Gary S. Spellman, a cosmetics executive and philanthropist, is running a long-shot campaign for Austin mayor promising a less divisive, more transparent approach to politics.
“We’re stronger together. I’m 56 and I’ve never seen a time in our city where it’s been so divided,” Spellman said in an interview. “They want to put you in a red silo or a blue silo. It’s like if you root for A&M you can’t root for UT too. That’s what they want. And everything’s turned into that kind of ‘us against them’ and it’s not really that way.”
Spellman says he’ll back “good ideas from both sides.” In a recorded video announcing his campaign, he called for “cooperation,” “critical thinking,” and “accountability.” He was vague on policy specifics but took aim at politicians and the media for “trying to divide us.”
Spellman is the co-founder of Ultimate Face Cosmetics and a long-time friend and business associate of John Paul DeJoria, the billionaire co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products, founder of tequila maker Patrón Spirits Co, and a major donor to homeless services in Austin.
Together with DeJoria, Spellman co-founded a charity motorcycle ride, which is now in its 20th year.
A political amateur and independent who isn’t taking donations for his campaign, Spellman wants to the city council to pay less heed to established power brokers and spend more time trying out new solutions.
“I would like to see a more diverse city council. And I get it, we (as a city) are 74 percent Democrat. But could we bring some other ideas into the council?” He referred to the fact that ten of 11 council members are Democrats and the current leading contender in the mayoral race, Kirk Watson, already served as mayor from 1997 to 2001.
“For 38 years this city has been run by one playbook and it’s been Democrats. And I’m not slamming Democrats but there is no diversity on that council.”
Spellman turned to another sports analogy to describe what he sees as the consequences of the council’s monolithic politics: “It’s just like sports. Eventually they figured out Bill Belichick and the Patriots and they started to lose. If you do the same thing over and over again, it gets predicable, and nothing gets done, and it’s the same song and dance, and it’s the same people making money, and it’s the same people in secret meetings about land use. It’s still that way. It’s very non-progressive, if you will.”
Similarly, at a candidate forum of the Black Professional Alliance August 5th, Spellman said the city was failing to solve problems in part because “We’re still doing politics the way we’ve always done them.”
“The big frustration I see in this city right now is nobody is listening. There is no listening going on. You don’t have to be a politician to run a great city, you have to be somebody who can delegate, listen and execute. You can’t drag your feet.”
Spellman has worked more than 25 years in the cosmetics industry, performing many roles: field sales, sales management, distributor, manufacturer, and salon coordinator, according to his campaign website.
Before working in cosmetics he was a doorman at a club in Newport, Rhode Island, which is where he met DeJoria. In a biography on his website, Spellman calls that “a pivotal personal and professional moment,” marking the start of a long-time friendship as well as a “long-standing relationship with John Paul Mitchell Systems.”
Spellman moved to Austin in 1997 around the time that DeJoria did. He and his wife Laurie Spellman ran Ultimate Salon Services, which was the exclusive distributor for Paul Mitchell products in south and central Texas. After selling the distributorship about ten years ago they founded their own cosmetics line, Ultimate Face Cosmetics, based in Round Rock. The company also trains makeup artists.
Spellman is the CEO of that company, which has five full-time employees and close to 200 independent contractors, he told the Bulldog. He still maintains a direct affiliation with John Paul Mitchell Systems as a goodwill ambassador, and DeJoria’s wife Eloise DeJoria is a partner in Ultimate Face Cosmetics.
Asked how his private sector experience has prepared him for the role of mayor, Spellman said it taught him to manage a budget and to look after his employees. He noted too that it had given him a front row seat on Covid-19’s impact on the private sector.
Philanthropy and politics
The charity that Spellman co-founded with DeJoria, the Peace*Love*Happiness Charity Motorcycle Ride, supports the 100 Club of Central Texas, which helps the families of fallen or injured first responders. In the past it has also supported the Austin Children’s Shelter, which became part of the SAFE Alliance, and a variety of other causes.
The charity’s name is similar to that of DeJoria’s larger family foundation, JP’s Peace Love and Happiness Foundation. However, the two charities are separate. Spellman said that the motorcycle ride predated the family foundation and that the two differ in that the foundation doesn’t raise outside money, whereas the motorcycle ride is a fundraising event.
Politically, Spellman has less experience than he does philanthropically—little to none, in fact. He said at the August 5th candidate forum, which was broadcast on Facebook, “Last time I was involved in politics I was a junior class president and I got impeached because I was a poor kid that went to a Catholic school who never went to the meetings.”
Spellman developed his interest in running for mayor during the pandemic, when he began a habit of watching council meetings. “These city council meetings are a joke,” he concluded. “They don’t do much. They all scream they’re progressive but they drag their feet on making any kind of sustainable change.”
Spellman is casting himself as a “purple” candidate, meaning neither Republican nor Democrat. He has printed T-shirts that say, “Stop crying the blues, stop seeing red, vote purple instead! Spellman for mayor.”
‘Gary is not with any political party’
Spellman’s friend DeJoria, whom Spellman calls his “top advisor,” has donated to both Democratic candidates as well as Republicans, including U.S. Representatives Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), and Michael McCaul (R-Austin) according to a database of the Federal Election Commission. He also donated to several of Donald Trump’s GOP primary rivals in 2016.
However, Spellman himself didn’t make any donations, and he has generally avoided voting in party primaries. Since 1998, he has voted 13 times in Travis County, never in a Democratic primary and only once in a Republican primary, that being in 2022, according to voter registration records maintained by the Travis County voter registrar. “I’m in the middle,” Spellman told the Bulldog. “I always vote for candidates based on what strikes me and what I’m closest to.”
In an endorsement video on Spellman’s Instagram published July 22nd, DeJoria said, “Gary Spellman would be a sensational mayor. “Gary is not with any political party, okay? And there’s a good reason behind it. Many times—again no disrespect to politicians—when they’re with a party or a certain group and they take a lot of money in they have certain obligations to fulfil…. That’s not the case with Gary.”
“Do you know of any mayor in the last, 50 or 100 years, or any major politician that refuses to take money? He won’t take a dime. If you want to donate to his campaign you’ve got to donate to a charity.”
He was referring to the fact that Spellman has asked prospective supporters to donate to a list of charities rather than to his campaign.
DeJoria added, “He’s an entrepreneur and those that have met him know that he’s just full of energy and excitement…Gary wants to be the person that represents the people, all the people. Not those to the right, not those to the left, not the business people, not the homeless on the street, but all the people. I believe in him so much…myself and many others like me our throwing our support as well as our advice in Gary’s direction.”
What’s left unsaid is that by declining to accept donations Spellman makes it more difficult to sustain a base of active supporters and reach potential new ones. GOP candidate Jennifer Virden, former State Representative Celia Israel, and former State Senator Kirk Watson are all running well-funded campaigns that enable them to advertise, distribute branded materials, and pay staff and contractors.
Although Spellman says he isn’t raising money for his campaign, he’s still required to report campaign expenditures to the City Clerk. The city exempts candidates from the reporting requirements if they sign an agreement to accept no more than $940 in political contributions or make more than $940 in political expenditures, excluding filing fees. But Spellman did not do so. Asked about this, Spellman said he was still getting up to speed on the reporting requirements and would look into the matter.
Views on city policies
Although Spellman is not running a campaign focused on any particular policy topics, but rather on his potential to unite a divided city, he was asked about several current issues at a candidate forum of the Black Professional Alliance, which was broadcast on Facebook August 5th.
On housing affordability, he blamed “red tape that ties up the regulations make it impossible to build and build fast.” He spoke approvingly of a plan by fellow mayoral candidate Celia Israel to allow more duplexes and fourplexes, saying, “We sort of have to let the horses run a little bit…but it gets into Austin’s bureaucratic system and nothing gets done.”
However, in a later interview with the Bulldog, he added that Israel’s proposals on land use and affordable housing are “not going to fix everything. That’s just one microcosm.”
Asked at the candidate forum where he stands on police funding, Spellman implicitly criticized the city for cutting the police budget in 2020, while also calling for a diverse police force that uses restraint in its dealings with the citizens: “You need your citizens of your city to feel safe. They shouldn’t be threatened or feel threatened by anybody with a badge no matter who it is.”
“You cannot have a city without police but I think we should have a police department that reflects the progressiveness of this city. Simple. You got to be able to handle the situation better and it shouldn’t be met with force.”
Spellman’s campaign treasurer is John Noetzel, an Austin police officer.
In an interview, Spellman was also critical of the council’s strategy for helping the homeless, including its handling of rules governing public camping. “The thing that still makes me kind of upset is that our administration, everyone on our council and mayor, they went to failing cities, they went to San Diego, they went to New York, they went to every place where homelessness was the worst. How could that help us understand homelessness?”
Spellman said he supports funding services for the homeless, including through the charities Mobile Loaves and Fishes and The Other Ones Foundation. “But they still have to adhere to the rules of society. You can’t just say here’s a bunch of tents, sleep wherever you want. Because then they become the enemy and any kind of empathy or sympathy for the homeless goes out the window.”
On taxes, Spellman questioned the recent proposal by City Manager Spencer Cronk to increase tax revenue by the maximum amount allowed by state law. “Why? Where is that money going to? How about more transparency,” he said.
On the environment, Spellman said he favored more green spaces and increasing restrictions on water use for watering lawns. “If we drain that lake we’re in big trouble,” he said, referring to Lake Travis.
Spellman and his wife Laurie have one son, Dakota. Spellman races mountain bikes and is an avid motorcyclist. He was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2016.
According to a public records check, which the Bulldog performs for all candidates, Spellman has a record of several traffic offenses, including state highway speeding offenses in 2012 and 2015, an unsafe movement left/right offense in 2014, and speeding in a 30 mph zone in 2015. He has no other criminal record in Texas.
Spellman lives in The Arbor at Great Hills neighborhood of northwest Austin, according to Travis County appraisal records. The couple bought the property in 1999.
Other mayoral candidates
Spellman is one of eight candidates running for mayor in this election cycle. Also running are: Craig Allan Blanchard, 37; Anthony Bradshaw, 62; Phil Campero Brual, 22; former State Representative Celia Marie Israel, 57; Erica Ann Nix, 40; Jennifer Marie Virden, 54, who ran for the Place 10 council seat in 2020; and former State Senator Kirk Watson, 64, who served as mayor 1997-2001.
The Bulldog will provide additional coverage of the other mayoral candidates as the race develops.
Trust indicators: Bulldog reporter Daniel Van Oudenaren is a journalist with 13 years experience in local, state, and international reporting.
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