Here are the Chronicle editorial board's endorsements for the Dec. 16 run-off election. See more info at austinchronicle.com/elections.
Austin City Council
Mayor: Mike Martinez
Entering the run-off, we're aware that Martinez faces an uphill battle: He was behind 37-30% in the first round, his broadest support appears to be in lower-turnout districts, and the only public poll available suggests his opponent Steve Adler is far ahead. Nevertheless, we continue to believe Martinez is the better candidate to succeed at the job, based on his "distinguished and persuasive record of accomplishment that includes ... his successful leadership at Capital Metro, his sustained and finally successful support for single-member districts, his effective advocacy for workers' rights, working conditions, and wages ... and even his persistent effort to make Austin a 'no-kill' city." We would add that Martinez's detractors get leverage from the fact that he has an actual record, voting pro and con, on the dais. It's all too easy to take potshots from an insulated perspective, not yet having had to make a tough decision that will inevitably disappoint some partisans. We believe that his specific experience and consistent advocacy for working people make Martinez the stronger candidate – especially to lead a City Council that will be heavy with inexperience. We encourage our readers to vote accordingly.
District 1: Ora Houston
As we noted in our initial endorsement, both Houston and her run-off opponent DeWayne Lofton have long since earned the honorific of "public citizen." Lofton's advocacy has emphasized northeast neighborhood issues, while Houston is better known on citywide questions, but both have put in the time on boards and commissions and on the detail work of examining city policies on a range of issues and trying to find improvements. We're somewhat puzzled that Lofton would persist despite Houston's wide lead in the initial vote (49-14%), but he believes his voters will be more engaged, and we don't begrudge him the effort. As we wrote, "Houston knows the district and its needs well, and on Council should be a superb advocate for her constituents."
District 3: Sabino "Pio" Renteria
Entering the run-off against his sister, Susana Almanza, in nearly a dead heat, Renteria, the longtime community and neighborhood activist, remains the right choice. There is a marked difference between the two candidates' leadership styles, temperaments, and sense of community. The soft-spoken, persistent Renteria has a lengthy record of engaging his community and building consensus (he currently serves as vice chair of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team) and, like his opponent, has served on a number of city boards and commissions. Almanza has already been on the offensive: "I want to be clear – I'm not running against my brother; he's running against me," she told KLRU. That's characteristic of her organizing and campaign style, and more so of her longtime allies – short on civility, long on condescension. That approach creates little faith that she will seek productive collaboration on the dais. With leaping gentrification, affordability, and quality of life issues facing the largely low-income, Latino district, residents can ill afford to be led in a scorched-earth style. We stand by our initial endorsement of Renteria and feel strongly that the community advocate will not only engage the concerns of his neighbors but serve as a collaborative, productive figure on Council.
District 4: Greg Casar
In the first round, we had a difficult time choosing Casar over two other candidates – Katrina Daniel and Sharon Mays – who had distinguished themselves in District 4's wide field. There's no similar difficulty in the run-off, where Casar is not only the obvious choice but the default choice against opponent Laura Pressley. The strongest criticism of Casar is that he's young – but he's not inexperienced, having succeeded before Council as both an organizer and an advocate, helping to establish progressive policies on city contracts and workers' rights from his position at the Workers Defense Project. Moreover, in doing so, he not only spoke for workers traditionally excluded from city governance, he also engaged officials and employers in an unwavering, diplomatic, and effective way. Meanwhile, his opponent has been running a stealth campaign, evading her oft-expressed eccentric beliefs in favor of pandering declarations about spending and tax cuts. We strongly recommend Casar as the only choice for District 4 voters.
District 6: Jimmy Flannigan
Even when he had five opponents, Flannigan didn't have much competition for Most Capable Candidate. His pragmatism and eye for costs make him a good fit politically for his district, while his citywide reputation and relationships will allow him to actually get things done for his constituents. Both knowledgeable and confident, Flannigan, as we said in our previous endorsement, is "that rare breed of candidate capable of standing his ground when asked a difficult question, willing to patiently explain and defend his proposals." Of course his challenger, Don Zimmerman, isn't afraid to offer his honest opinion, either, even when it doesn't conform to that of the conservative establishment. We applaud that independent spirit. However, not only do we take issue with Zimmerman's unyielding belief that the solution to any problem with government is always less government, but we also condemn his combative style. Neither his prolific litigiousness nor his predilection for over-the-top rhetoric (such as the time he compared taxation to rape) are qualities that would serve Zimmerman or District 6 well on an 11-member Council.
District 7: Leslie Pool
We issued a dual first-round endorsement of both Jeb Boyt and Pool, and remain convinced that either candidate would make an excellent Council member. Both boast years of experience working on city boards and commissions and related work, and have specific, rooted perspectives on important municipal and district-centric issues like growth, transportation, affordability, and incentives for new businesses. Yet, just as with our initial endorsement of District 9 winner Kathie Tovo over fellow Council Member Chris Riley, we're inclined to support the candidate who better promotes carefully considered growth. That stretches from their respective stances on neighborhood housing and development through ideas for welcoming new businesses. Moreover, Boyt's claim to be the potential voice of the district's north end may be more subjective than substantive; in our conversations, Pool appears to have a clearer vision on how to best incorporate that part of the district north of Highway 183 into the more developed and established southern sector. Ultimately, going forward, the distinctions are undeniably small, and our recommendation of Pool is qualified by substantial enthusiasm for her opponent.
District 8: Ed Scruggs
District 8 voters left early forums with bemused smiles. How to choose between five such nice (and occasionally bland) candidates? Away from the spectacle of rowdy Council races elsewhere on Election Night, they answered their own question, ditching the moderates and pitting progressive Circle C Democrat Ed Scruggs against conservative Republican Ellen Troxclair in the run-off. In October, when we endorsed Scruggs, we noted his bulldog efforts to create a Democratic outpost in Circle C, his attention to thorny issues like global warming and gun control, and his affable leadership style. Troxclair, chief of staff to Tea Party state Rep. Jason Isaac, spins the same tired anti-tax rhetoric to great effect (winning the general by a slim margin), but District 8 ultimately needs more from its first elected Council member. With Scruggs' ability to listen and engage different perspectives, we continue to believe he's that person.
District 10: Mandy Dealey
Dealey's expertise – she's been on six boards and commissions and is a graduate of UT-Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs – pairs with her patient good nature to make an excellent choice for District 10. Although she's very much a Democrat – she's received virtually all of the local club endorsements – Dealey's lifetime commitment to civic engagement reflects a spirit of a public servant rather than a politician. She's someone who will work to improve both the lot of her district and that of the city as a whole. Her opponent, Sheri Gallo, a Realtor, also has a C.V. boasting an impressive history of volunteerism. But her positions on key issues are often vaguely general or, when more specific, lack empathy, such as her vocal opposition to the progress of an ordinance that would prevent property owners and landlords from discriminating against renters on the basis of source of income – she worries it would limit a landlord's ability to choose not to rent to people who use housing vouchers. District 10 would do well to elect the candidate who knows her stuff, understands that Council decisions must be based on actual evidence, and has the well-being of the whole district in mind: Mandy Dealey.
Note: due to errors in editing, some mistakes were introduced into the District 10 endorsement. The endorsement has been updated and corrected.
Austin Community College
ACC Trustee, Place 2: Gigi Edwards Bryant
Among six original candidates, our dual endorsement of Bryant and Jade Chang Sheppard bore fruit, and now we're required to recommend a preference. Bryant has long been active with the college's Foundation board, and brings both a long institutional memory and specific recommendations for upgrading college programs (while continuing her Foundation work). Chang Sheppard has a fresh businesswoman's perspective as well as professional expertise that would greatly aid the school's growing future. It's frankly a tough call between good choices, and both are fully qualified to take on the job. Our group judgment leaned slightly to Bryant – but whoever wins the day, we urge both candidates to continue their admirable engagement with ACC.
Austin Independent School District
At-Large Position 9: Kendall Pace
There was little surprise that the race to replace retiring trustee Tamala Barksdale went to a run-off, and even less that District Advisory Council member Kendall Pace was one of the finalists. However, in a surprise to everyone, including the candidates, Pace is joined by UT undergraduate studies program coordinator Hillary Procknow, rather than business consultant and race relations expert Kazique Prince. Procknow had actually suspended her campaign to support Prince, but re-entered the race as a nod to both her support and Prince's hard work. She is an admirable candidate, and she and Pace agree on most core issues about opposing high-stakes testing and the corporate takeover of schools. It has been refreshing to find two highly qualified candidates that agree on policy and get along personally. So while we laud both, Pace's institutional knowledge of the specifics of AISD give her the edge, and we feel confident in standing by our first-round endorsement.
District 1: Edmund "Ted" Gordon
As we've noted before, retiring incumbent Cheryl Bradley often promulgated an "Us vs. Them" approach, pitting AISD's often troubled northeast against the rest of the district. Now, just as the central administration has worked to heal those wounds, we believe UT's African and African Diaspora Studies Chair Gordon is best poised to move District 1 forward. As demonstrated by his work on the city's African American Quality of Life Initiative, he can be both critical and constructive. His opponent, KIPP Austin founder David "D" Thompson, is simply too thoroughly connected for our comfort to the backdoor privatizers of the "school reform" movement.
District 6: Paul Saldaña
A critical friend: That was what former AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione called the Chronicle, and that's how Saldaña describes his own perspective on AISD. Always prepared to challenge the district and demand innovation, he is well-placed to represent the diverse south-central zone of AISD. His run-off opponent, former Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders teacher Kate Mason-Murphy, is energetic and committed, but Saldaña's longer record of engaging with the board makes him more qualified to become a member.