Austin's Next Top Mayor: Three Serious Candidates Start Strong Out of the Gate

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Yesterday, I wrote about how the district races for Austin City Council are shaping up, predominantly in terms of the tremendous diversity of candidates, the return of some familiar faces, and the scramble to hire staff and start raising money with less than 6 months until Election Day. (And then we get run-offs.)

Arguably, the district races are more interesting right now than the Mayoral contest simply because forty-some candidates are scrambling for staff and figuring out how this campaigning thing works. It's chaotic and not everyone will survive to the deadline to file, and that element of uncertainty makes it exciting.

On the other hand, the Mayor's race is shaping up largely as expected, as three serious candidates are building imposing campaign teams, holding events across Austin, and making the case that they should lead the new 10-1 council.

Additionally, two other candidates promise to shake things up and increase the likelihood of a run-off — though as far as I can tell, there is little consensus about which two candidates will even make it to the final round.

More below the jump.This particular open-seat race for mayor was always going to be a hotly contested one.

It was clear when he was re-elected in 2012 that current Mayor Lee Leffingwell was not planning to run again, and with the change to not only single-member districts but also even-year November elections it's going to be a fascinating, watershed contest that is arguably still too early to gauge — not that it will stop anyone from trying.

Council members Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez had signaled for quite some time that they would likely run for mayor at the first available (and viable) opportunity. Meanwhile, there has always seemed to be a quiet desire among people who follow local politics for something different, something new — but whether any one candidate can capture that remains to be seen.

Arguably former State Rep. Mark Strama, now at GoogleFiber, could have stepped into the role of “credible outsider” and given the two sitting council members a run. But he's busy giving everyone affordable Internet connectivity and actually spending time with his family, so he's out.

A succession of civic leaders considered and passed on the job, including Bill McLellan and Patsy Woods Martin. The latter is an impressive philanthropist with an engaging personal demeanor who could have brought an impressive number of new donors to her campaign. But when the pollen cleared it was attorney and community leader Steve Adler who remained standing, and who now joins Mike and Sheryl in the “leading candidates” club, and I believe has officially assumed the mantle of “credible outsider.”

Additionally, musician Todd Phelps and local web designer and AdBirds CEO Randall Stephens have entered the race, and with the filing fee and required ballot signatures so low, it remains probable that other names may join them in the race.

The sense I get is that while each of the three big-name candidates has a base of support and a strong campaign team behind them, there remains a serious share of City Hall insiders, regular campaign donors, activists, and club members — broadly speaking, People Who Are On Supporter Lists — who are not yet decided.

What's most interesting to me in talking to people about this race is how little consensus there is about who will even make the run-off. It's possible to make a credible argument for each of the three leading candidates winding up there. Roughly speaking, this is the rationale for why each of these three people will be one of two in a run-off:

    “Mike Martinez has a strong base in Democratic and progressive activists, and will do well with Hispanic voters, who will likely be mobilized out to support the Democratic ticket. He's also a very hard worker on the campaign trail.”

    “Sheryl Cole has won re-election by wide margins twice, and is currently the only female name on the ballot in a year that will be good for women, and she should be able to raise a decent amount of money.”

    “Steve Adler represents something 'different,' and will be a formidable fundraiser, plus he has a very strong team behind him and brings out a lot of new supporters and donors who aren't 'usual suspects' at City Hall.”

So far, the big three have kept busy, announcing their campaigns and holding high-profile events.

Martinez launched first with an impressive one-day ten-district tour, covering ground from Barton Springs to the Slaughter Lane Alamo Drafthouse to the Lakeline rail station. An impressive array of community leaders and elected officials introduced him at each stop. He was on time to every event — a true logistical feat given the timeline — and gave a clear signal that his team is prepared to work very hard, as is he.

Adler launched at City Hall on a hot Sunday afternoon, drawing a large crowd despite nightmarish parking conditions from two nearby street festivals. The event was very well produced, and very professional — very Big Mayoral Campaign, for lack of a better phrase. It was the caliber of event that is usually not seen in local politics in terns of the details of the advance work and framing. His speech was capably executed, and it is clear that he is working hard to close any perceived “knowledge gap” between him and the other two.

Cole kicked off a ten-district listening tour, emphasizing her diverse supporters and demonstrating that she, too, will contend for votes in every corner of the city. Cole is very engaging and personable one-on-one, and her house party strategy seems to play to her strengths while building geographically broad support in this new electoral environment.

Right now, two big questions loom over the Mayor's race for the next 6 weeks.

First, with two well-known current council members in the race, one major question is whether — and how quickly — Steve Adler can convince the community leaders who want something “different” that he should be their candidate of choice — even if what those individuals want are at odds. Not having a voting record is a bit of a blessing in this regard, but it's no guarantee that people who aren't set on Martinez or Cole will automatically land in his camp.

The second biggest question is how much each of the three manages to raise by June 30th, which we'll know on July 15. This is going to be a big and expensive election, and while all three candidates have a viable, valuable vision for our city and notable accomplishments, they're going to need to be able to tell voters about them — and that costs money.

For now, while we wait for those questions to be answered, here's a brief list of who is working for each candidate. I've also included the speakers from Steve Adler's kick-off at City Hall, and the hosts of Mike Martinez's 10-district tour and Sheryl Cole's 10-district House Party.

      Steve Adler:

      Campaign Staff:

      Jim Wick: Campaign Manager

      Laura Hernandez: Finance & Political Director

      Nick Van Zandt: Policy Director

      Katie Naranjo: Digital Director

      Ron Olivera: Press Secretary

      Robert Jones: Communications Consultant

      David Butts: Consultant

      MarcoAntonio Orrantia: Field Director

      Patrick McDonald: Regional Field Director

      Rene Prieto: Regional Field Director

      Michelle Willoughby: Regional Field Director

      Christian Smith: Regional Field Director

      Lindsay Adler: Assistant

      Kickoff Speakers

      Emcee Cookie Ruiz, community leader

      Christopher Michael, poet

      Julia Cuba, Executive Director of GEN Austin

      Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, former State Senator, D-El Paso

      Steve's daughters Karen, Susan, and Sarah

      Sheryl Cole:

      Campaign Staff:

      James Aldrete: Advisor

      Kevin Opp & Eric Spears: Community outreach coordinators

      Hosts of Sheryl's 10-District listening tour:

      District 1: Hosted by Delores Duffie, active volunteer with Rosewood Recreation Center and David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, and Vera Givens, of the University Hills Neighborhood Association

      District 2: Open meeting with Dove Springs neighbors

      District 3: Hosted by Cecilia Crossley, longtime Democatic activist, and George Luc, Democratic activist.

      District 4: Hosted by Sylvia Hardman-Dingle

      District 5: Hosted by Arthur and Judy Fogg of the Onion Creek Neighborhood Association, and Dick Perrone

      District 6: Hosted by Sedora Jefferson, former Planned Parenthood Board Member, and Shuronda Robinson, active with Black Austin Democrats

      District 7: Hosted by Caton and Stephanie Brown and Teddy McDaniel

      District 8: Hosted by David Courreges, active with the Austin Young Lawyers, Monty Exter, with the Association of  Texas Professional Educators, and Jake Gilbreath, attorney.

      District 9: Hosted by Genevieve Van Cleve, Democratic activist

      District 10: Hosted by Dick Rathgeber, Austin philanthropist. along with Lidia Agraz, Amy Wong Mok, Jim and Betsy Kreisle.

      Mike Martinez:

      Matt Parkerson: Campaign Manager

      Susan Harry: Fundraising Director

      Nick Hudson: Political Director

      Layla Edwards: Campaign Coordinator

      Leo Agurrie: Constituent Outreach

      Stops on Mike's 10 District Tour:

      District 1: Hoovers – Hoover Alexander, Owner and operator

      District 2: Dove Springs Rec Center – George Morales and Mona Gonzalez, Dove Springs Neighborhood advocates and leaders

      District 3: Joe's Bakery – Jose Velasquez, Community Activist, and Rose Maciel, Owner of Joe's Bakery

      District 4: Kick Butt Coffee – Gavin Lance Garcia, long-time music advocate and Editor and Publisher of Todo Austin

      Districts 5 and 8: Barton Springs – Robin Cravey, pool advocate, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, and Rep. Celia Israel

      District 6: Lakeline Rail Station – Glen Gadbois, long-time multimodal transportation advocate

      District 7: Ginny's Little Longhorn – Dale Watson, musician and Nisha Whitley, owner

      District 8: Alamo Draft House Slaughter Lane – Tim League, owner and founder of Alamo Draft House

      District 9: Cheer Up Charlies – Bobby Garza, GM of Transmission Entertainment, and Tamara Hoover, owner of Cheer up Charlies

      District 10: Murchinson Middle School – Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin

      Todd Phelps:

      Campaign Team:

      Summer Benford

      Greg Garcia

      Keri Solner

      Michael McCarty

      Rudy Pamintuan

      Taylor Thompson

      (No staff titles were provided.)

      Kick-off speakers:

      Phleps held a kick-off event on April 25. Speakers were as follows:

      Todd Turner, Founder and Co-Owner of Test Spectrum Inc.

      Summer Benford, Assistant District Attorney, Caldwell County

      Sandra Phelps, Hyde Park Baptist Principal for 30 years

      Howell Phelps, Founder Innovative Systems Inc.  & Senior Manager Tokyo Electron Inc.

      Randall Stephens:

      Campaign staff:

      None at this time. Stephens plans to add staff after June 20th.

      Stephens is planning a campaign kick-off for May 24th.


    About Author

    Katherine Haenschen

    Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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