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First Wave of Endorsements in Austin Mayoral & City Council Races

by: Karl-Thomas Musselman

Mon Mar 26, 2012 at 03:00 PM CDT

In a normal year, endorsements for city races in Austin would have come prior to those for the Democratic primary, but with redistricting the two swapped places. Even though the two elections are back to back, with early voting for the primary starting just 3 days after the municipal election, local clubs, PACs, and other organizations are shifting gears to weigh in on the races for mayor & city council.

2012 Austin City Council Endorsements
OrganizationMayorPlace 2Place 5Place 6
Austin Central Labor CouncilLee LeffingwellNo EndorsementBill SpelmanSheryl Cole
Austin Police Association PACLee LeffingwellMike MartinezNot yet consideredNot yet considered
Austin Firefighters Association PACLee LeffingwellMike MartinezNo EndorsementSheryl Cole
Austin/Travis Co. EMS Employee Association PACLee LeffingwellMike MartinezBill SpelmanUnknown at Press Time
BAT PACBrigid SheaLaura PressleyNo endorsementNo endorsement
Central Austin DemocratsLee LeffingwellMike MartinezBill SpelmanSheryl Cole
University Democrats (UT)Lee LeffingwellMike MartinezNo endorsementNo endorsement
Austin Progressive CoalitionLee LeffingwellMike MartinezNo endorsementNo endorsement
NAAO-PACLee LeffingwellMike MartinezBill SpelmanNo endorsement
Travis County Sheriffs' Law Enforcement Assn.Lee LeffingwellMike MartinezNot yet consideredUnknown at Press Time

So what does this indicate so far?

First, it needs to be noted that confirming a number of these endorsements were difficult. Incumbents Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole don't list any endorsements on their websites. A number of endorsing groups do not have websites, or have incomplete lists of endorsements. I don't know if this indicates a lack of energy in the municipal races where early voting begins in just six weeks or if this is a result of the toll taken by the rescheduled primary election.

As to the candidates, Mayor Leffingwell has the broadest coalition of support (among coalitions that participate in our low turnout city elections). That support is mirrored for Leffingwell ally Mike Martinez with the exception of the Central Labor Council, which declined to issue an endorsement; Martinez has received the public support of AFSCME Local 1624.

In Place 6, "no endorsement" is the winner so far as incumbent Sheryl Cole, yet again, is failing to inspire the electorate. This is nothing new, as the local media has editorialized its disappointment before with Cole. In 2009, the Austin Chronicle said "It's unfortunate Cole didn't draw a stronger opponent" and that she was "competent if not dazzling." The Statesman called her "quiet but effective" and our own publication wrote that Cole "could be more proactive, more aggressive, and more engaged on behalf of her constituents" in our 2009 endorsements. In three runs for council, Cole has failed to get the endorsement of the University Democrats each time. The saving grace for Cole, much like in 2009, is that her last minute opponent Shaun Ireland hasn't gained much traction.

The Place 5 race is the most curious as incumbent Bill Spelman appears to be worse than expected on the endorsement front. Unlike Cole, Spelman has six opponents, which could put him in a runoff. While Tina Cannon and Dominic Chavez are his most organized opposition, neither has been able to win any of the institutional support in their own right. Cannon did tie with Spelman in the University Democrats voting in both the first and second rounds, leading Spelman, a professor at UT, to not receive the endorsement of his "home" club. As a result, Spelman won't appear on the thousands of yellow doorhangers distributed by the Austin Progressive Coalition which certainly would have been a nice boost in his attempt to avoid a runoff. If Spelman had had any opponents 3 years ago when he returned to the city council, we'd have a basis of comparison for what this means, but going from zero to six opponents indicates some level of weakness being sensed. I suspect that having the lowest cash on hand and being the only Anglo among the council incumbents up for election may have also be a cause. Still, he is favored to win.

More organizations and Democratic clubs will issue their endorsements in the coming weeks, with at least six clubs participating in the multi-club forum on April 3rd.

All Filed Candidates, Listed Alphabetically, Incumbents in Italics:
Mayor: Clay Dafoe, Lee Leffingwell, Brigid Shea
Place 2: Mike Martinez, Laura Pressley
Place 5: Tina Cannon, Dominic Chavez, David Conley, John Duffy, Robert "Bo" Prudente, John Rubine, Bill Spelman
Place 6: Sheryl Cole, Shaun Ireland


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Weird Year (3.00 / 2)
Times have certainly changed. There just isn't a ton of enthusiasm over these races - and I can't figure out why Spelman has six opponents, while Mike Martinez only has one. Imagine how low the turnout will be for a run-off election for one council seat - taking place in the summer after we've already been through one municipal election and one primary. Perhaps set the all-time record low?

It's a sign that we need to change the system. Pushing the city elections back to November will help. SMD (either 10/1 or 10/2/1) would be a vast improvement over what we have now. It's impossible for many to run city-wide and the "gentleman's agreement" is as outdated and impractical as the name implies.

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