If Harper-Madison loses District 1 Runoff, Austin Loses Its Only Black Council Seat

HomeCity of AustinCity CouncilIf Harper-Madison loses District 1 Runoff, Austin Loses Its Only Black Council...

Opponent Salazar promises to work with everyone to create equity and communities that work for all

Updated Friday December 7, 2018 9:26am (to correct fundraising figures from the latest campaign finance reports)

The runoff election for District 1 features two minority women candidates going one-on-one for the privilege of succeeding incumbent Ora Houston, who, like District 8 incumbent Ellen Troxclair, was elected in 2014 and chose not to seek another term.

Natasha Harper-Madison faces Mariana Salazar, who got 26.01 percent of the votes November 6 compared to Harper-Madison’s 25.07 percent. The margin that separated them was 204 votes. The other four District 1 candidates netted a total of 10,672 votes.

On Harper-Madison rides the hope that Austin will not lose its only African American City Council seat. In 1971, Berl Handcox won a runoff to become the first black member of the council. Every council since then has had one—and only one—African American member.

Harper-Madison’s campaign website indicates she’s been endorsed by AURA, Austin Firefighters Association, Austin Police Association, Austin Young Democrats, Bike Austin, Black Austin Democrats, Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, and The Austin Chronicle.

Salazar’s campaign website lists endorsements from AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), Greater ATX National Women Political Caucus (NWPC), Texas Alliance of Retired Americans (TARA), and University of Texas Democrats (UDems).

Harper-Madison obviously have more powerful organizations standing behind her, groups that have political action committees (PACs) that have the ability to spend significant sums in support of her candidacy.

Money advantage is Harper-Madison’s

Aside from the PAC backing, Harper-Madison has the upper hand in campaign funding. Her December 3 campaign finance report shows she got $41,171 in the latest reporting period and she has $37,537 in cash on hand. However, the $15,490 check she got from the City’s Fair Campaign Fund was part of that contribution total.

Salazar’s report filed the same day shows she raised $29,387 $21,396 in the reporting period and has $12,939 in cash on hand. She did not get money from the Fair Campaign Fund. Subtracting the Fair Campaign Fund boost that Harper-Madison got from her total in the latest reporting period shows that Salazar  Harper-Madison also actually raised $3,706 $4,285 more from individual donors than Harper-Madison  Salazar gathered.

The respective cash-on-hand balances for the two candidates leaves Harper-Madison with $24,598 more than Salazar has to use for the campaign that ends with the election of December 11.

Salazar said she failed to meet one of the criteria a get a share of the Fair Campaign Fund. As for her own campaign funds: “It’s not enough but that’s fine,” she said, “because the campaign was never about money.”

Money wasn’t a factor in the November 6 election results, certainly. Vincent Harding raised $80,000 and placed third. Harper-Madison had $31,650 to Salazar’s $16,686, yet Salazar wound up as the top vote getter.

To raise funds, Salazar said, “Mostly you call people. You have to work to get money. That’s time. The most precious thing is talking to voters. From the beginning of my campaign, my priorities are people over money. I need money for sure, but who’s getting the money? If I’m not hiring, I don’t need money.”

A review of the four campaign finance reports Salazar has filed beginning July 15, 2018, supports her claim. In her entire campaign she has spent a total of $1,500 for wages.

“I’m going after my base and I’m very proud of it,” Salazar said.

Will Houston be the last black council member?

Interviewed November 21, Houston told The Austin Bulldog, “With gentrification going on in District 1 and new people moving in, I was fortunate to have wide array of people who knew me for a long time and I was able to capture votes from other demographics.

“I don’t know that system will prevail for very long. When you look at (District 1) demographics it’s more white and Latino,” she said.

In that interview Houston said she had not yet decided whether to endorse one of these candidates. She had endorsed Vincent Harding in the November 6 election. He finished third, trailing second-place Harper-Madison by 412 votes.

Houston confirmed in a December 1 email she’s not endorsing either candidate. “Voters must make their decision based on the issues and concerns that are important to them.”

Ryan Robinson
Ryan Robinson

As reported by The Austin Bulldog November 8, City Demographer Ryan Robinson said the city’s African-American population is growing in real numbers but it is shrinking as a percentage of the total population. “The biggest growth in District 1 is from non-Hispanic whites,” he said.

The Austin Chronicle reported November 30 that former council members (and mayoral candidates) Sheryl Cole, an African American recently elected to the Texas Legislature, and Mike Martinez, a Hispanic, both endorsed Harper-Madison. The Chronicle quoted Cole as saying, “It’s important that the black community in Austin can look to the City Council dais and see themselves reflected in our government.”

Nelson Linder campaigning for 10-1 geographic representation
Nelson Linder campaigning for 10-1 geographic representation

Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP, told The Austin Bulldog that the possibility of losing African American representation on the council, “is very unfortunate. We have to understand the need to have representation.”

“We have three Hispanic seats already. It would be sad if we got 10-1 (geographic districts) and lost diversity,” said Linder, who was active in supporting the grassroots campaign waged by Austinites for Geographic Representation to get 10-1 on the ballot and win voter approval.

I’m going to support Natasha,” he said.

Beyond that, Linder said, “We got here collectively. We have to work together. I hope that in the big picture we work better together than by ourselves.”

Asked if it made any difference that Salazar has lived in Travis County and voted in eight elections since 2012 while Harper-Madison didn’t register to vote at a District 1 address until October 2017, and had not voted in it? (Based on voter records obtained by The Austin Bulldog before the November 6, 2018, election.)

“You can argue that,” he said. “I still think from a cultural standpoint Natasha has a deeper understanding, based on her involvement with black organizations. She has deep roots and can overcome that.”

What if his favored candidate loses?

“If Salazar wins she will have responsibility to serve this district. I think if she wins we’ll have to communicate and work together as human beings,” Linder said. “We’ll move forward.”

That’s what Salazar says she intends to do.

“Every day I’m out in the street and I’m intentionally going to every corner, talking to renters, homeowners, blacks. In Pioneer Crossing people spoke seven different languages on one street.

“I’m confident I can represent a diverse district and the black community. They’ve had it harder because of the sad history of segregation. I recognize where we’re coming from. The black community had it harder. I’m very comfortable if I win to be working with black community and others in District 1 to create equity and communities that work for all of us.”

Harper-Madison’s financial disclosures

Natasha Harper-Madison with her two daughters
Natasha Harper-Madison with her two daughters

This District 1 candidate filed both her PFS and SFI disclosures September 12, 2018. The PFS due September 10 was two days late, the SFI due August 27 was two weeks late.

Both reports list her address as 10606 Settlers Trail where she and her husband, Thomas Gregory Madison, own a home. Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) records show that property has a homestead exemption. Travis County marriage records indicate the Natasha Nacole Harper wed Thomas Gregory Madison March 8, 2005.

That address is in District 6—not District 1—a discrepancy already widely reported, first by the Austin American-Statesman September 18. A candidate must live in the district for at least six months before the August 20 deadline to file for a place on the ballot, meaning mid-February.

Her ballot application indicates that she lives at 1609 E. 13th St., which is in District 1. TCAD records indicate the house is owned by Elwood M. Domaschk Jr., who lives in Houston.

But all other paperwork that Harper-Madison filed for this election cycle—including the appointment of her campaign treasurer January 9, 2018, and both of her financial disclosures—list her address as 10606 Settlers Trail, in District 6.

Matt Tynan
Matt Tynan

Matt Tynan, a former assistant city attorney, sent a letter to the City Clerk to ask for an investigation of her residency and her right to run in District 1, said city spokesman Bryce Bencivengo. He said the city responded to Tynan by saying that questions of residency must be decided by a court of law.

Harper-Madison’s application for a place on the ballot states that she is self-employed. On her financial disclosures she lists her occupation is “activist.” Her disclosures reflect no occupational income.

Thomas Madison is listed in her PFS as a lieutenant in the Austin Fire Department. He is also self-employed as the Fireman Dryerman, a contractor who cleans dryer-vents.

Her PFS leaves blank the space for listing dependent children. News reports indicate the couple have two children who attend school in the Round Rock Independent School District. Her campaign website includes the above photo of her and two young girls. The website indicates the couple have two adult children as well.

Aside from listing the Settlers Trail home as her real estate interest, financed by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, both of her financial disclosures are otherwise blank.

Harper-Madison corporate and assumed name filings

Research shows that Harper-Madison is or was involved in at least six different organizations, all of which are associated with her Settlers Trail home address, as follows:

Austin Specialty Transport was formed by Natasha Madison March 27, 2015, according to an assumed name certificate on file with the Travis County Clerk. Online searches located no information about this business.

East Austin Advocates was formed by Natasha Madison at the physical address of 1818 E. 12th St. September 27, 2016, according to an assumed name certificate on file with the Travis County Clerk. That address is home to Urban Co-Lab, a shared workspace, as well as The Station Recovery Community Center operated by Sober Austin.

The Facebook page for the East Austin Advocates includes a tagline: “Complete Community Support Services.” The About page on Facebook states, “Our mission is to advocate for the dignified navigation of social service systems and be a bridge between people and resources.” The LinkedIn page for the organization states that it was founded in 2012 as a sole proprietorship—four years before the assumed name certificate was filed in Travis County.

Eco Chic Floral was formed by Natasha Madison May 15, 2012, according to an assumed name certificate on file with the Travis County Clerk. In early 2015 the Austin Black Chamber of Commerce named Sustainable Flower Evangelist, Eco Chic Floral as its 2014 Small Business of the Year, the chamber confirmed in a phone interview December 3.

Harper-Madison Designs was formed by Natasha Madison September 14, 2011, according to an assumed name certificate on file with the Travis County Clerk. The company’s Facebook page indicates that it designs and sells wreaths. The website listed for the business is inoperative.

Take5ToVote was formed by Natasha Madison at the physical address of 1609 E. 13th St. January 26, 2018, according to an assumed name certificate on file with the Travis County Clerk. A YouTube video posted October 22, 2016, encourages people to go vote and take five others with them. The video has had 34 views. Singer-songwriter Wendy Colonna and band performed at a Take5ToVote’s New Voter Fair October 30, 2016.

The Floral Engagement LLC was founded by Natasha Madison June 18, 2014, according to the Certificate of Formation filed with the Texas Secretary of State. The last Texas Franchise Tax Public Information Report for the business was filed March 4, 2016. No information about this business surfaced in an online search.

In response to The Austin Bulldog’s emailed question about whether any of these businesses or organizations are still functioning—and therefore should have been reported in her financial disclosures—Harper-Madison’s campaign replied by email: “I am not collecting money from any of the entities listed. Several were non-revenue generating community initiatives, while others were linked to my floral business that I folded up after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2014.

“After coming through that battle, I decided to become a full-time champion for the community that I grew up in and that I hope to soon fight for, in the words of The Austin Chronicle, like a ‘real bulldog’ on City Council.”

Harper-Madison’s volunteer work

Natasha Harper-Madison, with members of the East 12th Street Merchants Association
Natasha Harper-Madison, with members of the East 12th Street Merchants Association

East 12th Street Merchants Association is an organization that Harper-Madison was instrumental in moving the formation process forward by helping to draft bylaws and involve other businesses, according to Creola Burns.

Harper-Madison is the 2018 president, according to its Facebook page. The organization is part of the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department’s Souly Austin Business District Incubator program.

Creola Burns
Creola Burns

“Her involvement was deep, very deep,” Burns told The Austin Bulldog. “We had lot of arguments about what the city would do. City staff was not prepared to answer those things. There were three African Americans: Natasha, me, and Pearl Cox, who were in for the long haul. We hung in there and changed some opinions and got a couple of businesses to attend meetings and help with formation.”

To date, only two of the six Souly Austin districts have received city services. Funding for both districts was provided for “organizational development consulting,” according to Austin Finance Online. Disbursements began in December 2016. The City has spent nothing for the other four districts.

According to Austin Finance Online, the Manor Road Merchants Association got $20,000 for such services and the Red River Merchants Association got $16,500.

“Natasha helped us look at what we would do,” Burns said. “She had been helping individual businesses to see what their goals are and helped to achieve those goals. She brought a lot of energy and knowledge.

“I’m praying we can come together and get her elected,” she said.

Austin Justice Coalition—Harper-Madison’s LinkedIn page lists among her volunteer service working with the Austin Justice Coalition from September 2015 to September 2016. “I was proud to help this organization with strategic business planning, partnership development, marketing and social media strategy and more.”

The Austin Chronicle, in an article published January 16, 2018, parroted the LinkedIn claim, citing Harper-Madison’s work “on business planning for the Austin Justice Coalition.”

Chas Moore © Jana Birchum 2017
Chas Moore © Jana Birchum 2017

The founder and executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition told The Austin Bulldog that’s not true.

Of Harper-Madison he said, “I think she was preparing to offer services for us that we were not ready for…We didn’t understand the need for it.”

“We’re still in the infant stage as a nonprofit,” Moore said of the organization he started in March 2015 but only incorporated last year. “She’s a very business minded person, and that can be good for District 1. But the Austin Justice Coalition is just a grassroots organization that focuses on change, and people. Maybe one day we will focus on the business side.”

“Some people get caught up in the money,” Moore said. “We’re just not at that point yet.”

Lene Saint-Orens
Lene Saint-Orens

Moore did, however, offer praise for Harper-Madison’s assistance when the Austin Justice Coalition was looking for a location to conduct a new Saturday school program. He said she introduced them to Lene Saint-Orens, the founder and executive director of the Wholesome Generation space.

Moore said he lives in District 3 and is not endorsing either candidate in District 1.

“I don’t live in the district and it’s not fair for me to say how the district voting should play out,” Moore said. “I think we have two very capable candidates and I wish them both luck.”

Mariana Salazar’s financial disclosures

Alex Ayala and Marina Salazar with their children
Alex Ayala and Marina Salazar with their children

The candidate timely filed both of her financial disclosures August 27, 2018.

Both disclosures list her home address as 7611 Lazy Creek Drive. TCAD records indicate that property has a homestead exemption and is owned by her and husband Alex Ayala.

Salazar lists two dependent children on her financial disclosures. She told The Austin Bulldog she married Ayala in Venezuela in 2006.

Salazar’s occupational income, according to her disclosures, comes from doing planning, research, and program implementation for the Ending Community Homeless Coalition and from working as a nurse at People’s Community Clinic.

According to her PFS, the couple derives rental income from a house they own at 8801 Stambourne Street in Austin, which is located in District 2.

TCAD records indicate they also own a house at 2717 Cottonwood Shores Drive in District 3. The house is not listed in her PFS but it is listed as a rental property in her SFI.

Instructions for completing financial disclosure require listing the income, assets, interests in businesses or nonprofits involving not only the candidate but also that of the spouse or domestic partner.

Her SFI fails to list Salazar and Ayala’s involvement in certain entities including:

Arepas Venezuelan Grill LLC, in which both she and Ayala are board members. This limited liability company was formed January 18, 2011, according to records of the Texas Secretary of State. The latest Texas Franchise Tax Public Information Report for the business was filed April 22, 2017.

Although a food truck with a similar name does business in Houston as Arepa Grill, Salazar told The Austin Bulldog that’s not their company.

“There are a lot of Venezuelans in Houston and Austin, and arepa is a common food,” she said. That’s supported by a Wikipedia article that states arepa “is a type of food made of ground maize dough or cooked flour prominent in the cuisine of Columbia and Venezuela.”

Salazar said their food truck as done business in Austin during a couple of festivals, including the Zilker KiteFestival, adding, “right now there is no activity.”

Comite Apoyo Proyectos Estanzuelences. Records of the Secretary of State indicate that both Ayala and Salazar were directors when the last franchise report was filed July 19, 2011. The organization based in Houston consists of a group of immigrants from the town of Estanzuelas, El Salvador. The organization works to support health, education and infrastructure projects. In addition, some families involved make monthly donations to support this work.

Salazar told The Austin Bulldog, “That was my husband’s project and I support my husband.”

A to Z Translators LLC was formed by Ayala August 8, 2016, according to Secretary of State records, and when created it was based at the couple’s former home address.

A letter from the Texas Veterans Commission states that Ayala has presented documentation to show that he has an honorable discharge from a branch of the U.S. military. Ayala’s résumé posted on the company’s website states that he served as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy 2001-2006.

Under SB 1049, signed into law by the governor May 29, 2015, that law permitted the company to be certified as a veteran-owned business and exempt from the franchise tax and certain filing fees during an initial period of operation in the state.

Given that A to Z Translators is an operating business with a wide range of clients including Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Mary Kay, Waste Management, Williamson County and others, the business should have been reported in Salazar’s financial disclosures.

Next: District 3 candidates Susana Renteria Almanza and Sabino “Pio” Renteria


Personal Financial Statement of Natasha Harper-Madison  (5 pages)

Statement of Financial Information of Natasha Harper-Madison  (6 pages)

Personal Financial Statement of Mariana Salazar (5 pages)

Statement of Financial Information of Mariana Salazar  (6 pages)

Related Bulldog coverage:

Ward Didn’t File Financial Disclosure, a Possible Class B Misdemeanor: District 8 runoff candidate Ward is 85 days overdue on Personal Financial Statement, December 4, 2018

Mayor Moves to Downtown: Mid-year reports must show changes in ‘substantial interests’ for first half 2015, August 7, 2015

Candidates Rich and Poor Competing: Occupational income, investments, debts, real estate, business interests, and much more detailed in filings, September 30, 2014

Austin Governed by the Well-to-Do: November 2014 elections may deliver economic diversity in next city council, May 17, 2013

Some Council Members’ Finances Change Significantly: Mayor carries campaign debt, Riley adds domestic partner, Martinez adds investments, Cole reports spouse separately, and Tovo pays off $528,000 in real estate loans, August 22, 2012

How Rich Are Austin’s Mayor and Council Members? Most are pretty well off by local standards, with extensive holdings in real estate and investments, June 27, 2012

Council Member Martinez Reports Big Gains in Financial Assets: May have failed to report mayor investments in last annual report, August 17, 2011

Council Members Riley and Shade May Have Violated Austin City Code: Sworn financial statements give public tools to monitor their elected officials, June 3, 2011

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.

Email [email protected].

Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contributionThrough December 31, donations of up to $1,000 will be tripled by matching donors. Donations from new people who sign up to make monthly sustaining donations will be matched X12 through the end of the month.

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