Council Candidates Take Their Places

Many scramble to replace Slusher and Goodman; only Gale takes on Dunkerley

Council Candidates Take Their Places
Illustration By Doug Potter

The monthlong formal filing window for city council candidates begins this Monday, Feb. 7, and barring a latecomer or two, most of the likely suspects have long since declared their availability. Indeed, the higher-profile wannabes have been enthusiastically gathering cash and endorsements for several months, making the early handicapping something of a study in campaign finance reports. The following is a brief update on the candidates, based primarily on early announcements, campaign finance reports, endorsements, Web site declarations, and word-of-mouth – at least some of it, we hope, scurrilous.

Place 1

Former Environmental Board Chair Lee Leffingwell ("native Austinite and retired airline pilot" is his epithet of choice) remains the odds-on favorite to replace term-limited Daryl Slusher, initially on the strength of his experience and name recognition as a civic volunteer and activist, and more recently by a litany of supporters and a flush campaign chest. Leffingwell's individual endorsers include the whole gamut of Austin progressive (and a few not so progressive) citizens, among them: Steve Beers, Ruth Epstein, Jack Goodman, Clarke Heidrick, Sabino Renteria, Brigid Shea, Mike Sheffield, Niyanta Spelman, Bruce Todd, etc., etc. He's also garnered the formal endorsement of the Austin Police Association, the county EMS Association, and the firefighters union – as has Place 4 incumbent Betty Dunkerley. The avalanche of good will suggests that Leffingwell enters, stage left, as a Virtual Incumbent. He has not only raised more than $25,000, he's loaned himself another $10,000 – and already spent that much.

The broad support for a known quantity is understandable, but this early in the game it's also enough to make one wish that LL's opponents were more formidable. Alas, it's not to be. Standing against the tide are Andrew Bucknall, East Austin neighborhood activist and former chair of the Huston-Tillotson Young Democrats (and no, he's not African-American), who has declared all of $360 in his campaign bank. That's a sight better than James Paine, who proudly reported $0 – nada – in the hope chest. As Oscar Wilde might say, little money is a misfortune, but no money at all sounds like negligence.

In that light, Leffingwell's strongest opponent is likely to be Steven Adams, the Libertarian defeated by Raul Alvarez in 2003. Adams will be heir to the disgruntled conservative vote, the loyal Libertarians, and those partial to the anti-immigrant agitprop spewed on his ACTV talk show. He's not yet filed a finance report, but he has a Web site in the making. The home page photo was changed this week from the Alamo (huh?) to the Loop 360 bridge – the hardcore anti-tollster vote may find a home next to Adams' name.

Also recently declaring for Place 1 is Casey Walker, who describes himself as a 26-year-old UT grad, new father, and an employee of Teleclip. Walker says he's anti-toll and anti-tax, pro-education and pro-local business, and "has a [sic] ultimate goal of appearing as a guest on The Sam and Bob Show." That's almost as good as getting elected, and it's certainly a more reasonable ambition.

Place 3

The battle over term-limited Jackie Goodman's Place 3 seat is where the most unpredictable action is, as four serious candidates remain in the race following the abrupt withdrawal of Jeff Trigger of the Downtown Austin Alliance. Gregg Knaupe (pronounced "nap"), who had not settled on a seat a month ago, stepped into that void, following Margot Clarke, Jennifer Kim, and Mandy (Amanda) Dealey before him – and compensated for his late start by garnering the APA and EMS endorsements.

Longtime activist Clarke, currently with the Sierra Club, ran a spirited 2003 race against Brewster McCracken, and is the presumed early frontrunner, but as of last week each of the other three had amassed bigger war chests (although some of that money is in self-loans). Kim led the cash race with more than $30,000, Knaupe had $25,000, Dealey $19,000, and Clarke $18,000, although those initial numbers may be misleading since all but Clarke apparently have access to additional personal sources of funds. In that vein – although all are relying primarily on now-standard $100 donations – of the four candidates, only Clarke has formally agreed to abide by the campaign finance limitations of the Fair Campaign Ordinance. That may become a test of the law, and of Clarke – if she finds herself heavily outspent in March and April (early voting begins April 20 for the May 7 election).

Clarke's hardest-core supporters will be central city progressives and greens, and she will have to attract more suburbanites than she managed against McCracken. Nonetheless, all four "nonpartisan" candidates have backgrounds in mainstream Democratic politics, though there are early venomous rumors spinning that tech-business owner Kim is the stealth Republican – aka the Chamber favorite. But last week Kim hired longtime Dem consultants Dave Butts, Peck Young, and Bill Emory – a bit like George Steinbrenner signing all the off-season free agents, but note that last year, the Yankees spent October quietly at home.

As the weeks go by, there will be more to say about distinctions on the "issues" – right now, everybody has lots to say in favor of open space, diversity, health care, small business, and transit-oriented development, and nary a good word about tolls.

Place 4

Incumbent Betty Dunkerley, now the council's Queen Bee, isn't going anywhere, so it's a puzzle that perennial candidate and citizens' communication-time diva Jennifer Gale has chosen this spot for her seasonal effusions. (She's also about $40 in the hole already on 80 bucks in campaign income.) If Gale dropped down to overcrowded Place 3, she'd have a chance to make some waves – here she'll be a maid of honor to Dunkerley's coronation.

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city council election, Lee Leffingwell, Andrew Bucknall, James Paine, Steven Adams, Casey Walker, Gregg Knaupe, Margot Clarke, Jennifer Kim, Mandy Dealey, Austin Fair Campaign Ordinance, Betty Dunkerley, Jennifer Gale

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