After losing in two hard runs for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, attorney Michael John Weills Siegel (D-Austin) has lowered his political sights in hopes of winnning a seat on the Austin City Council.
He is running for the District 7 seat now occupied by Leslie Pool. She has been on the council since elected in 2014 and is term-limited. She confirmed to the Bulldog that she will not exercise the option to get on the ballot again by petitioning for signatures.
“I’m running because this council seat is really important,” Siegel said in an October 27th telephone interview. “The Council really impacts peoples lives…I ran for Congress as a Democrat in a state controlled lockstep by Republicans and in the legislature. The City Council is where we can do the most good.”
“I think District 7 represents a new Austin in some ways, or the evolving Austin. At the bottom of the district we have traditional single-family homes owned by long-time residents who are frequent voters. On the north end we have the soccer stadium, The Domain, apartments, the suburban Wells Branch area, and major business areas in Tech Ridge and Fortune 500 companies.”
“The District has an important role to play in affordability and housing issues,” Siegel said.
Siegel said he’s planning to roll out a detailed platform in January and didn’t want to address current hot-button issues like how many houses could be built on single-family lots. “I’m running to be a council member starting in January 2025. We will see if that’s on the table then or not.”
“My mission is that we’re going to try to represent all Austinites at every stage of life, where people can take their kids to a park, two-income families can afford a home, and those who are retired on a fixed income can enjoy the housing they live in,” Siegel said.
“One reason why I feel qualified and could be very useful,” Siegel said, “as an assistant city attorney I have represented and advised city departments, I understand the council-manager form of government, and I could hit the ground running.”
Before deciding to move to Austin, he said he had visited when a cousin was attending the University of Texas. “Longer story, of course, but this seemed like a great place for my wife and I to raise our family.”
Siegel, who will turn 46 in early December, is married to Hindatu Mohammed, a veterinarian who joined the Allandale Veterinary Clinic in 2014 and purchased it in 2016.
In 2022 she launched the nonprofit Sankofa Veterinary Project to expose high school students of color to the veterinary field. The family lives in in a home they own in the Crestview neighborhood. They have two children in Austin public schools.
Siegel first voted here in October 2014 and since has voted every year and in primaries conducted by the Democratic Party, according to Travis County voter records.
Issues he will work on if elected
Affordability—“Trickle down economics is not the solution here,” he said. “City government has little ability to change these factors. We need to be honest about that. We agreed to live in a market economy where land goes to the highest bidder. This is a desirable area. Housing will be expensive.”
The federal and state governments are not doing much to address affordability, Siegel said.
“People direct their ire to City Council but it has less ability (to solve affordability problems),” he said. “We can’t turn a blind eye to growth. Tesla brought tens of thousands of jobs. That one company is causing massive changes. Add to that other companies and the regional impact.
“Austin has to do its share. I don’t want to promote sprawl or facilitate segregation. We need clear values. If we don’t do infill housing we are pushing people out.”
“We have to balance interests, to make more room for young professionals and preserve options for older people. I hear a lot of consensus overall…The activists and new urbanists on one side, and neighborhood protectionists on the other side (are) a small part of the electorate. Homeless folks need more housing, so we should stay the course because it takes a while to get people off the street. We need to incentivize affordable housing through entitlements. In terms of supply, there’s support for more supply in the corridors.”
Climate change—“In my congressional campaigns I emphasized climate action. It’s an important and exciting issue. People here are ready to take action”
He cites the freeze suffered in Winter Storm Uri and this year’s scorching-hot summer as reasons why public awareness is keen.
“Under the Inflation Reduction Act the city could get tens of billions of dollars for climate action,” Siegel said. He pointed to the Direct Pay provision of the Act that allows municipalities to take advantage of tax credit financing.
Information about the Inflation Reduction Act published by the White House states it provides expanded tax credits for entities that manufacture, install, and produce clean energy in the coming decade. It also enables local governments and others “to take an active role in building the clean energy economy, lowering costs for working families, and advancing environmental justice.”
Through the Act’s “elective pay” (also called “direct pay”) provisions, governmental entities will be able to receive payments for building qualified clean energy projects.
Campaigning in council district
Siegel said he plans to personally knock on at least 5,000 doors in this campaign. “In one three-hour shift I can knock on 50 doors,” he said. “I try to talk to voters. I will talk to thousands of voters myself and my campaign can talk to tens of thousands of voters.”
Campaigning in a council district with a population of 95,095 may seem like a stroll in the park, given Siegel’s experience campaigning in a congressional district with eight times as many people spread over a far larger area.
In Council Member Pool’s last reelection in 2020—also a presidential election year—40,776 votes were cast. She got 27,423 votes to win with 67.25 percent against a single opponent and no runoff.
Siegel will have at least two opponents. Edwin Bautista and Pierre Nguyen also have appointed campaign treasurers to compete for Pool’s District 7 seat. (More about them later.)
Winning could be costly
The Bulldog’s analysis of spending for the three open district seats in the 2022 election—all of which required runoffs—showed that winning candidates spent sums ranging from $158,000 in Jose Velasquez’s District 3 to $207,000 in Ryan Alter’s District 5. Zohaib “Zo” Qadri spent $183,000 to win his District 9 race. (Not to mention that Kirk Watson blew through $2 million to win a narrow runoff victory over Celia Israel.)
Siegel didn’t want to provide a budget figure for his District 7 campaign or name the consultants or staff he will hire. One thing is certain though—he won’t be able to take the big-buck donations he garnered for his Congressional campaigns.
He got a lot of congressional campaign donations from local elected officials. Mayor Steve Adler contributed $2,800, Council Members Qadri gave $1,075, Alison Alter tossed in $350, and Jose Vela contributed $250. Travis County Judge Andy Brown kicked in a total of $2,700, while Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion gave $350, and Commissioner Brigid Shea and husband John Umphress contributed a combined $11,200, according to Federal Election Commission records.
City Council candidates are limited to $450 for individual donations in the general election and that amount again in a runoff, although that figure could be adjusted when the City Council adopts its next budget in August 2024. The aggregate contribution limit from donors outside of Austin is $46,000 per election, and $30,000 per runoff election, per the City Clerk’s webpage.
“My goal is to have all the resources I need to communicate with voters, talk on their doorsteps, to hire a team at a living wage for staff to talk to voters, and to pay for mail and digital ads,” Siegel said.
“The key for me is to remember that voters aren’t paying attention till Labor Day. I can’t have a big team 13 months out. I have a good sense of what needs to be done. I’m talking to a lot of people and I’m making phone calls. By the end of this year I will have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, and some will be willing to part with their hard earned money. I’ll just build this campaign one voter at a time.”
Election day is November 5, 2024. Candidates can’t file for a place on the ballot until July 22, 2024.
Siegel twice a congressional competitor
Siegel lost his 2018 bid to beat incumbent District 10 U.S. Representative Michael McCaul (R-Austin). McCaul first won election to the newly created 10th District in 2004. Siegel lost to McCaul again in in 2020.
While Siegel was running against McCaul in 2018, his field director was arrested while delivering a letter on behalf of student voting rights to Waller County officials—right after being asked the political party of the candidate for which he worked.
The case involved Waller County’s effort to bar students at historically black Prairie View University from voting. Siegel was interviewed about this on MSNBC on the Rachel Maddow show October 12, 2018. The matter was resolved with the help of the Texas Secretary of State and the students were allowed to vote.
Siegel spent $485,682 on his 2018 campaign, while McCaul spent $1,870,327, according to online records of the Federal Elections Commission. Though outspent nearly four to one, Siegel got 144,034 votes (46.8 percent) to McCaul’s 157,166 votes (51.1 percent). The Libertarian candidate netted 2.2 percent.
Losing the 2018 matchup with McCaul by just 4.3 percent points was a success in one sense. McCaul’s margin of victory over his previous Democratic Party challenger, Tawana Cadian, was 18.9 points.
To run against McCaul in 2020, Siegel first had to get through a tough Democratic primary. He bested two others there and then beat his runoff opponent, Pritesh Gandhi, with 54.2 percent of the votes. Against McCaul in the general election he fell with 45.3 percent to the incumbent’s 52.5 percent, a margin of 7.2 percent. (Again a Libertarian netted 2.2 percent.)
Siegel spent $2,932,842 in that 2020 campaign while McCaul spent $3,927,931, according to FEC records.
In November 2022, after abandoning his congressional ambitions, Siegel cofounded the nonprofit Ground Game Texas. The other cofounder was Democrat Julie Oliver, also a defeated congressional candidate. She lost the District 25 election to incumbent Republican Roger Williams in 2020. Oliver serves as executive director while Siegel is political director and general counsel.
Ground Game’s mission is to build coalitions to achieve progressive wins for Texas communities. Siegel said he will keep his job at Ground Game Texas while campaigning but if elected he will be a full-time council member.
As a legal entity Ground Game Texas grew out of the Register2Vote nonprofit created in 2018 by Jeremy Smith, Sarah Etsy, and Kimberly Francisco. It was formed to “promote social welfare and to defend human and civil rights secured by law,” according to the Certificate of Formation. The certificate was amended in November 2022 to change the name to Ground Game Texas.
Work as an attorney
Siegel was born and raised in Oakland California, where his father Daniel Mark Siegel is a civil rights attorney who ran for mayor of Oakland in 2014. He campaigned to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and reorganize the police department to foster deeper community engagement.
Mike Siegel earned a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and his law degree from Cornell University in 2009. He was licensed to practice law in Texas in November 2014.
He served as an assistant city attorney for Austin 2015 to 2019. In that capacity he sued Governor Greg Abbott to stop implementation of Senate Bill 4, which among other things prohibited “sanctuary city” policies.
In that federal court case filed in 2017 (City of El Cenizo, et al v. State of Texas et al (Case No. 5:17-cv-00404-OLG) the City of Austin was among a number of plaintiffs seeking and winning a preliminary injunction.
The case went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Case No. 17-50732). Its decision stated, “The plaintiffs have not made a showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of any of their constitutional claims…there is no merit in their remaining arguments, and none of the challenged provisions of SB 4 facially violated the Constitution.”
In other legal work for the City, Siegel said he co-wrote the City’s Ordinance 20180215-049 on paid sick leave. The ordinance would have required private employers to grant an hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked.
The ordinance was pushed hard by then Council Member (now Congressman) Greg Casar, who packed council chambers with people dressed as construction workers. They booed anyone who spoke against the proposed ordinance and were not silenced by Mayor Steve Adler. On a vote taken well after midnight, the council approved the ordinance on a vote of 9-2.
The victory was short-lived. Ultimately the ordinance was shot down in the courts. The Texas Tribune reported in June 2020 the Texas Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s ruling that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it conflicted with the Texas Minimum Wage Act.
If elected, and if Mayor Kirk Watson and District 4 Council Member Jose “Chito” Vela are reelected, Siegel would be the fourth attorney on the council. District 5 Council Member Ryan Alter just won election last year.
Siegel’s campaign website is https://www.siegelforaustin.org.
His LinkedIn page is at https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaeljwsiegel/
Campaign kickoff video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQPth07rYgo
Early opposition for Siegel
Two others have already appointed campaign treasurers and plan to compete for the District 7 council seat:
Edwin Bautista is 26 years old. He was born in Wichita Falls and moved to Austin in 2016 for higher education. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies in May 2020 and a master’s in community and regional planning in August 2023, according to the university’s online records.
He works as a management assistant at Texas Housers, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Its mission, according to its website, is to support low-income Texans’ efforts to achieve the American dream of a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood.
What qualifies Bautista to serve on the City Council?
“As far as the community I feel like I’ve been integrated in past seven years here…I was working part-time and involved in the community while a student, advocating for student and affordable housing. I served on an Austin City commission to push recommendations.
“I felt I’ve been involved in those conversations, certainly not as the loudest voice in the room. Regarding homelessness, I took time out of my day to give the council and planning commission my perspective.
“I would like to see someone my age advocating for young adults. A lot of what Greg Casar (elected to the City Council at age 25) stood for and did changed Austin’s direction…I would like to continue that tradition of younger people pushing the city in a new and better direction.”
Bautista’s goals as a council member are to promote innovative and transparent local government, reimagine community engagement, and develop strategic ideas for affordable housing. He wants to guide Austin toward prosperity and see Imagine Austin, Project Connect, and the I-35 expansion successfully completed.
Bautista owns a small condominium on Burnett Road that he purchased last year.
His campaign website is https://edwinfordistrict7.squarespace.com/ An innovative feature on the site is to list under Civic Duty the details of how he has voted in local elections from 2018 (the first year he voted here, according to Travis County voter records) to 2022. He always votes in Democratic Party primaries.
His LinkedIn page is at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bautistaedwin/
Pierre Nguyen—Pierre Long Huy Nguyen is a 35-year-old son of Vietnamese immigrants. He was appointed by Council Member Pool to serve on the Public Safety Commission effective March 1, 2023. He is listed as a stakeholder member of the Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission effective May 4, 2023.
He started work as a full-time as a firefighter with Travis County Emergency Services District 8 in July 2023, according to his LinkedIn page. He is also listed with American Youthworks as its environmental health and safety director. The latter position he works on his firefighter days off, he said. That page also states that Nguyen is a boatswain’s mate third class in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in Galveston, where he has served since July 2020.
He said he moved to Austin in 2017.
“I came to Austin because my background is in emergency management,” Nguyen said. “I wanted to focus on that. Texas has the most federally declared disasters. That’s where my passion is.
“I worked for American Youthworks running disaster response program. I saw some gaps in infrastructure…As we grow as a city we need to be able to response to crises through the Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department, and Travis County EMS.”
Nguyen said he wants voters to know, “I think the important things for me especially is working locally is getting communities to work together. This is a challenge because people are not always willing to have conversations and reach solutions together.
“That’s what drew me to run for office. I work with a wide array of people and one thing I’ve benefitted from is having conversations with people I don’t agree with to reach common ground, to reach consensus, and to work together as a community.”
Nguyen first voted in Travis County in October 2018 and has not voted in a primary election, records show.
He does not own a home but lives in a house his parents bought in January 2021. “They plan to retire soon,” he said.
His campaign website is at https://gamma.app/public/Pierre-Nguyen-Announces-Candidacy-for-City-Council-hraszpf20wx94lg?mode=doc
Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been covering local government, politics, and elections in the Austin area for 42 years. His first major election story titled “Decency Ordained: Austin’s Anti-Gay Crusade,” was published by Third Coast magazine in January 1982. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].
Campaign treasurer appointment of Mike Siegel, October 11, 2023 (2 pages)
Campaign treasurer appointment and Code of Fair Campaign Practices of Edwin Bautista, October 16, 2023 (4 pages)
Campaign treasurer appointment of Pierre Nguyen, September 14, 2023 (2 pages) in which he listed himself as treasurer
Campaign treasurer appointment of Pierre Nguyen, September 25, 2023 (2 pages) in which he lists his mailing address in Block 5 not in District 7
City of Austin Ordinance No. 20180215-049, establishing earned sick time standards in the city, February 15, 2018 (9 pages)
City of El Cenizo, et al, v. State of Texas, et al (Case No. 5:17-cv-00404-OLG) August 30, 2017 (91 pages)
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision (Case No. 17-50762) May 8, 2018 (42 pages)
Michael Siegel’s State Bar card (2 pages)