As Council Campaigns Begin, the Cash Rolls In
Off to the races!
Filing for November's City Council elections is underway, and campaigns filed their first finance reports of the cycle last week (covering January-June), giving a glimpse into how races for the seats in Districts 2, 4, 6, 7, and 10 are shaping up. As the Chronicle went to press on Wednesday, each of the four incumbents planning to seek reelection had a challenger, and two candidates have filed in the open D2 seat being vacated by mayor pro tem and County Attorney-elect Delia Garza. The deadline to file is Aug. 17, so expect additional new names to jump in before then.
Had Garza lost her run-off race last week, things might have gotten awkward for David Chincanchan and Vanessa Fuentes, who are vying for Garza's Council seat. Chincanchan, the former chief of staff to CM Pio Renteria, took in $32,754 in contributions, spending $5,412, leaving him with $47,475 cash on hand. In addition to his deep roots in D2, which covers outer Southeast Austin, Chincanchan has been well-respected at City Hall for years, and his contributor list reflects that – several current Council staffers, attorneys from firms who do regular business at City Hall, and advocates, along with state Rep. Sheryl Cole, a former Austin mayor pro tem herself.
With $26,944 raised and $24,682 cash on hand, Fuentes is keeping the race competitive. A comparative newcomer to city politics, Fuentes dove into the campaign by volunteering to hand out protective equipment and meals throughout D2, with a focus on Del Valle. Notable contributors to Fuentes include attention-seeking attorney Adam Loewy, a Democratic donor who's made noise about running for mayor (or, briefly, in the state Senate District 14 special election), but who regularly tweeted MAGA-leaning sentiments before deleting his account. Fuentes also got funds from former IndyAustin agitator Linda Curtis, who lives in Bastrop, along with state Reps. Terry Canales and Celia Israel.
CM Greg Casar also opted out of the SD 14 race; thus far, he's in a comfortable position to keep representing D4 in North Central Austin. Neither of Casar's two declared opponents appears to have raised any money yet: Louis Herrin III just appointed a campaign treasurer on July 21, and Manuel Muñoz filed a finance report with zero dollars raised or spent. Casar, meanwhile, reported $73,418 in contributions and still has $50,708 on hand. His expansive donor list includes criminal justice advocates Chas Moore and Chris Harris, various attorneys, city and Council staffers, and even Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
In far Northwest Austin's D6, likely the most conservative Council district, a semi-famous right-wing challenger to unabashed progressive Jimmy Flannigan would seem like a threat. But so far, fundraising doesn't support that idea; Flannigan raised $68,154 and has $60,057 in available cash as the race heats up. His colleagues Natasha Harper-Madison, Paige Ellis, and Ann Kitchen all contributed, along with former CMs Betty Dunkerley and Chris Riley. Planning Commissioners Conor Kenny and Fayez Kazi, along with urbanist advocate Dan Keshet, also contributed, reflecting Flannigan's alignment with urbanists despite representing a mostly suburban district. State Rep. John Bucy, who represents the Williamson County portion of Flannigan's council district, also donated.
Flannigan challenger Mackenzie Kelly, who ran for D6 in the great 10-1 Blitz of 2014 (she finished fifth in a six-way race), has pulled in just $19,056, although she only appointed a treasurer in early May. In 2014, Kelly gained national notoriety for her support of Gamergate – the online harassment campaign waged by mostly white males against women in the industry. This time, she's focusing on homelessness, where she's been a constant critic of the Council. Now that Save Austin Now's initiative to roll back Council's decriminalization efforts may end up on the November ballot, Kelly's campaign could gain some steam. Her fellow Council critics Susan Spataro and Sharon Blythe have contributed, along with Don Zimmerman, who narrowly beat Flannigan in that 2014 race but lost the rematch in 2016. (He actually did run in the SD 14 special election, placing third, after also placing third in March's GOP primary for House District 47.)
Up until a few weeks ago, D7 incumbent Leslie Pool did not have an opponent; since January, she only took in $6,725 in contributions, but she still has $24,586 in cash on hand. She also received a contribution from Dunkerley, as well as from attorneys from the major City Hall firms – Husch Blackwell, Drenner Group, and Armbrust & Brown. Challenger Morgan Witt appointed a treasurer on July 1 to run against Pool in the Northside district, but has not yet posted a campaign finance report; in a Facebook post, the bilingual educator announced she'd raised $1,000 in the two days following her launch. She's also aligning with urbanists, who targeted Pool in both 2014 and 2016, saying her top three priorities are making Austin "more equitable, affordable, and mobile." Her campaign is managed by AURA board member Caroline Bailey.
Finally, there were big numbers posted in the affluent D10 race. Incumbent Alison Alter raised $83,588 since January from an array of donors, including AISD trustees Amber Elenz and Ann Teich (both stepping down after this term), Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez, a host of UT faculty, and Save Our Springs Managing Director Pat Brodnax. Alter also got support from leading opponents of Land Development Code Revision, such as Chris Allen, Fred Lewis, and Barbara McArthur.
Alter spent $11,695 during the filing period and has a staggering $112,871 in available funds. Her opponent, Pooja Sethi, posted an impressive $43,498 in contributions; she appointed a treasurer and began fundraising back in November. Prominent donors to Sethi's campaign include local Dem activist Laura Hernandez, former congressional candidate Shannon Hutcheson, former CM Mike Martinez, and criminal defense attorney Brian McGiverin – one of a number of lawyers who contributed to the attorney's first run for office.