influences voter opinion. "I've been able to create a mail piece to take out a candidate," he says, explaining that time is often of the essence with such maneuvers. "I've been able to get my job in the mail in 15 hours. It's all about how quick you are," he says. As much as Hernandez may be a true believer Democrat, he says it is the love of competition that is behind the drive of any political guru. "They all love to win," he says, "and they hate to lose."
Despite the now legendary Lewis campaign poll which stuck its foot in its mouth by randomly dialing Mrs. Eric Mitchell, Jeff Smith and his team at Opinion Analysts have been a 17-year institution in Austin politics. Compiling voter registration lists from all over Travis County, he deals in demographic trivia -- from the names of likely voters to areas where Republicans are concentrated. Smith bats for both teams in his polling business, selling information to groups across the political spectrum. "It's like a retail operation. Anybody who comes in can buy lists," says Smith. His firm is being used by the Ronney Reynolds campaign, among others, but Smith says he picks and chooses whom he will personally consult for, among whose ranks are Beverly Griffith, Daryl Slusher, Brigid Shea, and the S.O.S. campaign. "Jeff Smith represents a continuity of thought that is rarely available in the political world," says another of Austin's political elite, Mark Yznaga, a Lewis campaign advisor.
Smith says he "became disenchanted with academic politics" while finishing his dissertation in Political Science at UT in 1978, and used political consulting to launch himself out of academia. Like Hernandez, Smith seems to love his work. "It's endlessly fascinating," he says, emphasizing that working in Austin plays a large part in that feeling. "Austin politics is a great deal more sophisticated than any place else in Texas, in part due to the concentration of political consultants here," explains Smith. Still, he downplays the role that consultants have in forming public opinion. "I think you can present people a shade better or a shade worse than they are in real life, but you can't turn people into monsters or heroes. You gotta mold with the clay that you're given." -- Kayte VanScoy
Eric Mitchell is definitely running for reelection, but you'd better not hold your breath waiting for his campaign brochures to arrive in the mail. While every campaign in town is getting its name out on yard signs, television ads, and phone banks, Mitchell's moniker is nowhere to be found. Rumor has it that the only four signs Mitchell's campaign has bothered to hang were dragged out of storage from his 1994 campaign, reading "elect" instead of "reelect." So what in the world is Mitchell doing with the $61,000 he has raised for his campaign efforts?
Not hiring any big-time consultants, that's for sure. Instead, Mitchell is relying on campaign manager Preston Ervin, who is Mitchell's right hand man both in the Wormley-Mitchell insurance office where he works for Mitchell, and on the campaign. Donnetta McCall, Mitchell's City Council aide, confirms that Mitchell will not be bringing on any consultants or outside firms, as they did the last time around. "This campaign is for the birds. It's got to take a back seat," she says, stressing that Mitchell's priorities are with his ongoing work at council.
Therefore, Mitchell's campaign efforts thus far boil down to the green "Elect Mitchell" button on Ervin's lapel, four recycled signs, and a campaign office at 11th Street & Navasota which only lists a post office box number and has no phone lines. It is not disorganization that is reflected in Mitchell's campaign ennui, but deliberate indifference, an attempt to exude confidence that the race will inevitably fall into Mitchell's lap.
Ervin, who refused to comment for this story, is the embodiment of Mitchell's non-campaign in more ways than one. Not only is he the sole campaign employee, but he is equally as elusive and guarded as the campaign itself. With only one exception: Neither Mitchell's supporters nor his detractors seem to know anything more about Ervin than that he is from Houston, and that when he is not running the campaign, he is helping manage Wormley-Mitchell. It would be an understatement to say that Ervin is not active in East Austin or the political community. He is a mystery man to East Austin leaders.
There is no doubt that Ervin and Mitchell are quite close, however. When Ervin accompanied Mitchell to the Chronicle's editorial board meeting last week, he spoke of Mitchell in almost motherly terms. Ervin complained that Mitchell is kept so busy by his work for the city that it was sometimes up to him to make sure that Mitchell ate, slept, and went to the bathroom. "The man's got to eat!" Ervin exclaimed, once again checking his watch to make sure Mitchell was on time for his next appointment. "Now me? I eat," he said, gazing down over his own generous girth.
Ervin is eating pretty well this campaign season, no doubt about that. With nobody else splitting those campaign funds with Mitchell, both men should be able to afford a few steaks during late night strategy sessions, win or lose. -- Kayte VanScoy
Spotting for Spelman
Are candidates a reflection of the people who run their campaigns? In the spirit of political fence-straddling, we'll say yes, and then again, no. That is, similar in ideology, different beasts in temperament.
In the case of the Place 5 city council candidates, a broad spectrum of personalities toil behind the campaigns of Bobbie Enriquez, Karen Hadden, Gus Peña, Bill Spelman, and Manuel Zuniga.
The most seasoned behind-the-scenes operator in the race is Mark Yznaga, an emotionally charged strategist who is gunslinging for Spelman, a mild-mannered academician.
Yznaga, who is at once arrogant and charming, hails from the school of progressive politics that started officially for him in 1988. That's when he joined his close friend and mentor, consultant David Butts, at the state House Democratic Campaign Committee in a research position. He then went to work for Gainesville Rep. Bob Melton in 1989 and left there to help Sherri Greenberg mount a successful campaign in what was then a Republican-dominated District 48. Then it was time to get Glen Maxey elected to the District 51 seat. As was the case with Greenberg, Yznaga labored to help Maxey break new ground on two fronts. Maxey not only was an Anglo angling for a Hispanic seat, he was also bidding to be the first openly gay politician in the Texas Legislature.
From there, Yznaga worked to get Councilmember Gus Garcia elected in 1991, and later settled in as his aide. He left Garcia's office to get the S.O.S. movement afloat and is credited with helping to build a strong voting bloc out of what had become a fractious, fragmented environmental community in the late Eighties and very early Nineties. The S.O.S. ordinance passed overwhelmingly in 1992. After that, it was on to another city council election -- this time for Brigid Shea, who had reigned as queen of S.O.S. during its brightest moments. Shea defeated incumbent Bob Larson for the seat in 1993.
Yznaga's campaign work against Proposition 22 proved much more formidable. The measure, a referendum initiative to effectively eliminate the council-approved benefits plan extended to domestic partners of city employees, passed easily. "People told me it would be a losing battle, but I have a never-die attitude," he said. In more recent stints, Yznaga worked on last year's city council campaigns of Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith. After this election, Yznaga says (just as he has said many times before) that he wants to focus on another love -- making masks -- and reducing his workload to part-time hours. It's time, he says, for new blood. "I've been in the thick of the Nineties -- and I have enough arrows in my back to prove it."
Working alongside Yznaga this election year is Spelman's campaign manager Mike Blizzard. A relative newcomer to the political arena, Blizzard gave up his work toward a Ph.D. in psychology at UT in exchange for a taste of politics, beginning with the consumer watchdog group, Citizen Action. In 1994 he joined Slusher's mayoral campaign, where he headed up a team of canvassers. The following year he did some work for political consultant Jeff Montgomery, and then rejoined the Slusher camp in 1996 as a field director. After that he helped out in the early stages of the campaign finance reform movement. -- Amy Smith
Zamarippa is more willing to play down her own role in campaigns, giving credit instead to the contender. "My heart always goes out to the candidate because it's such hard work..."
On the other hand, Zuniga's campaign manager, Hermelinda Zamarripa, is considered a gem in many circles. A lifelong Austin resident, Zamarripa and her immediate and extended family are deeply rooted in community activism. Her uncle, John Treviño, was the first Hispanic candidate to be elected to the city council. Zamarripa protested against the Vietnam war in the late Sixties, and performed volunteer work in support of farmworkers' rights. Her first paid political job was in 1986 when she traveled the state stumping for Raul Gonzalez, the first Hispanic to be elected to the Texas Supreme Court, and a man she considers her mentor, and a role model for Hispanics. Two years later, she went to work for Jack Hightower's election campaign for state supreme court justice, then returned to the Gonzalez camp for the 1994 re-election campaign.
Zamarripa is more than willing to play down her own role in campaigns, giving credit instead to the contender. "My heart always goes out to the candidate because it's such hard work," she says. "You have to have a good candidate to have a good campaign." -- Amy Smith
A Late Start
Bobbie Enriquez, who wants to be the first Hispanic female on Austin's city council, has brought Manuel Medina on board as her campaign manager. Medina, although only 27, made his mark working on Victor Morales' campaign, first rallying support among Central Texans in the primary, and then moving to Dallas to work on the statewide effort as the candidate's state field director. Medina is working toward his Master's in computer engineering, but is pondering the notion of turning political work into a full-time job. He says the biggest challenge in the Enriquez effort is that the candidate got a late start on the campaign trail -- a particular handicap on the fundraising end. Enriquez also has gathered a core group of volunteer workers in Tommy and Becky Huntress, along with Tom Guerrero and Eliza May (both of whom considered running for Place 5), plus Yvonne Gil, and insider James Aldrete to offer strategic advice.
-- Amy Smith
Hushed at Hadden's
Over at Karen Hadden's campaign headquarters, Scott Henson, who declined to participate for this story, is volunteering his labors for his longtime friend in the areas of consulting, direct mail, and web work. Henson's research and writing skills have made him a valuable asset to campaigns of Brigid Shea, Mary Arnold (who ran against Ronney Reynolds in 1994), and both of Slusher's 1994 and 1996 campaigns. Also at Hadden's camp, Samantha Bollinger is heading up the volunteer effort and council regular and sometime candidate Robert Singleton is manning office duties. -- Amy Smith
Counting on the Homeboys
Rounding out the Place 5 field is Gus Pena's crew: campaign manager Rufus "Cuco" Cortinas and consultant Ray Ramirez, both of whom are deeply committed to building a stronger Hispanic East Austin voting bloc. Both Cortinas and Ramirez have rallied votes in past races -- Cortinas for former Mayor Lee Cooke in 1988, and Mayor Bruce Todd in 1991 and 1994; and Ramirez for Victor Morales' senate race and Councilmembers Slusher and Griffith in 1996.
The two Peña campaign honchos swear by their candidate and bet odds that he'll win the election with votes coming from a less vocal segment of the community. "The guy's from East Austin... he's what we call a homeboy," said Cortinas. "Gus has got unbelievable support over here -- just you wait and see." -- Amy Smith
Gunning for Gus
A veteran political operator with charisma, a killer resumé, and a reputation for hard-headedness goes against a contender with impressive credentials but little experience in Austin politics, whose brand of true-blooded conservatism is a novelty in local electoral circles. As go Place 2 candidates Gus Garcia and Becky Motal, so go their campaign strategists.
By Gus' side, we find campaign manager Pat Crow, a charter member of the progressive consultants clique -- David Butts, Mark Yznaga, Dean Rindy, etc. -- that has, perhaps even more than the candidates they've helped get elected, shaped Austin's left into a mainstream machine. Crow's rep has likewise grown since her first campaign in 1982 -- "I haven't looked for a job in years," she says. "Certain candidates aren't interested in me because of my outlook, but typically they approach me. And I either decide to do it or not."
Pat Crow got into politics after an incident wherein her friend was killed by an ex-boyfriend and she was held hostage for several hours. She worked to elect the opponent of the Justice of the Peace who had earlier defended the case.
"And I didn't know what the hell I was doing," Crow continues. "But that's when I met David Butts, who was working for Ann Richards' first treasurer campaign, and he convinced me that this was a business one could learn to be good at. So here I am."
Back then, of course, campaigns, especially local ones, were by necessity much more grassroots and low-tech than they are today. "Computers have changed everything about this kind of work," Crow says. "When I worked for Sally Shipman in 1983, we didn't have labels -- we had to address every mailer by hand. It was a nightmare. And, of course, TV has changed everything, with the city growing as fast as it is; it used to be an option and now [television advertising] is a necessity. So candidates now have to, if not have their own money for TV, at least have access to it. And not everyone has that."
The candidates themselves, however, haven't really changed that much over the years. "They still don't want to raise money, and they still don't realize that running for office completely takes over your life," Crow says. "No one ever believes it's going to happen to them. People get disappointed that their friends don't do anything to help them, and then people whom they've never met will do so much to help them. It's a real eye-opener."
Garcia has hired other strong women to help with his campaign -- Marsha Mitchell, who did some fundraising, and Sandra Castellanos, who is the councilmember's managing consultant this time around. Castellanos, who served as former Governor Ann Richards' staff appointments' officer, is a motivational speaker who adjusts the attitudes of civic groups and business organizations and trains them in the art of thinking positively. She says that her own life shows that anyone can get what they want if they believe in themselves. Now, if folks would just believe Gus when he tells them he is not moving to Mexico. "That is one of the biggest misconceptions about Gus," Castellanos says. "The truth is, he has a house here and one in Mexico, and he and his wife would buy one in San Francisco if he could afford it." -- Amy Smith
Breaking Into Austin
Becky Motal is running her second campaign in two years, and this one is already quite different from the last. In 1996, Motal was running as part of an established conservative, pro-business slate, with ample financial and organizational backing and the services of David Weeks and Mimi Correa, the right-wing equivalent of David Butts and Pat Crow.
This time, she has much less money, a much looser organization, and the near-volunteer services of Brian Berry, whose Strategy Group works for conservative candidates all over the country. Berry says that the Motal campaign marks the first time that Strategy Group has worked on a local city election in Austin. "I approached [Motal] because I was impressed with her last campaign, and I wanted to get more involved with elections here where I actually live," he says. "Strategy Group has been a startup for the last two years, and I've spent nearly 80% of my time outside of Texas. Thankfully, this year" -- an off-year for most state and all federal races -- "I'm able to be here."
Even though Strategy Group has worked other non-partisan races, most of Berry's major clients, including the various campaigns and PACs of Kay Bailey Hutchison, George W. Bush, and Bob Dole, are famous Republicans. His involvement in a local race in Austin, Berry suggests, only seems weird because Austin has for so long been a one-party town; David Butts, et al., he notes, work for local Democrats in partisan races all the time. "Really, the mechanics are no different," he says. "In the non-partisan campaigns, you simply decide the candidate's message and target that, through the different forums, through direct mail and phone, and through media. Ultimately, whether or not we're Republican rarely comes up; you still have to get the candidate to the right places and get her signs out there. It's just the nuts and bolts of politics." -- Mike Clark-Madison