Our picks in the May 7 elections

Place 1: Lee Leffingwell

Of the five balloted and one official write-in candidates for Place 1 (currently held by term-limited Daryl Slusher) only Lee Leffingwell and Andrew Bucknall have any significant experience in the practice of city government – Leffingwell with five years on the Environmental Board (including four as chair) and Bucknall with service on citizens' committees addressing affordable housing. The others seem to have run impulsively, and on the campaign trail have shown little knowledge of how the City Council actually functions, or of the wide range of issues facing the city not just at the headline moment but on an ongoing basis. (As for official write-in Steve Adams, his now perennial candidacy still exhibits little knowledge of either the broad range of city issues or even the simple process of campaign filing.)

The two qualified candidates are not dramatically far apart on city issues, but Leffingwell is much more experienced at the kind of questions regularly facing the council – from the interweaving of transportation planning and environmental protection to the broader planning questions of setting priorities for inevitable growth and development. He's also more experienced at the occasionally byzantine Austin process of clothing raw principles with flesh- and-bone policies, and at building consensus among competing interests without undermining the goal at hand. There's a reason Leffingwell gathered so much early support and that he has not only dominated the Place 1 debate but thereby altered the dynamics of the rest of the ballot – he's an experienced, level-headed, progressive candidate who will be an asset to the council and to Austin.

Place 3: Margot Clarke and Mandy Dealey

We generally avoid dual endorsements, but we're temporarily making an exception in the hopes that the two best candidates for the Place 3 seat will advance into what looks to be an inevitable run-off. There are four qualified candidates for the seat now held by the term-limited Jackie Goodman, and on "the issues" – the environment, growth, health and human services, affordable housing, public safety – there is not a tremendous amount of separation between them, although it's worth noting that the four campaigns have drawn support from often opposed community interests. We believe Clarke and Dealey are best-qualified and best-suited for the position; each has distinct but long-dedicated records of public service, and each has run well for office before. Clarke has made "public participation" the theme of her campaign, and she has consistently run a grassroots-and-green effort that reflects Austin's democratic traditions and reaches out to the city's broadest constituencies. Dealey has emphasized the legacy of Jackie Goodman's service, and has placed health and human services – still recovering from the economic downturn – at the top of her priorities. Either path is a clear one for the city to follow.

We don't doubt the abilities or seriousness of Jennifer Kim and Gregg Knaupe, but we are concerned that the usual big-money suspects see their candidacies as the most likely to yield additional influence on an already malleable council. In contrast, we believe Clarke and Dealey represent the best that Austin has to offer at this time, and the perspectives most needed right now on the City Council.

Place 4: Betty Dunkerley

The race for Place 4 looked to be a landslide until some final filing-day maneuvering crowded the field – although with any luck, incumbent Dunkerley should still win easily without a run-off. Three of the others have no visible qualifications, and the fourth, Libertarian Wes Benedict, jumped to this race from Place 3 apparently in the belief that it would provide a more visible arena for his shopworn ideological nostrums. (Elysium club owner John Wickham is simply annoyed about the proposed smoking ordinance and chose Dunkerley as an arbitrary target.)

We haven't always been wildly enthusiastic about Dunkerley's hypercareful approach to council action, and her financial officer's instincts can sometimes appear to reduce her every decision to a cost/benefits analysis. But as a financial officer, assistant city manager, and now council member, she has performed long, honorable, and effective service to Austin, and her three years on the council have been especially timely in the wake of the economic downturn. Whatever her imaginative limits, there isn't a saner or smarter member on the dais, and as the budget continues to grow, she'll be an attentive and sensitive eye on maintaining both budget balance and program priorities. She deserves the voters' continued support.

Smoking Ordinance: Yes and No

Chronicle sentiments are strong – but strongly mixed – on the proposed smoking ban, and there is no consensus among the editorial board on whether to endorse the measure. So we offer below a split endorsement.

As drafted, the revised ordinance would extend the current ban on smoking from most to virtually all public buildings – including the bars, billiard parlors, and bowling alleys previously exempted – with only a few very narrow exceptions. We have spilled a good bit of Chronicle ink on the subject, on all sides, and will continue to do so over the next few weeks – we trust our readers, and Austin voters, can weigh all these factors in the balance and make the best choice, come May 7.

Smoking Ordinance: YES

We support the smoking ordinance not on moralistic grounds, but primarily because it is a rational and necessary measure to extend protections most of us already enjoy, as a matter of course, to the health of employees, musicians, and the public (including ourselves). It also broadens the opportunities for all of us to enjoy the simple human pleasure of a night out on the town, without imposed asphyxiation. We are not persuaded by opponents that the ban will spell economic disaster, even on a small scale, nor are we convinced that "smokers' rights" extend beyond the limits of their own lungs. Worries about potential risks for live music venues would be more persuasive if those worries had been confirmed in other cities where smoking has been prohibited for several years – the predicted disasters have simply not materialized. We don't doubt there will be some economic adjustment, at least for some limited period of time, and perhaps the city can consider ways to ameliorate that transition. But in light of the now thoroughly documented damage caused to public health by secondhand smoke – not to mention the enormous public health costs casually imposed on the entire community by the tobacco industry – we don't think the public at large should continue to subsidize such destructive behavior.

Smoking Ordinance: NO

For a city that tirelessly bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World," Austin does very little of substance to sustain the thriving but fragile live music business community that is the seed-bed of the newest music and the place from which all the other economic and cultural reverberations spring. Instead, the city officially and unofficially seems to look for ways to make life difficult for the small clubs (witness the previous donnybrook over the noise ordinance). Now the anti-smoking reformers – well-intentioned as they may be – want to extend an already quite effective smoking ban on 99% of public spaces to the handful of bars and clubs where the music, and the smoking populace that sustains it, still thrives. This is an unnecessary and intrusive ordinance, even if it originated by citizen petition, and to vote for it is basically to say, "I don't care what happens to the music clubs or the neighborhood bars – I just don't like anybody smoking, anywhere." We oppose the measure primarily out of concern that it will likely drive some small but lively, unique gathering places – especially independent live music venues – out of business, and it sends a message of continued indifference on the part of the city to the economic health of the whole music community, regardless of how much lip service is paid it. But we also think it's an unnecessary governmental intrusion on personal freedom and property rights.

Austin Community College Annexation Referendum: Yes

The ACC annexation proposal is authorized under state law, and is limited and sensible: If Austin voters approve, those portions of Round Rock, Eanes, and Pflugerville ISDs that are located within the Austin city limits would be annexed into the ACC taxing district. That would mean residents of the entire city would be liable for ACC property taxes, but in exchange, all ACC students within the same boundaries would be eligible for in-district tuition. We feel some sympathy for the complaint that only those directly affected by the new taxes should be eligible to vote on the question. But the city of Austin (indeed the entire region) is heavily invested in the success of ACC, and it only makes sense that all Austinites share in the burdens and the advantages of the community college district. (The complaint of unfairness also rings rather hollow from suburban regions that have benefited for years from inequitably drawn school districts and disproportionate electoral power.) Austin voters should have a clear conscience about voting to share the load of community education across the entire city. It's not only fair, it's the next reasonable step toward a larger regional fairness. end story

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