Place 3: Kim Goes Attack-Dog

Girl fights are all the rage

When the cops publicly call you out for "a prefabricated lie," it just hasn't been a great messaging week. Down the homestretch of her campaign for re-election, City Council Place 3 incumbent Jennifer Kim has issued a barrage of attacks against lead challenger Randi Shade. The series of nasty mailers and an anonymous robocall – all with false or questionable assertions – have done nothing to warm up Kim's image.

The abrupt turn toward the negative coincided with Ignite Consulting taking over the campaign. Asked whether the shift in messaging came from Kim or his Ignite team, partner Elliott McFadden said, "It's a collaborative process." He added, "Shade's entire campaign has been negative. The idea that we should just sit here and take it and not point these things out – we're not the ones that started it. Everything we've done up to now is positive." Shade's campaign has focused on the incumbent's record, asserting her ineffectiveness on council. McFadden pointed out that Shade herself has no track record in city governance or issues advocacy. (In third place, but potentially able to force a run-off, is Ken Weiss.)

The recent series of Kim mailers aggressively attacked Shade and her campaign manager, Mark Nathan. Also a current adviser to Lee Leffingwell, Nathan previously worked on the campaigns of Betty Dunkerley, Will Wynn, Sheryl Cole, and Mike Martinez. A Kim mailer with a ghoulish shadow image of a puppet charged that Nathan (and by association, Shade) is controlled by "puppetmaster" developers. Nathan says his only development project clients were Spring and the Hyatt/Fairfield PUD – both of which Kim voted to support. But McFadden said, "I think it's a real conflict of interest. A guy who's an adviser to a majority of the sitting council, who's also a developer lobbyist? I'm flabbergasted!"

The other two incendiary mailers claim Shade holds positions which the candidate in fact repudiates. A review of primary sources supports her assertions. In both mailers, Ignite Consulting cited incorrect information from secondary sources, without checking (or perhaps caring to research) what Shade actually said. A Jan. 24 Austin American-States­man editorial stated that both Shade and Galindo "promised – in writing – to increase public safety staffing." (The Statesman subsequently endorsed Shade.) So Kim claimed in her mailer (and again in a May 5 e-mailer) that Shade promised to increase the public safety payroll, with expensive management positions. But in fact, the Jan. 15 letter from Shade referenced by the Statesman states only, "I will do everything I can to get more police officers, firefighters and paramedics on our streets." Said McFadden, "If the newspaper got it wrong, that was not our fault."

In an unusual move, the combined public safety associations issued a release May 5 criticizing Kim's claims and directly calling the sitting council member a liar: "The dirty politics exhibited by Council Member Jennifer Kim's campaign, including this recent prefabricated lie, only serves to further illustrate why Austin's Public Safety Associations have wholeheartedly endorsed Randi Shade for City Council." McFadden responded, "To stand up and call her a liar is outrageous!"

A third mailer attacks Shade on clean water, claiming she had stated at a candidate forum that she thought the city should have compromised with developers instead of passing the SOS Ordinance. What Shade in fact said was "how sad it made me to see [SOS] result in legislative action. ... And that there wasn't a better compromise that made everybody a winner" (see "Point Austin," May 2). McFad­den said he based his mailer on a letter sent out by five community activists. "If they got it wrong, then that's fine," said McFad­den. "If Shade's saying that's incorrect, I'll accept that."

The same dubious anti-Shade assertions were communicated in a controversial automated call to voters that began, "Hi, this is your neighbor Lisa." (Hear the robocall on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEFYcqbkIyI.) Kim first denied then later admitted (to News 8 Austin reporter Heidi Zhou) that her campaign was behind the anonymous calls. Shade said the robocall "appears to violate a Texas Public Utility Commission statute requiring automated phone messages to clearly state the identity of the person or party initiating the call." McFadden said his partner, Marcus Stanford, had checked on Monday with Gary Mann, an attorney at the PUC, and had been told the calls were not in violation – but that Kim's campaign would clearly identify itself in future calls.

It's unusual for a council campaign to become so nasty in tone – particularly a campaign by a sitting council member. "When you have a campaign that goes this dirty and appears to break rules in the process, I think it becomes clear to the people on the fence that Kim's not the kind of person they want on City Council," said Casey Walker, who sits on the city Solid Waste Advisory Commission. He said he decided to endorse Shade only after receiving the weekend mailers.

Added Walker (himself a Place 1 candidate in 2005): "You know to expect that sort of anti-developer attack and toll road attack and populist attack – but you don't expect that kind of personal attack and outright meanness. I just don't think the city of Austin needs that right now."


*Oops! The following correction ran in the May 23, 2008 issue: In the May 9 issue, in "Place 3: Kim Goes Attack Dog," there were three editing errors. In the Place 3 race for City Council, the Austin American-Statesman endorsed Randi Shade, not Jennifer Kim, and campaign consultant Elliott McFadden, not Mark Nathan, is the partner of Marcus Sanford (not Stanford). The Chronicle regrets the errors.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Jennifer Kim, Elliot McFadden, election

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