Leffingwell Draws a Big Crowd

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Lee Leffingwell addresses the crowd

Free Beer, Free Eats, and Free Music Makes a Speech Go Down Real Easy

by Rebecca LaFlure
Lee Leffingwell addresses the crowd
Lee Leffingwell addresses the crowd

At a campaign event Saturday, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell touted what he considers several of his greatest accomplishments over the past two and a half years: helping create jobs amid a shaky economy, building collaborative agreements with Austin ISD, and garnering support for a $90 million transportation bond voters approved in November 2010.

But there’s still work to be done, Leffingwell said, and he hopes Austin residents will elect him to a second mayoral term May 12.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress over the last two and a half years on a lot of different things, but the job is not finished,” Leffingwell said. “My goal has always been and remains today to leave Austin a better place than we found it.”

Hundreds of Austin residents gathered at Leffingwell’s new campaign headquarters, located in East Austin at 2406 Manor Road, to drink beer, eat barbecue, listen to live music, and support Leffingwell’s re-election campaign. The event concluded with an outdoor screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Leffingwell’s favorite movie, about a high school student determined to have a day off from school.

Brigid Shea
Brigid Shea

So far Leffingwell faces only one major competitor in his race for a second term: environmentalist Brigid Shea, founding director of the Save Our Springs Coalition formed in 1991. The coalition gained passage of the Save Our Springs Ordinance, which limits development over the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer, and later became the Save Our Springs Alliance. Shea served on the Austin City Council from 1993 to 1996.

Leffingwell’s event attendees included Austin City Council member Chris Riley, council candidate Tina Cannon, who is running against incumbent Bill Spelman, and former council member Randi Shade.

“It must be the free beer, barbecue and movie. We rarely get this kind of turnout for political speeches,” Leffingwell joked during a brief speech.

He alluded to his recent campaign video based on the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The video received more than 10,000 hits on YouTube and included a scene with Leffingwell singing in the shower.

“I’ve recently launched my career as an actor,” Leffingwell said, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. “Relax, I’m not going to take my shirt off here.”

Leffingwell was first elected to the City Council in 2005 and re-elected in 2008, winning both elections without a runoff. He got 47.23 percent of the vote in his first mayoral contest in 2009 but avoided a runoff when opponent Brewster McCracken withdrew.

Leffingwell took on the mayoral role a year after the nation’s economic downturn, and his immediate goal was to create jobs and improve Austin’s economy, he said.

“We brought thousands of jobs to the City of Austin,” Leffingwell said, “and we’ll bring thousands more in a new term.”

Leffingwell said he has helped build collaborative agreements with AISD—such as joint policing or sharing facilities—and emphasized his support for clean energy and keeping energy affordable to all customers.

Austin Energy has proposed raising electricity rates 12.5 percent—8.7 percent this year and 3.8 percent in 2014—but the Austin City Council has not made a final decision on the increase, according to a February 22 article in the Austin American-Statesman.

He said the city has made strides to maintain an open government, noting the city now posts its checkbook online, has held meetings outside City Hall, and publishes council meeting draft agendas on the city’s website a week earlier than before. He did not mention the fact that the city council is still under investigation by Travis County Attorney David Escamilla over possible violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Leffingwell voiced his support for creating City Council districts and moving council elections from May to November, when there is more voter participation.

Leffingwell said the greatest challenge the city faces is transportation, and he hopes to improve all forms of transportation, including roads, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and a “better mass transit.”

Supporters content with Austin’s direction

Peoples’ reasons for attending the event varied. John Welsch, a landscaper at the University of Texas at Austin, said he came for the barbecue and to “hear what Lee has to say.”

Austin Community College paralegal students Margaret Thym and Rachael Golden, who have worked for Democratic campaigns in the past, came to support a fellow Democrat.

In contrast to many of Shea’s supporters who expressed dislike for the status quo, Huston-Tillotson University student Joan Grant said she came out to support Leffingwell because she likes the direction Austin is going.

Jack Kirfman, political action director for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 1624, said he has supported Leffingwell since his first run for Council in 2005. He especially liked that Leffingwell pushed for “meet and confer” legislation that, if passed, would have given non-civil service city employees bargaining rights. Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services employees already have the right to negotiate pay and other employment issues with the city.

“He’s a great mayor (and) leader,” Kirfman said. “He’s good at articulating issues to the community.”

Savy Buoy, owner and broker of Savy Realty and Acquisition, said Leffingwell has always been supportive of the Asian American community—particularly the Network of Asian American Organizations—and she wanted to show her support for him.

“He stays connected with people. He doesn’t just brush them away,” Buoy said. “Everything with economic development, I’ve been very impressed with.”

Leffingwell leads in campaign contributions

Although well-known in Austin political circles, Shea faces the challenge of catching up with Leffingwell’s significant campaign contributions.

Shea gathered $4,200 in contributions through December 31, according to her report filed January 17, and had $2,340 in pledges for additional contributions. Her only reported political expenditure was $1,000 for a poll conducted by Opinion Analysts Inc.

Shea did not announce she was definitely running against Leffingwell until her February 1 kickoff event. She appointed a campaign treasurer December 5 to launch her exploratory campaign to gauge support.

Leffingwell reported having raised $87,624 though December 31. He still has a debt of $60,911 from his 2009 mayoral campaign.

Shea, who contributed money to Leffingwell’s campaign in 2009, said she is running for mayor in an effort to bring new leadership to City Hall. One of her top goals is to keep Austin affordable.

“We need a city government that works for all of us—not just the insiders and the influentials,” she said at her campaign kickoff February 1. “I’ve known Lee Leffingwell a long time. We’ve worked on projects together. But City Hall needs a new direction.”

Three other candidates who have never before run for a city office have filed campaign treasurer appointments indicating they, too, will run for mayor: Clay Dafoe, Daniel Krawisz, and Nicholas Lucier.

Lucier is a University of Texas government student who, according to a January 25 article in The Horn, decided to run for mayor while attending a Travis County probation hearing.

Prior coverage:

Brigid Shea Supporters Loud and Proud: Former Council Member Packs Threadgill’s for Rousing Mayoral Campaign Kickoff, The Austin Bulldog, February 2, 2012

Open Meetings Investigation a Year Old Today: County Attorney Says Investigation of Whether City Council Violated Open Meetings Act is Still Ongoing, January 25, 2012

Brigid Shea Exploring Run for Mayor, The Austin Bulldog, December 6, 2011

Background Investigation: Mayor Lee Leffingwell, The Austin Bulldog, December 2, 2011