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It’s Pressley vs. Martinez

Posted Saturday, January 21, 2012 2:45 pm
Clarification posted January 22, 2012 1:30pm
It’s Pressley vs. Martinez

First-time Council Candidate to Oppose
City Council’s Only Hispanic Incumbent

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012

Laura Pressley kicked off her campaign December 10 vowing not to let the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” that resulted in having one African American and one Latino on the council stop her from opposing a minority member of the City Council.

At Friday’s press conference she proved it. She announced she is targeting incumbent Mike Martinez, who was first elected in 2006 and is now seeking a third term.

Martinez did not return a request for comment left on his council office recorder. His campaign website provides no telephone number.

Martinez has raised $70,460 for his re-election bid and had $64,654 in the bank as of December 31. He has campaign kickoff fundraiser scheduled for Wednesday at Nuevo Leon Mexican Restaurant, 1501 E. Sixth St., starting at 5:30pm.

Pressley raised $3,100 and had $2,332 in the bank through December 31. She has not yet hired a consultant or campaign manager.

Pressley told The Austin Bulldog she had been advised she needed to raise $200,000 to $250,000 for the campaign. “That’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “We will easily have $40,000 to $50,000 by March.”

Unlike many of the winning candidates in recent council elections, she does not plan to loan her campaign money. “If people don’t support us we will not win,” Pressley said, adding, “I have a lot of donors waiting for us to declare against Martinez.”

In her press conference Pressley said there were concerns about her going against the gentlemen’s agreement from the 1970s but, “We’re not in the seventies anymore. Designating one seat (for a Latino) is a serious limitation.

“There should be two or three Latino seats if we get real geographic representation in this city. We really support the 10-1 plan.” She was referring to the proposal initiated by Austinites for Geographic Representation, a grass-roots citizens initiative to get on the ballot a proposition to establish a nonpartisan Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission that would draw 10 council districts that the Austin City Council would have no choice but to adopt. The group’s plan calls for only the mayor to continue being elected at-large.

“Over the years Mike Martinez has done very little to help the Hispanic community,” Pressley said. “We need a change at City Hall—regardless of skin color—and directly do what’s important for East Austin and all of Austin.”

About a dozen attended the press conference, many of which were Latinos. All said they’re fed up with Martinez, including long-time East Austin activists Marcelo Tafoya, Gavino Fernandez, Jose Quintero, Fidel Acevedo, and a younger Danny Perez. All professed strong support for Pressley and no concern about the fact that her victory would displace the council’s only Latino.

Interviews with some of them,before the press conferenceat the YMCA Learning Center at 2121 E. Sixth Street, revealed a deep resentment over what they perceive as Martinez’ lack of attention to problems.

“It doesn’t matter,” Quintero said of the idea a white woman might beat Martinez. “He’s not helping us.”

Tafoya agreed, saying, “We decided a while back to get rid of ‘Evil Knievel.’ We decided that the gentlemen’s agreement is BS. It hasn’t served the minority community at all.”

Tafoya, a former district director for District 12 of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said the minority members of the council were “never elected by us, they never represented us, and never even considered us. They make token gestures and the council votes against us. We’re sick and tired of it.”

Pressley said she met with Latino community members in December and kept it quiet. “We would not do this without Hispanic support.”

Critical of council decisions, offers ideas

Bill Spelman’s Re-election Campaign

Posted Thursday, January 19, 2012 3:40 pm
Bill Spelman’s Re-election Campaign
Kickoff Draws an Appreciative Crowd

University of Texas Professor, Council Member
Wants to Keep Austin Weird, and Explains Why

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012

Bill SpelmanCouncil Member Bill Spelman launched his campaign for a third term on the Austin City Council at Scholz Garten Tuesday evening to boost his campaign war chest beyond the $31,600 he had raised through December 31, according to the contribution report filed Tuesday.

Jim Wick, Spelman’s campaign manager, said in an e-mail the campaign would prefer not to give a figure of how much was raised at the event, “...but we were happy with the depth and breadth of the contributions (and contributors) we received last night and in the days since December 31.” He said 125 people attended. The audience was much smaller when Spelman spoke, as some supporters came by for brief visits and left to meet other commitments.

Spelman said he recently noted the camaraderie of Travis County Democrats at a recent annual dinner and attributed that spirit of cohesiveness to having a common enemy, like Governor Rick Perry.

Although elections to fill seats on the Austin City Council are nonpartisan, Spelman said the citizens of Austin need a common enemy too. He reeled off a list of the things that make Austin unique, and said, “I’m going to argue that our real enemy, our common enemy, is all the things that threaten that.”

“Every time someone tells me, ‘Austin is the only city in the country that doesn’t have this or doesn’t do that,’ a small part of me is just a little bit giddy. So long as we’re smart enough about it, keeping Austin weird is not just a semi-cool slogan, it’s a real means of survival in a brutal, difficult, and changing world.”

In listing some of the things accomplished in his current term, Spelman mentioned:

• Launching, with Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, the Neighborhood Match Program that “gives neighborhoods a chance to decide for themselves what public works they need.”

• Pushing the Austin Water Utility to move forward as fast as possible on its water reclamation program. “In an unprecedented drought—one that climatologists tell us is going to last in some form or fashion for the rest of our lifetimes—it only makes sense to use water twice, not just once.”

• Enacting payday lending restrictions. “Congress has not yet dealt with the dramatic increase in payday lending, but 400 percent interest-rate charges pose an imminent threat to the well-being of thousands of Austinites, almost all of them of modest means. The Lege did not act. We did.”

• Regulating pregnancy counseling centers. Women “need to know there are significant limitations to the kind of help offered in the crisis pregnancy center. The State Legislature doesn't want to tell you. We did.”

• Helping Foundation Communities to open volunteer tax preparation centers that “over the past few years has put $29 million of tax refunds into the hands of poor and moderate-income Austinites.”

“All of this is really weird,” Spelman said. “Cities pick up trash, they sell potable water, and they answer 911 calls. They do not typically give neighborhoods choices, use water twice, regulate lenders and pregnancy centers, or help people save money. Some of them do. But that's what our changing world is calling for and that's what we need to do.

“Our continued ability to adapt, working within our Austin DNA, is critical to our surviving and thriving as  a city in coming years. Weird isn't just a slogan. It's a way of life.”

Running unopposed at the moment

Background Investigation: Sheryl Cole

Posted Thursday, January 12, 2012 4:25pm
Updated Friday, January 13, 2012 2:50pm

Background Investigation: Sheryl Cole

Here’s What the Public Records Say About
the Council Member Running for Reelection

by Rebecca LaFlure
© The Austin Bulldog 2012

Sheryl ColeIn the nearly six years since Sheryl Cole was elected as the first African-American woman on the Austin City Council, she has championed a project aimed at spurring redevelopment along Waller Creek, advocated for increased housing options for low-income families, and voted in favor of the controversial $750,000 settlement in the police shooting death of teenager Nathaniel Sanders II.

Now, a month after Cole launched her campaign for a third term, The Austin Bulldog searched beyond the decisions made at council meetings and dug into Cole’s professional, political, and personal background.

We used an organized plan to find, copy, and publish public documents—including business, real estate, voting, criminal and court records—so citizens can form their own conclusions about their elected officials in the months leading to the May 2012 election.

We invite readers to study the documents and let us know if there are any important details we overlooked, or areas that warrant further investigation.

Strong real estate connections

Laura Pressley’s Campaign Kicks Off

Posted Monday, December 12, 2011 9:20pm
Updated 10:10am Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Laura Pressley’s Campaign Kicks Off

Candidate Drew Big and Loud Crowd
in Announcing Run for Austin City Council

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011

Laura PressleyA newcomer to Austin politics got off to a noisy start at the venerable Scholz Garten on Saturday, drawing about 125 people to hear her announce her candidacy.

Laura Pressley previously gained local media exposure by crusading against the addition of fluoride in Austin’s drinking water and talking about the health dangers she says are posed by the airport security scanners. She said she is qualified to address the scientific issues involved, based on her PhD in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. Her pleas to the Austin City Council regarding these issues went unheeded, triggering her decision to run.

Pressley won’t say which council seat she will seek. Three incumbents, in addition to Mayor Lee Leffingwell, are running for reelection: Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman.

“I’m leaving open which seat I will run for,” she told the crowd. But she vowed not to let the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement,” which sets aside seats for an African American and Latino, stand in her way. “I don’t have any trouble going into that sandbox,” she said. “I have no fear of going against that—no fear at all.”

She said she is taking feedback and will probably decide which seat to run for in late January. Candidates cannot file for a place on the ballot before February 6. The deadline to file is March 6.

Pressley said she wants to run ads on TV and do radio interviews and is a “big fan of alternative media.”

“I've spent hour after hour watching the council ignore people, not only us but their own commissioners,” Pressley said, referring to a recommendation by the Airport Advisory Commission not to install the scanners now in use at the airport.

Focusing on health

Brigid Shea Exploring Run for Mayor

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011 6pm
Brigid Shea Exploring Run for Mayor

Cites Differences in Vision and Leadership
But No Specifics While Mulling Her Candidacy

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011

Brigid SheaBrigid Shea served a tumultuous three years on the Austin City Council ending in June 1996, a period marked by Mayor Bruce Todd’s push to sell the city’s electric utility amid the nascent legislative restructuring of the electric industry in Texas and the birth of her first son, Eamon Brennan Umphress, on December 18, 1995, when Shea was 41.

Now Shea is considering challenging Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who announced his reelection bid November 16.

“I’m telling people this is a discussion worth having,” Shea told The Austin Bulldog. “The community is capable of having competing visions and that’s what I’m exploring.”

Leffingwell campaign spokesman Mark Littlefield said, “I think Brigid Shea’s been a stellar advocate and stakeholder and we look forward to hearing from her on the campaign trail.”

Shea declined to get into specifics about her differences with Mayor Leffingwell, saying, “I don’t want to get into the campaign until I've made a decision, but there’s a very sharp contrast in our leadership and vision.”

Shea filed a statement with the city clerk’s office late yesterday to appoint Danette Chimenti as her treasurer. Chimenti supported Kathie Tovo’s campaign that unseated Council Member Randi Shade this year, as well as the re-election campaign of Council Member Laura Morrison.

The Austin Chronicle posted a report online this afternoon about a poll conducted last night that included questions asking respondents to compare Shea, Leffingwell, and Council Members Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole. The latter two were at one time considered possible mayoral candidates but they have since declined to run for mayor and are running for reelection.

Shea told The Austin Bulldog that she was “not confirming or denying” that she commissioned the poll.

Pollster Jeff Smith, owner of Opinion Analysts, said his company conducted the poll but he was not at liberty to disclose who paid for without permission, and he had not obtained it yet.

Shea’s treasurer, Chimenti, cofounded Logical Information Machines Inc., a company that grew out  of the Austin Technology Incubator initiative of the University of Texas. The company was to be sold to Morningstar Inc., a leading provider of independent investment research, for a reported $51.5 million, according to a PRNewswire report of December 11, 2009. At the time of the sale the company’s largest office was in Austin and employed about 80 people, the article stated, with locations in Austin, Houston, Chicago, New York and London.

Chimenti is past president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council and has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board. She is currently a member of the city’s Planning Commission, to which she was appointed by Council Member Bill Spelman in July 2009.

Shea, who turns 57 on January 9, won her political spurs as founding director of the Save Our Springs Coalition formed in 1991. The Coalition successfully petitioned to get the SOS Ordinance on the ballot and won voter approval in 1992 by a two-to-one margin.

During the run-up to the SOS Ordinance election in 1992 Shea often traded barbs with Freeport-McMoRan Inc. CEO Jim Bob Moffett, who was threatening to bankrupt the city with litigation of the SOS Ordinance passed.

She also crossed swords with Circle C developer Gary Bradley during the SOS Ordinance campaign. One memorable videotape of Shea and Bradley in a cramped radio studio showed an obviously angry Bradley trying to debate the proposed ordinance. The Austin American-Statesman published a lengthy feature article October 23 noting that Shea and Bradley had quit fighting, something emblematic of the maturing of both these individuals and the environmental movement.

Shea won her council seat in 1993 in a runoff election against incumbent Bob Larson, who had been part of the narrow 4-3 council majority that opposed the SOS Ordinance.

Lee LeffingwellMayor Leffingwell has environmental credentials, too, having served on the city’s environmental board for five years before being elected to the city council in 2005. He served as a council member till he was elected mayor in 2009.

But the mayor has angered many in the environmental community for pushing construction of half-billion-dollar Water Treatment Plant 4 that the SOS Alliance and others said was unnecessary, and for supporting the Formula One race track.

To see The Austin Bulldog’s background investigation on Leffingwell published December 2, click here.

Shea’s council term and later work