Austin Mayoral Endorsement: Lee Leffingwell

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Many of our readers would probably not believe us when we say that this endorsement above all others was the most difficult to make. In fact, while we were prepared to offer endorsements in the council races weeks now, our staff did not settle on a consensus until recently. We debated issuing no endorsement or a joint endorsement but felt that neither properly accounts for political realities or our personal feelings.

In addition to the paragraph cited in our Place 1 endorsement, we wish to reflect on these words written by KT after the conclusion of last year's municipal elections. This quoted text is important to read to understand the context of this endorsement.

This is an open mayoral seat, a chance for Austin voters to step up, engage the candidates, and pick someone to lead their city that expresses what they want to see in their city. It's a free for all, and a chance to really select a Mayor in a different way than we select our council members. There is something that draws in and engages an expanded set of voters in selecting a Mayor, and it's an opportunity to have a much different conversation about who we are as a city and where we want to go.

Austin is a unique place- with energy, with youth, with growth, with different ideas of what it's future should be. Our mayor should be someone who reflects that. A mayor with character. Just like Austin.

I recognize there are prospective candidates from the current council, as many as three. But this race should be much more than a simplistic insiders debate over “Brewster or Lee” which I find rather small-picture and for the most part, unexciting.

All said- this our chance to elect a new mayor without it being under a cloud of scandal, without particular local issues driving the race, or without certain ballot questions taking priority. Who knows, that could all change in a year, but for 2009, my personal feelings about the race for mayor are ones based upon thinking beyond the insider narratives of today.  

This is largely the problem with this year's Mayoral race. The insider narratives of a year ago, possibly even longer, haven't changed in the slightest. This race has been entirely about “Brewster or Lee”. The only other major challenge comes from a candidate immediately unacceptable to us (and hardly “new and inspiring”) in the form of Carole Strayhorn, who was a joke from the beginning.

For now, the political realities of Austin prevent Brewster McCracken's message from reaching electoral victory, even as a majority of the staff finds it more in sync with our call for a leader who inspires the city. At the same time, we're not entirely convinced that Brewster McCracken is the right messenger for his own message. But that point is muted by the fact that Austin's campaign finance laws and as a result, it's consistently traditional electorate, have made it impossible for all leading candidates to have a real conversation about the future.

Cookie cutter elections lead to cookie cutter campaigns. Let us hope that we reform or shock the system soon lest cookie cutter campaigns lead to cookie cutter candidates.

All this said, we believe Lee Leffingwell should, and will be the next Mayor of Austin. We stand by that. Even though Leffingwell's spent less time on the city council then Brewster McCracken, we feel he is more in tune with the citizens and other key community members who will work together to move the city forward. We have no concerns about where his loyalties lie, whether we can trust his word, or if he will work to protect and enhance the average citizen's quality of life as Mayor. Lee is relatable, he is humble, and he is grounded.

There is something to be said about candidates that get elected with concerns about their ability to represent the eclectic citizenry that makes Austin, Austin. We remember a candidate that could have been described as moderate, steady, or even milquetoast who stepped into office without a runoff against more entertaining contenders. We call him Mayor Will Wynn. And even those who had concerns recognize that he's become the Mayor we are proud to call Austin's own. (And that extends beyond jumping off bridges or doing the Thriller).

We agree with Brewster McCracken on this: The office of the Mayor is about promoting Austin.

But what is Austin? The people are Austin. Without you, there is no Austin.

Lee's in it for Austin because he's in it for you.

That's why we endorse Lee Leffingwell for Mayor of Austin.

On the Web:

Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff employed by campaigns abstain from voting on those races. Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement.


About Author

Burnt Orange Report

Burnt Orange Report, or BOR for short, is Texas' largest political blog, written from a progressive/liberal/Democratic standpoint.


  1. Amy Everhart on

    Thank You
    For me, this is what it all comes down to:

    Even though Leffingwell's spent less time on the city council then Brewster McCracken, we feel he is more in tune with the citizens and other key community members who will work together to move the city forward. We have no concerns about where his loyalties lie, whether we can trust his word, or if he will work to protect and enhance the average citizen's quality of life as Mayor. Lee is relatable, he is humble, and he is grounded.

    I have known both Lee and Brewster for several years and am working for Lee in this election because I strongly believe that he is in step with Austin and the progressive values that the citizenry holds dear. He grew up down the street from where I live in the '04 and I have seen the way he works with community activists and leaders. He really does know where we've been and knows where we need to be now and in the future.

    This is a very thoughtful endorsement and I'm pretty sure I speak for the entire Lee Team when I say that we appreciate it wholeheartedly. And we also appreciate the spotlight that BOR is shining on city races.

    Thank you!

  2. another excellent choice
    I support Lee because his track record is one of getting people to work together, and I truly believe that he is interested in Austin's future. I do not dislike Brewster, not at all. But Leffingwell seems better at cooperation & compromise, and the mayor's job is not to get things done his way, but ours.

  3. Brewster & Lee
    Many mayoralty contests would be lucky to have Brewster on the ballot, but I agree with your endorsement. Lee's strong backing from the neighborhood and other community groups indicates that he is “more in tune.”

  4. Non Endorsement Endorsement….
    I have to say, I find BOR's endorsement pretty mystifying: “The majority of the staff finds [Brewster's message] more in sync with our call for a leader who inspires the city” but “the political realities prevent [him] from reaching electoral victory”?

    This means…. You like the guy, but you don't think he's gonna win, so vote for the other guy???

    And then BOR doesn't really even have anything nice to say about Leffingwell. Your highest praise: BOR has “no concerns” about his loyalties and whether you can trust his words. And he's humble? Can you please offer a reason to vote for your candidate other than that he isn't a complete liar?  Fact is, that's kinda hard to do when you're endorsing Leffingwell. There's no ideas there.

    Just visit the websites: McCracken is the only candidate talking about clean energy and the environment (in Austin) above the fold. And he's the only candidate talking about equality and opportunity above the fold (in a city where the Black Panic of '09 shut down Highland Mall). There's more to the job of mayor of one of America's great creative capitals than fixing potholes. Brewster understands this.

    I've been struck by the analogue between the mayor's race and the Democratic Primary: You've got three main candidates. One with no real shot, who's beholden to the coalitions and interests of “Politics Past” (Edwards/Strayhorn); one “heir apparent,” backed by the full force of the political establishment (Clinton/Leffingwell); and one candidate with an honest to goodness vision for the future.

    All this is to say, next June we're going to get the mayor we have the courage to elect.

    • The courage to elect? Something more than trust?
      Your milquetoast critique of the endorsement has left me puzzled all day.

      The semi-lukewarm nature of the endorsement shouldn't be surprising if you've been following our coverage or even bothered to read the blockquote. But it also shouldn't be overstated. Trustworthiness and loyalty are pretty much the two signature metrics voters use to determine how they connect to a candidate. I supported pretty much every policy that Kinky Friedman supported in his early bid for Governor, but I never trusted him after he and his campaign manager lied to my face about how they were going to run their race, then lied to my face again when I followed up about it. Don't sell trust so short.

      Furthermore, last I checked, voting for an Austin city race is not — at least not yet — some brave act that requires a tremendous amount of courage. We're not fighting off fire hoses or risking political oppression by choosing who to vote for. We're just voting. Voting for one candidate doesn't mean you are any more brave than voting for another candidate means you are scared. If you can explain to me what courage has to do with any of this, I'd like to know.

      Brewster and Lee both have some qualities we like, and some we don't. On balance, the staff supports Lee over Brewster, and the endorsement explains why quite clearly. If you want to support Brewster, keep articulating the large positives like you did in your comment.

      But don't waste time arguing that trust isn't important, or that if you vote for Lee then you're scared, or that if you support Obama then you must support Brewster. Those are the kinds of attitudes that have turned folks off of Brewster's campaign.

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