Campaign Buzz

Distant city and county elections begin to draw early feelers

Lee Leffingwell
Lee Leffingwell (Photo By John Anderson)

Mayor Leffingwell?

Will Council Member Lee Leffingwell run for mayor? That question has become popular chaw at recent gatherings of City Hall watchers and community-advocate types. Mayor Will Wynn's term expires in 2009, and term limits prevent him from running again. Brewster McCracken is known to have mayoral ambitions; Leffingwell is the other name most often mentioned. "I'm definitely interested and very strongly considering it," said Leffingwell Monday, while noting that it is too early to officially announce.

His first hurdle, of course, is winning re-election to council in May 2008. But provided that Leffingwell maintains Place 1 – a likely outcome for an incumbent – his campaign team could stay in place for the mayoral race. Leffingwell has drawn his base of support from Central Austin, environmental and nonprofit circles, and the business community; he noted that Austin's gradual shift toward suburban political participation could deliver a slightly more conservative electorate come 2009.

Asked how dueling mayoral sights might affect his working relationship with McCracken, Leffingwell cited their mutual respect and said, "Anything can happen in two years, and in the meantime, we both have a job to do."

"I think I have the temperament that helps people build consensus," he added. In considering the mayor's office, he's been thinking about how he might use those skills to bring the council into alignment, in part by hearing out and incorporating members' individual needs and concerns. "This city is very important to me," he said. "I would consider it a great honor to be mayor of this city. If the opportunity presents itself, it's an offer you can't refuse." Katherine Gregor

Maxey vs. Wells Spears

"I'm in," said Glen Maxey Monday, making official his prospective campaign for Travis Co. tax assessor-collector. Earlier this spring, the former state representative and current campaign consultant told reporters he was "considering" a run for the office; now he says he's decided to move forward and has been recruiting support for the still-distant November 2008 election. "I've been itching to get back into public service," he said, following his 2003 retirement from 12 years of service in the Legislature and the intervening years spent primarily on Democratic Party projects and campaigns, including an unsuccessful 2005 run for state chairman. "This office has always seemed to me to be an important administrative one, with a direct effect on people's lives and on local political involvement. It's a constitutional real deal."
Glen Maxey
Glen Maxey (Photo By Jana Birchum)

In declaring for the race, Maxey is taking on 16-year incumbent Nelda Wells Spears, who had been rumored to be considering retirement. Asked Monday whether she's running for re-election for another four-year term, Wells Spears responded simply, "Yes, I am." She said she has "several projects in the works" that she wants to see to completion, citing specifically a computer-imaging system for records retrieval still in development that will "smooth the work flow," as well as additional training programs for employees. "We don't get many complaints about our public service," she adds, "but one is too many."

Nelda Wells Spears
Nelda Wells Spears

In his initial statements, Maxey has emphasized the full title of the office – tax assessor-collector and voter registrar – because in addition to its tax functions, the office is responsible for countywide voter registration. "There are basically four functions in the office," said Maxey – taxes, fees and fines, vehicle titling and registration, and voters' registration – and he describes its current operations as "fairly efficient but not being used to its potential," especially concerning voter outreach and registration. "We're not using the power of the office to achieve 100-percent registration of eligible voters," he said. Spears responded, "I'm not aware of any big problem in voter registration," although she noted that traditionally very high county numbers dropped into the 80s (percentage of eligible voters registered) four years ago, when a new federal law required a "purge" of the voter lists (primarily to exclude those with unconfirmed addresses).

Wells Spears argues that a more central campaign issue will be the back-burnered but still-simmering proposal (spearheaded by former County Attorney Ken Oden, now of the Linebarger Goggan law firm) to privatize the county's delinquent tax collections. Commissioners Court rejected the proposal last year, but Wells Spears says the proponents haven't given up. "It will be a big issue," she says. "The current system is blind, fair, and gives everyone the same opportunities to pay. A privatized system would immediately add costs of 15 to 20 percent to delinquent taxpayers and would cost the county millions" in lost revenue.

Maxey says he hasn't made up his mind on the privatization question but describes it as only "a very small percentage of one aspect" of the office's responsibilities. Citing his long legislative record on issues of economic equity, Maxey said, "Nothing is going to happen on my watch that will hurt low-income home owners." – Michael King

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city election, county election, Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken, Will Wynn, Glen Maxey, Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, Nelda Wells Spears, Ken Oden

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