Brewster McCracken YouTube Video Encapsulates The Austin Mayor's Race

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I've embedded the YouTube video below. But read this first, and you'll know what I mean in the headline:

  • The choice in the Mayor's race is almost entirely  a vote on vision — on how you want our Mayor to lead.

    Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell are, more or less, on the same side of most issues. If there are any substantial policy differences between the two, neither has articulated them that well. In fact, a substantive policy discussion is entirely absent from this race.

    Therefore, you have to pick who it is you think has the best vision, who you think will best represent your values on a large scale, and who you think will place your interests first and foremost in the decision-making process for mayor. In other words — which person do you trust more, not who has the best policies.

    The video encapsulates this perfectly: “hunker down” style of Lee vs. “bold, wise” style of Brewster. But which is actually better?

  • Lee Leffingwell is kind of boring and wants to “hunker down” — but is that a bad thing right now?

    The video mocks the “fix the potholes” remarks that Lee makes at some forum, contrasting the small-problems of “fixing potholes” to the much larger and more urgent problems facing the city (everyone knows them; not going to repeat them here). But the concept of “hunkering down” is one that has a certain amount of appeal in an uncertain economic time.

    First of all — the economy is a huge issue. You can't ignore that. The city budget is “the everything” in these times, and the Leffingwell campaign has shown that they want to “hunker down” and be prudent stewards of the budget. That's not very exciting, it's not very sexy — but based on the backlash I got when suggesting that Austin spend the extra money on local website redesign, it is apparently something that a lot of progressives want.

    Furthermore, I think many Austinites are OK with “hunkering down” so long as they feel comfortable that their needs, interests, and concerns will be made a priority. Lee certainly has communicated that level of connection and compassion well, as evidenced by his countless endorsements. If you want “responsible growth” during tough economc times, then Lee seems like your guy.

    However, “hunkering down” is boring. It just is. And though there are many economic challenges facing Austin — like an array of unleased condominiums hovering over a proud ambitious city — Austin is not a conservative city. We are a progressive city. We don't want to weather the storm.  We want to drive through it and come out the other side before everyone else and be the better for it.

    You've also got to ask — what if the sacrifices that need to be made in these economic times are of those that are “hunkered down” with the Mayor? Will all those endorsement groups accept self-sacrifices in these tough times, or will they expect/demand that the Mayor they endorsed treat them special? And how will the Mayor govern when elected by political groups, and not by policy?

  • Brewster McCracken wants to lead boldly and wisely — but who is he leading?

    The YouTube video below — which was produced by the Brewster McCracken campaign — begins with President Barack Obama's first address to Congress. The video goes back to President Obama saying, “now is the time to act boldly and wisely” several times. Those remarks — and clips from speeches and remarks made by McCracken — are meant to contrast Lee's “hunker down” remarks and the song that plays throughout the video, which repeats “everybody's got to hunker down.”

    First let me say — the video is clever. It is refreshing, and it is a fun, new way to look at the campaign. I think it shows that Brewster can frame this race well, it uses Lee's own words (and not some third-party attacks) against him, and it shows Brewster speaking…boldly and wisely. McCracken clearly is one that does not want to hunker down and weather the storm. McCracken is ready to go full speed ahead, and move forward with aggressive/progressive 21st Century policies for a City that prides itself not only on being weird, but on being ahead of the curve.

    At the same time — Brewster McCracken is not Barack Obama. And aligning himself with the President is a calculated risk, because while it could connect him and his campaign to the “bold” vision that a majority of Austin wants for the country, it also reinforces the perception that Brewster has a huge ego. For as much as Lee is perceived as being old, stodgy, and “hunkering down” with the Travis County Democratic Party the groups that endorsed him, Brewster is perceived as being too bold and “hunkering down” with whatever group or business will help fulfill his particular ambition.

    If the hit on Lee is that he won't ask the groups to sacrifice when it is necessary, the hit on Brewster is that he will ask the groups to sacrifice when it is not necessary. Is there truly a choice to make between those two situations that you can be 100% comfortable with?

Personally — and this is just me talking — I think the raps on both candidates have some elements of truth and some elements of campaign hyperbole. Brewster McCracken is a much more honest and trustworthy person than he is often made out to be, and Lee is much more forward-thinking and independent than he is often made out to be. But the perceptions are set and the dye is cast in the electorate…at least for now.

There are forty-three days left until May 9, when final votes will be cast for mayor. The video does a great job, as it was billed to me in the e-mail I received it, as showing “the mayor's race in 4 minutes and 38 seconds.” As I've laid out above, it hits all the general perceptions of the campaigns pretty well — both the good, and the bad.

Will anyone or anything change the dynamics of the race in the last 43 days? Or will the same frames that have been established to date just reinforce themselves until Election Day? We'll have to wait and see…but this is the state of the race now, at least for me.

Tell me why I'm wrong in the comments. I'm still thinking through this race, and I want to hear an honest discussion.

Meanwhile, here's the video from the Brewster McCracken campaign:


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.


  1. thoughts…
    I think this video is an interesting and semi-effective attempt to re-frame the mayoral race.  (I say re-frame because conventional wisdom I hear in ATX is that Brewester is behind.  I have no inside knowledge, though).

    The problem I have is that neither candidate is running to be President of Austin.  Municipal government is actually pretty boring and pretty technical.  I don' think it's a stretch to say that voters do not look for the same thing in a mayoral candidate that they look for in a presidential candidate.  And for that reason the whole thing comes off as a little too cute for my taste.

    Which is why I would the video semi-effective, at best.  I think the video effectively communicates the message it is intended to communicate, I just don't think it'll make much of a difference to anyone who sees it.

  2. Brewster McCracken YouTube Video
    Yes, the video is clever in a Rovian sort of way. I don't recall Brewster being a contributor or activist in the Travis County Coordinated Campaign efforts prior to the November election.  Hitching his lead-the-charge wagon to Obama at this date strikes me as disingenuous.

    Also perhaps risky on his part to take the stand of moving boldly and agresssively forward during these stressed economic times. I'm not certain the general population will see him as “getting it,” when overall people are cutting back, companies are downsizing, we're spending less, you know, Hunkering Down.  Voters certainly realize this means lower tax revenues. We don't have an Austin Federal Reserve printing money for new, leading-edge/21st century programs, thus Leffingwell's pragmatic approach seems the wiser choice for the times.

    • Brewster endorsed Obama early on,
      when many other local pols (like Lee) were backing Clinton. That's not a knock on Lee (*please* tell me that we're past the primary divisions!), but Brewster earned the right to associate himself with Obama's style and vision.  

      • Are you kidding me?
        Really, you wrote this without so much as a smirk on your face?

        I'll be happy when we not only move past the GD primary but also measuring a candidates 'Obamaness'.

  3. Who can get it done?
    It's not just a question of which candidate has the better vision, but also who can work with the Council and city staff to realize that vision.  I prefer Brewster's bold vision to Lee's cautious vision, but I also trust Lee's ability to work with others more than I trust Brewster's.

    They're both good men, and my vote is still up for grabs.  

  4. Slick McCracken
    Like McCracken, his video is slick, nicely packaged. It doesn't seem to spend much time talking about the money and other support he is receiving from developers and realtors, however.  I wonder why.

  5. PedalPowerATX on

    Very well said

    “Brewster McCracken is a much more honest and trustworthy person than he is often made out to be”

    “Lee is much more forward-thinking and independent than he is often made out to be.”

    These are real people, who are dynamic and learn.  The difference I see is Brewster taking action steps towards his vision.

  6. Stay Tooned!
    Be on the lookout for more hip new videos from the Brew-man!

    1) Funker Down!

      the next mayor of Austin grooves with El Mariachi in the new supergroup “The B#%*H was Gettin' Old.”

    2) Dunker Down!

      Actual, real video of 6'7″ Brewster McCracken dunking over Barack Obama.

    3) Spunker Down!

      Well, this one you just gotta see to believe.

    • Kedron Touvell on

      act now and get this box set free!
      4)Crunker Down!

      Brewster getting high with Matthew Mcconaughey's character in Dazed and Confused

      5)Flunker Down!

      Brewster gives Lee an F- in performance on the dais (hey Spaceman!)

      6)Punker Down!

      A Mohawked McCracken defecates on the dais and crowdsurfs on press row.

  7. Kedron Touvell on

    ground vs. air
    to me that's what what this race will come down to, not any of this dueling message bs between rival consultants.  If it's true as you say that the general perceptions of each candidate are locked down (and I believe it is), then the race will come down to strategic execution.

    Lee's strategy is a traditional ground-based campaign focusing on the people and groups that have historically turned out in municipal elections.

    Carole (to the extent that she's doing anything at all – can anyone report any campaign activity other than botched press conferences?) is focusing on an air war.  Raise money, run ads, use your name recognition to turn out new voters.

    Brewster has tried to compete with Lee, but finds himself squeezed in between the other two candidates as Lee locked up the traditional voters and Carole will erode his support in the more conservative West and Northwest.  He really needs a game changer, and I don't think this ad is it.  We should know what kind of chance he has on April 9 when we get the 30-day finance report, but even if he does well I think he's a longshot.  

    Why?  I think ground will trump air, as it has in past municipal elections.  As I mentioned to a friend earlier this week, Brewster's base is people who haven't been paying attention the last 6 years.  Those are also the people who don't tend to vote.  I think he's screwed, and expect to see increasing signs of desperation from his campaign in the coming weeks.

    • PedalPowerATX on

      Traditional voters = ANC mafia

      Seriously, Lee is bought and paid for by Austin Neighborhood Council.  Probably not a bad guy, but OWANA and Ray Benson are pulling the strings.  

      Again, I wish Brewster's constituency were as organized as the Austin Neighborhood Council.  It's not even a fair fight once ANC/Owana pay for their candidate.

    • Kedron
      Sorta a silly & sophomoric analysis.  Are you aware of Brewster's reelection percentage win and name ID?  And, there are plenty of center city folks worried about our economic drivers as well.  Some industries aren't slowing down and the clusters for alternative energy companies are likely to be decided in the next 24 months.  We HAVE to play now or pass up the opportunities for thousands of jobs now and in the future.

      • Kedron Touvell on

        thanks for the comments, Eugene
        Generally, I try to keep my public comments as professional and non-inflammatory as possible (the non-humorous ones at least), but in this case I'm responding to a pretty silly video and may have let slip a bit.  I have confidence in the continued attractiveness of Austin as an employment (and migration) destination and I think Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez and the rest of the Council will do a great job of bringing in new jobs that will ensure our future prosperity.  I do not think that Austin is so weak that our prospects rely on the leadership of a single man, and I think our strengths in the academic, hi-tech, and creative industries will afford us the ability to continue to protect our cultural and environmental heritage.

  8. Brewstern McCracken Wants To Help Promote and Create Jobs!

    Brewster McCracken actually wants to help create jobs while balancing the best aspects of Austin life today. Lee Leffingwell wants nothing to change and will vote “No, No, No” on everything. A rubber-stamp politician doesn't help Austin. A mayor with vision and drive will. Brewster McCracken is the right face for Austin at the right time.  

    • BeatrixKiddo on

      What are you people talking about? What exactly has Lee said no to? As far as I know Lee has supported all of the responsible growth in the Desired Development Zone, including some high-rises I'm not so sure about.

      BTW, I thought Kedron's analysis was right on.

    • Real Answers
      Lee has laid out a his vision and what he wants to do as Mayor of Austin.

      In addition you can talk to the campaign directly on twitter, on facebook, or contacting the campaign directly.  

      Lee is more than a pretty face, he has proposed real solutions for all of Austin.  Ideas come from round tables, group discussions, and random drop ins from people all over the city.

      If you want specific answers to questions, we are all happy to give real, detailed policy answers.

      • Vision?
        Matt, took you up on checking out each candidates' vision on their websites.  In my mind, speaks for itself:


        My vision for the future of Austin is that we become an even better place for people to fulfill their dreams.

        Whether you want to be an entrepreneur, an activist, a scientist, a scholar, a musician, a cop, a teacher, a preacher or a roller derby girl, I want you to be able to come to Austin – or stay in Austin – and do it.

        At City Hall, we can help make that vision of Austin a reality by focusing on the fundamentals – jobs, traffic, safety, and health – while also taking strong steps to help keep Austin special.

        I believe what makes Austin special is our diversity, our creativity, and our generosity. We are a city of ideas and innovation – a city of free spirits. We also have a heritage of tolerance and compassion. These key traits must be encouraged in every way possible.

        Everyone knows these are tough times. We all know there are more ahead, too. But I'm as optimistic as I've ever been about Austin's future. I know that we can continue to be a place where people's dreams do come true.


        1) Commercialize university technology – AMAT TourThis starts with expanding the technology commercialization partnership between the University of Texas and the City of Austin through the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI). ATI converts cutting edge U.T. research into innovative Austin-based companies. In his book Academic Entrepreneurship, Scott Shane writes that nationally, this has proved to be a particularly effective strategy for catalyzing new companies in biotech and life sciences. The new Bioscience Incubator jointly created by U.T. and the City of Austin already has five innovative companies. Austin and UT have also created dynamic clean energy companies at the incubator such as ActaCell, Atonometrics and Solar Array Ventures.

        2) Create research and development consortia – By bringing together the nation's public and private sectors leaders in a SEMATECH-scale initiative, we can take on clean energy's and medicine's toughest challenges. This is what Austin and the Environmental Defense Fund are currently doing through the Pecan Street Project. Bringing a medical school to Austin is likely a critical prerequisite for pursuing such a strategy eventually in biotech/life sciences.

        3) Recruit new companies and retain existing companies – Dr. Kozmetsky wrote that this was a key element to building a technology cluster. Paul Krugman recently won a Nobel Price in Economics for his research demonstrating how regions have established economic success through recruiting and retaining companies and providing targeted incentives- particularly for manufacturing companies. Scott Shane writes that a local manufacturing base is a critical element in creating a successful technology cluster. During an economic recruitment trip to Silicon Valley in July, I personally observed how important Austin's recruitment of Samsung's new 300 mm fab has been to attracting additional semiconductor companies and talent to Austin.

        4) Create infrastructure for innovation – such as research and development labs and research parks. Successful models include SEMATECH, Stanford Research Park and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

        5) Build a local market – Economist Jon Hockenyos observes that creating a local market is increasingly important to building a successful economic sector. This is particularly true in clean energy, where cities, states and public utilities can promote job creation through purchases of solar, wind and energy storage. New Mexico has catapulted itself into a national solar energy leader by aggressively implementing such a strategy.

        6) Empower people to achieve opportunity through job training – just as Austin did in the SEMATECH era with the Austin Project and that Temple, TX is doing now in biotech. Such initiatives are critical to ensuring that the entire community shares in the opportunities we work together to create and that we have a workforce with the training to work in these emerging sectors.

        7) Practice unity and “intense cooperation” – Unity was a key factor in Austin winning MCC and SEMATECH against far more established rivals. The city's business, university and political leadership pulled together in a display of “intense cooperation” (as a University of Texas analysis later described it). A researcher hired by Philadelphia to study Austin's high tech success concluded that Austin was able to “offer MCC what none of the more established tech capitals could match. To wit: a whole community-economic, intellectual, and political-that would shape itself to support MCC and its industry.”  It was one of Austin's finest hours. By working together, we achieved things as a community that made us a model for the country – and created opportunity locally for a generation.  By rekindling Austin's legendary cooperation and community-wide sense of mission, we can lead again in the innovation sectors of the future.

        The comparison articulates more clearly to me the difference between the candidates.  Obviously, each reader will have their own perspective.


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