City Hall Hustle: And They're Off!

Leffingwell announces, and the mayoral sparring begins

When Lee Leffingwell formally announced his intention to run for mayor last week, he loaned his own campaign $41,163 – $1 more than the previous front-running fundraising haul. But who would've guessed that total would belong to Carole Keeton Strayhorn, not Brewster McCracken?

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed a long shot that Strayhorn – a political chameleon who's changed party affiliation one too many times for blue-dyed Austin – would have a major impact on the race. But that was before the candidates' Jan. 15 fundraising reports, which put Strayhorn decidedly in the lead, having collected $41,162 to McCracken's $17,778 (see "Campaign Money Fattening Local Coffers"). Leffingwell, undeclared during the reporting period, had only his prior election funds on hand but, upon formally announcing his intentions, cut himself a check matching Strayhorn's haul. That underscored the possibility – however unlikely – that Strayhorn could be a bigger threat to Leffingwell's mayoral ambitions than his fellow council member.

Fittingly, the other electoral surprise has been the quietness of the McCracken campaign thus far. If Strayhorn had not decided to declare in early January, Leffingwell could have safely stayed out of the race even longer, letting any quibbles over vacating his council seat recede further into the sunset.

Like its candidate, the formal Leffingwell announcement was a decidedly low-key affair. Saturday morning in the still-sleepy Bouldin Creek neighborhood, outside the house in which Leffingwell grew up, the setting was a sharp contrast to the industrial digs where his opponents staged their announcements. It wasn't the only difference Leffingwell sought to impart. "I'm not in this race to use the mayor's office as a stepping stone for something else, and I'm not in this race to satisfy my ego," he said, none-too-subtly knocking McCracken for his apparent ambition and castigating "wild-eyed exuberance" in general. But it wasn't all throwing elbows; in his speech and the interviews afterward, Leffing­well enumerated his policy proposals. The centerpiece he called "Austin Corps," a general volunteer and internship program for young Austinites through which they can "learn the value of real work" by assisting their city.

McCracken, for his part, seems ready to mix it up. Leffing­well campaign impresario Mark Nathan called attention to McCracken's appearance on KLBJ 590AM's The Lisa Fritsch Show last weekend, chastising some of Leffingwell's positions. Prompted by a call to the show from former Leffingwell council opponent Jason Meeker, who attacked Leffingwell's proposal to offer optional carbon-offset credits from Austin Energy as "another thing that the politicians want to do to take more money out of our pockets," McCrack­en said he's "not really sure about what [Leffing­well's] talking about." He added that Leffingwell also "wants to have a $500 million bond election in 12 months," a proposition McCrack­en said doesn't make sense.

"I was surprised to see such strong opposition to the idea of holding a transit election from someone who has been such a strong proponent of the same idea in the recent past," Leffingwell responded, alluding to McCracken's early zeal for a rail election. He also took umbrage with McCrack­en's rap on his carbon-offset plan and his separate charge (echoing the real estate lobby) that "Lee was in favor of prohibiting homeowners from selling their homes until they got a government-approved energy upgrade on their home they were selling." Leffingwell responded, "I'm concerned that the revival of the so-called 'green home tax' issue does not bode well for a dialogue among the mayoral candidates that prioritize new solutions over old scare tactics."

Scare tactics, fundraising numbers, competing campaign statements: With Leffingwell's announcement, the mayor's race is under way for real. Here we go.

When will the Hustle declare? Inquire at wells@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

election, City Council, Lee Leffingwell, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Brewster McCracken, Austin Corps

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