The Austin Chronicle

Fero Helped Make, Break Political Careers

By Amy Smith, January 8, 2010, News

It was uncharacteristic of Kelly Fero not to return phone calls in a timely manner, so when Austin Rep. Donna Howard didn't hear back from him when she phoned him Monday, Jan. 4 – the filing deadline for political office seekers – she figured the popular Democratic consultant was busy fielding calls from reporters and political wonks seeking his assessment of the lineup for the March 2 primaries. But at a Demo­crat­ic function that evening, the news of Fero's unexpected death, at 57, spread quickly among the dinner guests. Howard was among those grief-stricken by the sudden passing of her friend and adviser.

A memorial service for Fero is set for 11am Saturday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover. A cause of death was not immediately available. Fero reportedly hadn't felt well on Monday, and his wife had left work early that day to check on him at home, where she discovered his body.

A longtime political operative and former journalist, Fero was a favorite go-to pundit for reporters on deadline. He was an impeccable source – and never pretended to be agnostic about whatever he was feeding you. Best of all, he was always quick with a quotable quip. It's hard to tell who will miss him the most – reporters or the countless number of officeholders and candidates who depended on him daily for strategic advice and press statements.

In Howard's case, the two touched base frequently, especially during campaign season. "He had been with me from the beginning," Howard said, referring to her first legislative campaign in 2005, for the House District 48 seat she currently occupies and hopes to retain in this year's general election. "He was a very important part of my campaign and my career. ... I counted on him greatly." Howard credited Fero for helping her find her "voice" on the campaign trail in her first House race, running in a largely Repub­lican district against the well-financed GOP candidate Ben Bentzin.

Fero maintained a deep list of paying and pro bono clients – from U.S. Senate candidate and former Comptroller John Sharp to former Attorney General Jim Mat­tox to political candidates in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Many of his clients went on to forge friendships with Fero and his wife, Mary, a popular Travis County employee who helps oversee county elections. Often the bane of political opponents, Fero would occasionally find himself in hot water, yet he was incredibly resilient. In 2008, District Attorney Rose­mary Lehmberg dismissed him from her campaign after some of his anonymous blog postings prompted an ethics complaint (later dismissed) from political foe Terry Keel.

Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.