City Hall Hustle: The Hustle for Place 1

Who are the new coalitions?

While the race for Austin mayor has been garnering the most sound bites and column inches, May's City Council races – especially for Place 1, Lee Leffingwell's vacated seat – have been subtly shifting for several weeks. Last week saw the first seismic development: candidate Rick Cofer's exit from the Place 1 race.

"This decision has not been easy," Cofer wrote in a note to supporters, adding, "we would have run a strong campaign to win this race." However, he continued, "with Chris Riley and Perla Cavazos in this race, I know that Austin will have the right leadership with the right priorities. I also know that I can continue to serve this city through my work on the Solid Waste Advisory Council, neighborhood association, and other community organizations. And all of this has helped me realize that this is not the right time or right race for me."

The exit is unfortunate for politics fans, as aside from the mayor's race, Place 1 was shaping up to be the most strongly contested. The tightness was reflected in fundraising: Cofer came in behind Cavazos, taking a respectable $15,080 to her $17,945, but both trailed Riley's $26,090 haul. (Cofer has taken pains with his contributions: He itemized every contribution and listed each contributor's occupation, a meticulousness that must come in handy now, as he's promised to return each contribution and "eat the cost" of his campaign.)

Although Cofer's ties in Democratic politics and organizing brought him good contributors and contacts, in this crowded contest, the 26-year-old candidate was wise to bow out without a loss on his record. While optimistic about his support and "pretty confident" labor and public-safety endorsements could've come his way, Cofer conceded the "enviros and the Democrats were fairly split." Now, support for Cavaz­os and Riley – which was strong to begin with – has further coalesced. Riley's campaign kickoff was widely attended (the Hustle was out of town, but the Burnt Orange Report's Matt Glazer called the turnout "pretty stunning"), which certainly didn't hurt his monetary lead. But deeper than dollars is the support Riley is tapping, from a coalition of influential, respectable developer types – the acceptable establishment (Perry Lorenz, Larry Speck, Larry Warshaw) – that like to line up behind council winners, along with those Dems and enviros.

Cavazos is tapping into a different constituency, one galvanized by the candidate but also by her gender and ethnicity. Locally, this includes such boosters as former state Rep. Ann Kitchen, former Council Member Jennifer Kim, and longtime enviro Robin Rather – progressives lauded more often for their ideals than their winning records. She also brings contacts from her time as policy analyst for Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio (Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and the senator himself). Combine those with prominent neighborhood and Latino supporters (Lori and Sabino Renteria, county Commis­sion­er Margaret Gomez), and she has a formidable base of support – not the same gang as instrumental in determining past elections but possibly a power ascendant. (Cavazos' formal kickoff just occurred Tuesday.)

Consider also mayoral candidate Brewster McCracken's aggressive courtship of new clean-energy companies and digital-entertainment mavens. First there was his formal cam­paign announcement at HelioVolt and, this week, his campaign's Austin-vision commercial contest, featuring as judges film and gaming pros Robert Rodriguez, Richard Garriott, Elizabeth Avellán, Richard Linklater, and McCracken himself. From the looks of it, BMc also seems to be trying to carve out a new coalition.

Returning to Cofer, his satisfaction with the remaining Place 1 candidates makes an endorsement unlikely. Referring to his reasons for bowing out, he cites "two things that changed over the two-odd months of campaigning: One is I got satisfied that the other folks in this race are on board with where I am, the issues that are important to me, and what motivated me to run in the first place. The other thing was, after a while thinking about it, it's not the right time for me politically, personally, whatever. It's a difficult decision, but one I feel very good about in my gut. But I'm still going to be active in the things I care about, like garbage and neighborhood issues."

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Place 1 race, Chris Riley, Rick Cofer, Perla Cavazos, Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken, election

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