At the press conference at which Council Member Bill Spelman announced he would not seek re-election, one of the assembled throng of political consultants (okay, there were only three of them) predicted that there would be 10 candidates in place by the filing deadline. Well, as it turns out, there are only six, but the field is distinguished in that it contains several individuals well known to watchers of local politics.
Candidates for Place 5 include "Establishment" candidates Clare Barry (neighborhood activist) and William "Will" Wynn (Chamber of Commerce member); and "Left-Idealists" Linda Curtis (campaign finance reform) and Amy Babich (bicycles, please!). Last but not least is first-time candidate Paul "Chip" Howe, a member of the Mayor's Committee on Disabilities, who wants council members to meet with neighborhood associations on a quarterly basis.
Contenders for retiring Council Member Gus Garcia's Place 2 seat include long-rumored candidates (each of whom was reportedly vying to be known as Garcia's rightful successor) Raul Alvarez, Rafael Quintanilla, and Gloria Mata Pennington, plus the lesser-known Monty Markland, Ray Blanchette, and David "Breadman" Blakely, who ran unsuccessfully in the 1998 GOP primary for Glen Maxey's House seat. Newcomer Markland, who is also working for Republican District 48 contender Jill Warren, is following in the tradition of Chad Crow, last year's unsuccessful Place 1 candidate. A youngster like Crow, he's a conservative who opposes Smart Growth on the grounds that "Smart Growth policies are setting the course for a more expensive and congested city." He also advocates opening Austin's electric utility to competition, and, in a move uncommon for conservatives, expanding the use of renewable energy sources. "It is not conservative, progressive, or intelligent to leave powerful new technologies unused in the tool shed," says Markland's Web site.
Right now, it looks like Austin's ruling coalition is lining up behind Alvarez: His fundraiser tonight, Thursday, March 30, is hosted by a list of Austin enviros, including former SOS Board chair Robin Rather, Hill Country Conservancy Executive Director George Cofer, the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter director Ken Kramer, and SOS general counsel Bill Bunch, as well as lawyers Stuart Henry, Rick Lowerre and David Frederick, and state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth).
One could surmise that the two open seats soaked up all the big-name challengers (to the extent that there are any), because the council member considered by some to be most vulnerable to a challenge, Place 6 member Willie Lewis, is opposed only by two relative unknowns, police officer Danny Thomas and insurance agent Nelson Elester Linder. Though in darker days some uncertainty had surrounded Lewis' re-election potential, the clouds have largely dispersed as the dreaded business-backed challenger failed to materialize, and the forces who supported Lewis during his last run are, for the most part, supporting him for re-election.
The field of challengers to Mayor Kirk Watson is weaker still. Sometimes-homeless challenger Leslie Cochran is best known for holding court on the corner of Sixth and Congress, where he can be seen wearing frilly outfits and high heels. And sometimes-temp worker Jennifer Gale, who frequently addresses the council on matters of election fairness, has been a candidate for one office or another on almost every ballot since she hit town about a decade ago. Also in the running is Austin cab driver Dale A. Reed.