Leffingwell celebrates bittersweet victory
It's rare when a winning candidate receives congratulations and condolences in the same breath, but such was the bittersweet victory of Lee Leffingwell, who won a seat on the City Council just two weeks after losing his wife to suicide.
Leffingwell spoke freely of both Saturday as he mingled with supporters at Hill's Cafe in South Austin. It was supposed to have been a happy occasion shared with wife Mary Lou McLain, a nurse and passionate social services advocate, who helped establish the Travis Co. Hospital District. This time a year ago, McLain and Leffingwell stood together beneath the party lights at Serrano's Symphony Square and celebrated voters' overwhelming approval of the district. Now, somber and gracious in the spotlight, Leffingwell allowed that his wife should really be the one standing in his victory shoes, given her commitment and contributions to the community. "She's the one who deserves to be standing here tonight," he said. "Not me."
Leffingwell will succeed Council Member Daryl Slusher, one of two old-school anchors on the dais who, with Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, will leave office next month. Long considered Slusher's heir apparent he signaled his campaign intentions a year ago Leffingwell easily beat five other candidates with nearly 63% of the vote. He had drawn support from both the environmental community and the Downtown establishment; the latter affiliation set off complaints from anti-toll-road activists who charged that big-money interests sullied his candidacy. On that score, Leffingwell said he tried to keep his campaign on an even keel to attract a broader base of support.
When it came time for acceptance speeches, incumbent Betty Dunkerley, celebrating her win at the same South Austin haunt, said a few words before introducing Leffingwell. "You've been a great help to me," Leffingwell told the crowd. "My best hope is that I can live up to the confidence the city voters have placed in me." Later, after echoing his campaign commitment to restore the quality of life services cut in the last two budget cycles, he added, "I'm going to work hard for human services, in memory of my wife."