City Hall Hustle: And the Race Begins ...

Council filings remind us there's always another campaign

For most people, May's City Council elections – with, in the city's staggered system, three seats of seven up for grabs – are the last thing on their minds, ranking somewhere below Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, the NYE hangover, President's Day, Valentine's Day, South by Southwest ... and roughly 13,000 other things.

But then again, politicians – and the Hustle – ain't most people.

So like it or not: Monday, Nov. 15, was the first day candidates could file for the May 14, 2011, election, and therefore campaign season is upon us – and with it, another glimpse into the semi-incestuous, interlocking constellation of bold-faced names that make up Austin's establishment politerati.

For starters, all three council incumbents will be seeking another term. Chris Riley has announced his intention to run for re-election to the Place 1 seat he won just two years ago, to complete the unexpired term belonging to Lee Leffingwell, who left one year in to run for mayor. Longtime political consultant David Butts will run Riley's campaign; Mike Clark-Madison, policy and research director at consulting firm Hahn, Texas (and a former Chronicle News editor), is named as treasurer, while Susan Harry will reprise her role from Riley's 2009 campaign as a fundraising consultant.

Randi Shade also wasted no time announcing her intentions: Her Place 3 re-election campaign will be managed by Katherine Haenschen, who helmed Riley's 2009 campaign as well as the Travis County Dems' 2010 coordinated campaign (you know, the lonely blue island). Harry will also serve as Shade's fundraising guru, while local prog consultants Mike Blizzard and Mark Littlefield will act in advisory roles.

Laura Morrison's Place 4 re-election run features Jim Wick as campaign manager (Wick ran the long shot but victorious Karen Sage judicial campaign), with Butts pulling double-duty as her chief consultant. Rounding out the team are media consultant Dean Rindy, pollster Jeff Smith, and field director (and former Chronicle Screens editor/Leffingwell ground-gamer) Shawn Badgley.

That's just the incumbents; as the Hustle writes, no challengers have yet filed in any of the three races. Chatter held that Liveable City-aligned local lib Ann Kitchen was mulling a run against Shade (perhaps the reason Shade was so fast out of the gate), but the Hustle's learned the former state rep has decided not to run. We also hear Austinites for Action's Dominic Chavez, last seen agitating against the mobility bond package, was considering a run from the right in Place 1 or Place 4 – but as of Wednesday night, we haven't seen any announcements.

Here Come the Waterworks

While election season is a veritable World Series for inside-baseball scorers like yours truly, it also distorts (or, arguably, illuminates) ongoing City Council action through the same prism. Take Item 5 on this Thursday's (Nov. 18) agenda, which would in one fell swoop approve payout of the remaining $300 million (of the $359 million authorized) for construction of Water Treatment Plant No. 4. The water utility says block funding will give the construction manager greater nimbleness and latitude in contracting, a more economical and efficient strategy for building the controversial waterworks (see "WTP4: $300 Million in One Gulp?," p.18). But with ardent protest having dogged WTP4 at every previous appropriation, it's naive to imagine there's no tactical political aspect to the proposal. Whether or not the mass appropriation passes, it won't end construction; rather, the utility will continue to pursue its piecemeal approach.

It will be fascinating to see what role WTP4 might play in spring's elections. At what point, for example, might opponents stop opposing the plant's construction altogether on principle and instead pivot to bird-dogging the process, to ensure it comes in on time, on budget, and with minimal environmental impact? It would seem any potential candidacy confined to WTP4 single-issue status would be doomed to failure, with city expenditures by then crossing the Rubi­con into hundreds of millions of dollars. However, with the storm brewing over today's sudden water/wastewater service requests for the Formula One racing site, requiring $13.5 million in up-front costs to the city (see "How Do You Formulate a Grand Prix?," p.24), enviros have a new target to train their ire on.

Likewise, Item 57 from Leffing­well and Mike Martinez, provocative on its own, takes on greater significance as spring beckons: a resolution supporting passage of "meet and confer" legislation at the Capitol for the city's rank-and-file, non-civil-service (i.e., public safety) employees. That's the same contract-bargaining status Austin's police, fire, and EMS unions enjoy, and along with the city's previously recumbent negotiating practice, it's one reason public safety consumes an increasingly untenable portion of city revenues. Granting meet-and-confer powers to Austin's AFSCME local should mean city employees would be more than an afterthought each budget cycle, and in theory it should serve as a brake on runaway public safety spending. And while it's the right thing to do, it's hard to see it hurting Martinez and Leffing­well's re-election chances in 2012.

At least we're not there yet. But soon ....


For an expanded rundown of City Council's agenda, see the Nov. 16 edition of "The Daily Hustle" at austinchronicle.com/hustle. And sign up for the Hustle's weekly newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

election, City Council, Water Treatment Plant No. 4, Laura Morrison, Chris Riley, Randi Shade

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