Large, diverse crowd voices loud support and commitment to her call-and-response initiatives
Updated Wednesday June 4, 2014 3:19pm (added recording and transcript of kickoff speech)
Sheryl Cole, the current mayor pro tem, is winding up her third term on the Austin City Council and—because of term limits—it’s either up, out, or run a petition drive to get back on the ballot as a council member. She’s looking to step up to take the mayor’s job.
She is the first African-American woman to serve on the council and wants to be the first African-American mayor, and only the second woman mayor.
Cole, the third major mayoral candidate, formally kicked off her campaign to be Austin’s next mayor at a private home across the street from Lee Elementary School on a steamy hot Saturday afternoon.
Other mayoral candidates with significant resources are Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Stephen Ira “Steve” Adler. Also running are Todd Phelps and Randall Stephens.
Decked out in skirt, cowgirl boots and a blue-jean jacket, Cole recalled that she had come to Lee Elementary to register the nephew she was raising after his mother died in a car accident. That’s when she met sixth-grade teacher Julie Brown, who calmed Cole’s fears and said, “Sheryl, Sheryl. We. Got. It.”
“There are some debts you can never pay back,” Cole said of that experience, “you can only pay forward.”
She praised the active members of PTA organizations, neighborhood associations, civic groups, the Democratic Party, and church groups for their commitment and service, despite lack of recognition.
“Now I’m a lawyer, and I’m a CPA, but some of the best lessons I learned were from the PTA,” she said. “I took that with me to go ahead and serve on several community boards,” including the Urban League, Planned Parenthood, Communities in Schools, “and I took it all the way to City Hall.”
“It served me well to be able to put groups of people together and watch what they could do for the city,” she said.
Cole said she gathered the business and environmental communities and others for the betterment of the Waller Creek area through construction of the flood-control tunnel that “will take 10 percent of downtown out of the flood plain and make it available for revitalization and redevelopment, and make downtown a park-like setting with a downtown waterway. That will make Austin family friendly not just for downtown but for all of Austin.”
She touted her work to gain passage of affordable housing bonds in a comeback effort after an election defeat in 2012. (Only 48.58 percent of voters cast ballots for $78.3 million in housing bonds on November 6, 2012; affordable housing was the only one of seven bond issues to fail in that election. But on November 5, 2013, 60.39 percent of voters said yes to $65 million in bonds for that purpose.)
“That was a vote that was a truer reflection of who we are as a city and what we truly value, and it shows what can happen when you empower people with information and a voice,” she said.
Cole said she could look back and see things that she could have done better, and that she had lost perspective. “To regain focus we really had to listen to the neighborhoods and to the people. And they were saying that the most important people are not on the dais. … They are the people that you are there to serve.”
“Ten-one will allow us to embrace that concept,” she said.
Cole said she went on 10 house parties in two weeks and people came mostly to be heard, and they offered solutions and ideas that would help the city as a whole.
She said the tension between minority members and police was not just being felt in East Austin but in West Austin also. She said she heard about the need for dual languages not just in Spanish but also for the Asian-American community.
“We don’t need to worry about neighborhoods being divided,” she said, “but we need to worry about City Hall being divided from the city itself.”
“We are blessed to have a community with talent and sheer brain power but we need a mayor who is humble enough to take those ideas and use them because we need a city that is efficient and responsive to those ideas. But we have to be willing to come together and trust each other and strengthen the bonds that tie us together.
“We need a mayor who gets it, a mayor who understands that it’s not just about raising his voice, but it’s about raising all our voices.”
“We need a mayor who listens, who will bring us together and lift up our community and pay it forward.”
“I’ve got a little announcement to make. I want to be that mayor and I am running,” a line that set off loud applause and whoops, followed by chants of “She-ryl, She-ryl, She-ryl….”
She conceded that there’s hard work ahead but added she’s not afraid of hard work.
Which led into her call-and-response lines:
“I’m going to do a little test. If you’re committed to bringing Austin together, to tackle these tough issues, I need you to tell me, just like Miss Brown told me, ‘We got this, Sheryl.’” To which the crowd loudly replied, “We got this Sheryl!”
We said that water was a tough issue despite the fact that water conservation efforts had succeeded beyond imagination, but we are in a historic drought. There are tough decisions to make as a community. “Are you up for that?” Again she drew a loud affirmative response from the crowd.
Traffic? “I know you’d rather be with your family watching basketball or catching up on ‘Scandal,’” she said, but noted public transportation is an option. Again she asked for a commitment to find solutions and got a loud response.
Touching on diversity she recalled the closure of Highland Mall after incidents during the Texas Relays. Afterwards she called several pastors and solutions were found, she said. “And there has not been an incident during Texas Relays since we did that.”
She said she had led the council to pass a resolution in favor of marriage equality and also led the fight for paycheck equity.
She closed by asking attendees to take a self-photograph and take a photo of someone you don’t know and “post it on Facebook and Twitter and say, ‘We’re standing here with Sheryl Cole and We, Got, It!’”
Cole’s warm-up speakers
Before Cole launched her 17-minute campaign speech, the event started with praise for Cole from Julie Brown, a sixth-grade teacher at Lee Elementary who taught Cole’s two sons and nephew being raised by Cole, and Dick Perrone, who was president of the Onion Creek Neighborhood Association during the Halloween floods that overtook 165 homes in that area.
Brown praised Cole for the work she did as president of the Lee Elementary Parent-Teacher Association. Brown and Cole also served together on a Sixth Grade Task Force for Kealing Middle School.
“Some got angry,” Brown said, including herself, “but not Sheryl,” whom she praised for running meetings effectively and making sure everyone was heard. “She believes everyone matters.”
Perrone said he was a 70-year citizen of Austin. He praised Cole’s credentials as an accountant and attorney, and work as a board member of Leadership Austin and the Austin Urban League.
He was especially impressed with Cole’s response on November 1, the day after the Halloween disaster, by riding with him to observe the flooded homes. “She made calls to make sure we had good services,” he said.
Perrone emphasized that far South Austin residents “have not had their voices heard at City Hall.”
No elected officials attended Cole’s kickoff announcement.
Attorney and self-proclaimed visionary Ginny Agnew thought that Cole was late in announcing her candidacy but thought it might be okay because “no one has traction yet. And, she has the advantage of being a woman—and that’s no small thing for this November. …It’s an unfair advantage.”
Nelson Linder, president of the NAACP Austin since 2000, said he was attending as an individual and noted the organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and cannot endorse candidates. Despite the late start, Linder said Cole “has name ID and I think she will do okay.”
Longtime activist Debbie Russell thought Cole will have to be more aggressive than usual. “She’s going to have to find her inner activist to win this thing. She will have to play hardball in order to beat Mike (Martinez, also a mayoral candidate). She’s going to have to put up her dukes and take Mike to task about things she voted right for and he didn’t.
“But she supported 8-2-1 and Mike didn’t and she can’t explain that away,” said Russell, who was an active volunteer in Austinites for Geographic Representation, which led the petition drive and campaign to get 10-1 passed.
Cecilia Crossley said she had hosted a house party in District 3 for Cole and was supporting her in this election. Although Crossley had volunteered for both Martinez and Cole in previous elections, she said she chose Cole this time because, “Cole was more loyal to me and did more for affordable housing.”
Roy Waley, vice chair of the Austin Sierra Club, said, “Sheryl has the best heart of anyone on the council,” but he was not necessarily supporting her. “We will endorse on environmental issues, and that’s the lens we will have to use.”
One issue that environmentalists will judge Cole and Martinez by is the fact that both voted for the construction of Water Treatment Plant 4, which was vigorously opposed by environmental organizations.
Cole was for 8-2-1, as well as 10-1
Cole left no doubt that she wants to lead a City Council that will consist of 10 council members elected from geographic districts, nine of which will have never held elective office in the city.
The 10-1 plan is being implemented as a result of the November 2012 election that garnered 60 percent voter approval.
But Cole was not a strong supporter of the 10-1 plan. She was one of five council members who voted to put an alternative ordinance on the same ballot for a proposed a hybrid 8-2-1 plan.
The 8-2-1 plan was not recommended by the city’s Charter Revision Committee, the 10-1 plan was, though by a narrow margin.
Only Martinez voted against putting the 8-2-1 plan on the ballot and he is one of the major candidates running for mayor against Cole.
Under the 8-2-1 plan, two council members, as well as the mayor, would be elected at-large and eight council members would have been elected from geographic districts.
Cole also voted with the 5-2 majority to put the 10-1 plan on the ballot, when it was near-certain that the petition drive led by Austinites for Geographic Representation would be successful.
Link to recording: Sheryl Cole’s Campaign Kickoff Speech Recording
Transcription of recording: Transcript of Sheryl Cole’s Recorded Campaign Kickoff Speech
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Deferred Prosecution Ends Open Meetings Investigation: Mayor and five current council members sign agreements waiving the statute of limitations and requiring major reforms, October 24, 2012
Background Investigation: Sheryl Cole: Here’s what the public records say about the council member running for reelection, January 13, 2012
Open Meetings, Closed Minds: Private meetings to discuss public business shows Austin City Council may be violating Open Meetings Act, January 25, 2011