Austin City Council Election Endorsements

Mayor: Kirk Watson

"Getting beyond the simplistic polarization that dominates city politics." Those are Kirk Watson's words of promise. But how many times have we heard that, only to weep bitter tears of betrayal after the polls have long closed? The difference this time out is that, with Watson, we honestly believe there may be hope. Oh, he's slick all right, with his high-dollar attorney friends pumping money into his war chest, and his Bruce Todd-like connections in both the environmental and business communities. But that enviro/business bridge isn't just campaign trappings: Watson has been active on both the environmental and chamber of commerce fronts. The former vice-chair of the chamber's governmental relations board has often shown his decidedly green stripes. As chair of the former Texas Air Control Board, he started the Small Business Assistance Program to prompt small businesses to comply with the Federal Clean Air Act. He also helped create a joint agency environmental justice task force to study the cause and effect of environmental racism, which was instrumental in shutting down the East Austin Tank Farm. While some may complain that the crystal ball on Watson is a little murky, the record of Councilmember Ronney Reynolds as a lockstep vote for developers is clear as a cowbell. Too bad, since he has shown flashes of leadership, as when he led the charge against the sale of our public utility.

Another viable mayoral contender with a well-known record is former councilmember Max Nofziger. His contribution to this race as a grass-roots candidate striving for campaign finance reform has been invaluable. But that issue is not enough. In his nine years serving on the council, Nofziger prides himself with shepherding Austin from the bust to the boom, getting the convention center built, and the airport moved. We think he may have had a little help in those areas. Of course he deserves kudos for his instrumental role in prompting the S.O.S. water quality ordinance, and for propelling unpopular issues like pedestrian rights. But we believe Nofziger, who as a councilmember was rarely the point-man on successful initiatives and never proved himself much of a consensus-builder, has not exhibited the kind of leadership necessary to be mayor.

Place 2: Gus Garcia

Like the daily, we endorse Garcia. Unlike the daily, we do so without ostentatiously holding our nose. He hasn't always made us happy with his decisions, but if you think the Austin City Council is a chaotic and irresponsible sandbox now, imagine it without Gus Garcia, who more than a few times in the last term has seemed the only real leader of that august body. His integrity and ability to keep his head above the fray of local politics help explain his longevity in Austin public life; they likewise make us believe that Austin would be a poorer place without his continued service.

Of course, this choice is made easier given the quality of his major opponent, Becky Motal, who, while not the complete ogre some progressives claim, has in both her council campaigns seemed to be running in a different city, one that's not nearly as large and diverse and sophisticated -- and, yes, progressive -- as the one where she actually lives. Motal would make a great council member in, well, name your suburb. But not for here. The other contender, Laurin Currie, has been an effective neighborhood leader, but he hasn't demonstrated to us that he has the breadth and depth to handle the challenge of governing the whole city through what is promising to be among the most turbulent times in its history.

Place 5: Bill Spelman, Bobbie Enriquez

The dreaded double endorsement. Let's start with Spelman -- we believe he is the most viable of the five well-rounded candidates running. Spelman, who served on the city's water/wastewater commission, is recognized as a strong environmentalist but -- thankfully -- is much more than a one-issue candidate. As an associate professor at the University of Texas, Spelman also possesses a refreshing breadth of knowledge in matters pertaining to public safety, transportation, and urban planning -- three areas that are of utmost concern to our community. Additionally, his strong communication skills and easy-going countenance could work in Spelman's favor during times of council unrest.

Having said that, we will also say this: We applaud Bobbie Enriquez for mounting a successful campaign that revolves around what she calls the forgotten agenda -- an agenda made up of human services issues that too often fall victim to short change and short attention spans on the part of elected officials. If elected, Enriquez would become Austin's first Hispanic woman to sit at the council dais and, as such, would retain the seat that has historically gone to a Hispanic representative. We believe Enriquez, who knows about budgets and council business from her four-year stint as Gus Garcia's aide, has paid her dues in many community and professional endeavors and would make a capable, competent, and caring city councilmember.

We should also recognize businessman Manuel Zuniga here as the most formidable candidate in the race, one who could bring fiscal responsiblity to the city budget process. But although we believe Zuniga is a nice enough guy, we don't think that he has displayed a commitment to protecting the environment as Austin grows, especially in light of the money that developers have infused into his campaign coffers.

Place 6: Willie Lewis

Current Place 6 Councilmember Eric Mitchell is the living embodiment of the argument that Austin needs to switch to a single-member district system. Mitchell's dubious distinction is that he neither lives in the part of town which he represents, nor did he win a single precincts east of I-35 during the last city council election. This Southwestsider has done an admirable job of attracting resources to fund his Eastside revitatalization issues, but Mitchell has shown little regard for the concerns of residents living within the affected area, who worry that Mitchell's big plans will do more to line the pockets of his developer/real estate friends than to boost the quality of life of residents of this historically neglected community. In fact, Mitchell has absolutely no regard for anyone who opposes any of his ideas, and is quick to label naysayers as either liars or racists. This contempt is not limited to members of the voting public, but also extends to his fellow councilmembers, most of whom, Mitchell implies, are acting with impure motives or are not comfortable working with a black councilmember who is not an Uncle Tom. With Mitchell, it's either his way or the highway. Given that, he can hardly be an effective manager for the important work to be done as the Place 6 representative. That's why we urge you to vote for Willie Lewis, a retired air force sergeant, who also retired from Lockheed and is now a rental property owner. A longtime East Austin resident, Lewis has a track record of public service that includes four terms as president of the Pecan Springs-Springdale Hills Neighborhood Association, a former chairmanship of the Austin Airport Advisory Board, and a volunteer position as an adult probation officer. As a small business owner, Lewis also has experience cutting costs and balancing budgets.

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