Early voting by personal appearance continues through December 9th for the December 13th election of a mayor and new council members for Districts 3, 5 and 9
The campaigns for 34 candidates have been going on for a long time—in fact more than a year for the three runoff candidates who announced in 2021 (Jose Velasquez in District 3, Stephanie Bazan in District 5, and Zohaib Qadri in District 9). Now we’re down to the eight finalists who want to win a place on the council dais.
The winning four candidates will constitute more than a third of the Austin City Council. The new mayor will be the public face of leadership for the next two years, the person who not only presides over council meetings but is the only one selected by all voters who cast ballots in this election.
Two men, Mayor Steve Adler and District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, along with two women, Council Members Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo, are leaving the 11-member body that has only three male members. To succeed those four incumbents, four men are competing against four women. If all the women win runoffs then Jose “Chito” Vela will be the only man on the council. If all the men win the governing body will shift to a 6-5 makeup, with women still holding a one vote majority.
One can’t help but notice that when it comes to pulling the most votes in the general election of November 8th, the best-funded candidates did not always come out ahead—not even when their financial resources were many multiples of what their opponents raised. Which gives rise to the question of whether money be a deciding factor in the runoffs?
Mayor’s race—Kirk Watson, 64, a lawyer, former Austin mayor, and former state senator, spent more than three times the amount laid out by State Representative Celia Israel, 58—yet she netted 15,354 more votes than he did.
That despite the fact he’s lived in City of Austin for 26 years and she’s been a resident for just a year. She got a big boost via endorsements from both the Austin American-Statesman and The Austin Chronicle and both endorsed her again in the runoff.
District 3—Jose Velasquez, 42, outspent opponent Daniela Silva, 30, by more than five-to-one yet he pulled just 422 votes than she did. He was endorsed by The Austin Chronicle. He has lived in the district 42 years, Silva three years. Now both the Chronicle and the Statesman have endorsed Velasquez for the runoff.
Moneywise, now that Silva’s earned $33,000 from the Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund—which is more than she collected from contributors through October 31st—she may be even more competitive in the runoff.
District 5 —Ryan Alter, 33, spent more than two and a half times as much as opponent Stephanie Bazan, 42. He was endorsed by both the Austin American-Statesman and The Austin Chronicle for the general election and they repeated those for the runoff.
Money and endorsements aside, however, Bazan still managed to attract 1,665 more votes than Alter did—perhaps because she has lived in the district for 15 years compared with his six months there. He bought a house in District 5 February 10th.
District 9—The financial advantage of Zohaib “Zo” Qadri, 32, over opponent Linda Guerrero, 68, was not nearly as great as the disparity in other races but he still managed to get 2,731 more votes than she did—despite having lived in the district two-and-a-half years to her 60 years. She had The Austin Chronicle’s endorsement in the general election and got it again for the runoff. The Statesman endorsed Qadri in the runoff.
Like Silva, Guerrero earned more than $33,000 from the Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund so she should be more financially competitive in the runoff. Qadri’s biggest advantage in the general election may have been that he’s unemployed and has unlimited time to push his campaign while Guerrero is a full-time school teacher for the Austin Independent School District.
Readers have raised questions about whether Qadri has worked on behalf of Republicans. You will not find answers to that question on his LinkedIn page, which goes back to 2013 but skips over a period when he did, in fact, work for the GOP.
A background report obtained by the Bulldog fills in the gaps. That report indicates that Qadri worked as a campaign intern for Texans for Greg Abbott and a political intern for the Republican Party of Texas, both in December 2015. He worked as a district office intern for U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-Victoria) from December 2015 to September 2016.
In a telephone interview with the Bulldog December 3rd Qadri said that he was never a political operative for Farenthold but answered telephone calls, made copies, and helped out with constituent services. Qadri said that in 2015-2016 he was living in Victoria, Texas, and as a Muslim of South Asian descent he was motivated by “fear and survival,” a fear that was reinforced after a mosque was burned down. CBS News on January 28, 2017, reported that event. That “confirmed our fear of Trump,” he said. Qadri said he voted “against Trump in the Republican primary.” Having failed to “sabotage him from within,” Qadri said he went to work for the Harris County Democratic Party and Laura Moser’s 2017-2018 congressional campaign, which she lost in the Democratic Party’s runoff.
“I didn’t do any Republican stuff after 2016,” Qadri said.
From July 2018 until August 2021 Qadri worked doing opposition research for Reform Austin and as a political outreach director for Beto for Texas. He also worked as legislative assistant to State Representative Eric Johnson (D-Dallas), who in June 2019 was elected mayor of Dallas. When the 2019 legislative session ended, Qadri took a job as regional organizer for five South Carolina counties in Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. (Warren has endorsed his run for the District 9 council seat.)
Highlights about personal finances
Candidates were required to file Personal Finance Statements (PFS) and Statements of Financial Information (SFI) covering their activity during calendar year 2021. There are criminal penalties for not doing so yet 13 of the original 34 candidates failed to file one or both of these. All candidates who made it into a runoff complied.
These statements are not published on the city’s website. The Bulldog obtained copies by filing public information requests and combined the two statements for each candidate. Those are linked at the bottom of this story in alphabetic order.
Mayoral candidates—The combined PFS and SFI reports filed by Israel and Watson run 21 pages and 100 pages, respectively. That fact alone indicates that attorney Watson, 64, has accumulated a lot more wealth than self-employed real estate agent Israel, 58.
Both Israel and Watson are married, she to Celinda Garza, he to Elizabeth Watson.
Watson lives in a Hyde Park home the appraisal district assigned a market value of more than $1.7 million. He bought the house in June 2012 but in January 2021 transferred ownership of the property to KEPC Trust. He is registered to vote at that address. His PFS states that “condo rental” for that address is “paid through KEPC Family Trust.”
Israel lives in a condominium in northeast Austin, according to the address on her ballot application. She owns two homes, one in the name of her and her wife, the other a rental in her company’s name, Porchlight Properties ATX. She purchased the one located in southwest Austin in February 2022.
The home Israel bought in February does have a homestead exemption but it pertains to the previous owner and will remain throughout the year, according to Cynthia Martinez, communications director for the Travis Central Appraisal District. “State law states than an exemption applies to the property and owner as of January 1 of the year.” The exemption “will be removed automatically during our 2023 exemption audit based on the January 1, 2023, ownership.”
Israel is a licensed Realtor whose sponsoring broker since 2012 has been Home and Hearth Realty Inc. in Austin. Her sales agent license expires in July 2024. The only debt she reported is a credit card of less than $10,000. All board positions she listed are connected to her position as a state representative: Texas House LGBT Caucus, Texas House Democratic Caucus, Texas House Environmental Caucus, Texas House Progressive Caucus, and Texas House Women’s Health Caucus.
In 2021 Israel earned $20,000 to $50,000 as a state representative (a figure that would have been much lower if not for the three special sessions called in 2021), $10,000 to $20,000 as a Realtor and the same amount from rental property. Her wife earned $10,000 to $20,000 delivering groceries for HEB.
Watson’s income in 2021 includes less than $200,000 from the University of Houston System as founding dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs, less than $200,000 as managing trustee of Federal Mogul Asbestos Personal Injury Trust, $100,000 or more from MLC Asbestos Personal Injury Trust, less than $200,000 from Manville Personal Injury Trust, $75,000 to $100,000 from Burns & Roe Asbestos Personal Injury Trust, $10,000 to $20,000 as board member of Claims Resolution Trust Management Corp., and $20,000 to $50,000 as board member of Frontier Bank of Texas. He reported $10,000 to $20,000 in rental income, $20,000 to $50,000 from the Employees Retirement System, less than $10,000 from his wife’s social security, less than $10,000 in dividends from Frontier Community Bankshares Inc., and $10,000 to $20,000 in dividends for his wife’s shares in the latter company.
Watson enjoyed gifts in the form of soccer tickets from lawyer-lobbyist Richard Suttle (who graduated Baylor Law School in 1982, a year behind Watson); ACL Fest tickets from Charlie Jones; steaks from Walt Penn; and monthly fruit from Campbell & Levine LLC, a law firm with offices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. All gifts were valued at less than $10,000.
Much of Watson’s wealth is tucked into the KEPC Trust, which holds voluminous shares in mutual funds and businesses. In addition, the trust owns a 188-acre ranch and farm in Willow City, Texas, and two rental condos in Waco. Watson co-owns a lot in Pitkin, Colorado; owns mineral interests in 341 acres in Woodward, Oklahoma; and owns two acres in Taos, New Mexico. He chairs the board of both Frontier Bank of Texas and Frontier Community Bancshares Inc., is a director in Claims Resolution Management Corp., and a trustee in settlement and personal injury trusts.
District 3 candidates—The combined financial statements filed by Silva and Velasquez total 15 and 12 pages, respectively.
Neither of these candidates are married and neither reported having a domestic partner. Neither reported owning real estate. Silva lives in a 1,700 square foot house that according to appraisal district records is owned by the Oliverio Family Trust. Velasquez lives in a 1,248 square foot house owned by Yolanda Perkins.
Silva is a community engagement and outreach manager for Farmshare Austin, where she earns $20,000 to $50,000 a year; is a self-employed Lyft rideshare driver, and a Rover pet caretaker. She has eight student loans, each of which were incurred in 2010 for less than $10,000 each and all have zero percent interest.
Velasquez is a self-employed marketing consultant with a reported income of $50,000 to $75,000. He is also a board member of Chingona Fest Texas, whose website lists him as community engagement director. He lists a debt of less than $10,000 with UFCU and a student loan debt of $20,000 to $50,000 at 5 percent interest.
District 5 candidates—The combined financial statements filed by Ryan Alter and Stephanie Bazan, respectively, total 21 and 13 pages. As in the mayoral matchup, here too there are great disparities in wealth between these candidates.
Alter, who is not related to District 10 Council Member Alison Alter, is married to Rita Alter, for whom no job or income was reported. Bazan is married to Matthew Abbott. Her SFI listed no employer or income for Abbott. (City Code Section 2-7-72 requires the SFI to include the sources of income or assets and liabilities of spouses.)
The appraisal district assigned a market value of $895,950 to Alter’s 2,100-square-foot home, while Bazan’s 1,550 square-foot-home was valued at $569,771.
Alter in 2021 worked as general counsel to State Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), earning $50,000 to $75,000. He was also general counsel to Hinojosa’s senate campaign, which paid $20,000 to $50,000. Alter’s debts total $6.9 million, consisting of a $500,000 home mortgage and a loan of $6.4 million from Capstone Capital Partners. On September 26th, Alter said via text message that the Capstone loan will finance construction of 18 townhomes to be built on vacant lots at 5912 and 5916 Harold Court in East Austin, “all of which are to be sold below the median price for Austin.” He said this project is a small business venture he’s undertaken with his sister, Adrianna Moreno. He is the managing member of 5912 and 5916 Harold Court LLC.
Bazan earned $75,000 to $100,000 in 2021 as chief communications officer and crisis advisor to Schulman Lopez Hoffer and Adelstein LLP, a law firm based in San Antonio, with offices in Austin, Houston, and New Orleans. In addition to her home, Bazan owns a rental unit at 2109 Thrasher Lane occupied by her brother. She is the strategic planning chair of The Junior League of Austin.
District 9 candidates—Guerrero’s combined financial statements total 18 pages while Qadri’s total nine pages.
Guerrero reported she has neither a spouse nor a domestic partner. Qadri is married to Wafa Mehdi, a physician assistant with Baylor Scott and White in Pflugerville. He did not report her income or assets and liabilities as required by City Code Section 2-7-72(E).
In addition to Guerrero’s 1,053-square-foot home that the appraisal district assigned a market value of more than $857,000, she owns 1,300-square-foot rental property at 713 Landon Lane in Austin with a market value of $921,887. Qadri owns no real estate and lives in a downtown apartment.
Guerrero is a special needs teacher with Austin Independent School District where she earns $50,000 to $75,000 a year. She owns 10,000 or more shares in Chase Bank. She lists a debt with Loon Care for less than $9,300. She reported a business ownership in Austin City Advocate LLC that’s based in her home. Secretary of State records shows she formed that company in July 2006. The Texas Franchise Tax Public Information Report filed in March 2021 indicates the company has no other members or directors.
Qadri earned $20,000 to $50,000 last year as state and local manager for ActBlue, based in Somerville, Massachusetts. He also earned $10,000 to $20,000 as a senior associate for NEWCO Public Affairs Strategies of Chevy Chase, Maryland. He reported no debts.
Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. His 2011 investigation of the Austin City Council’s open meetings violations triggered a 21-month investigation by the Travis County attorney that resulted in the mayor and council members signing deferred prosecution agreements to avoid being charged, tried, and if convicted serving one to six months in jail and forfeiting their elective offices. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].
Ryan Joseph Alter Personal PFS and SFI (21 pages)
Stephanie Bazan PFS and SFI (13 pages)
Linda Guerrero PFS and SFI (18 pages)
Celia Israel PFS and SFI (21 pages)
Zohaib “Zo” Qadri PFS and SFI (9 pages)
Daniela Silva PFS and SFI (15 pages)
Jose Velasquez PFS and SFI (12 pages)
Kirk Watson PFS and SFI (100 pages)
Related Bulldog coverage:
Celia Israel in the hot seat in final stretch of mayoral campaign, December 5, 2022
Celia Israel blasted for defunding crime victims—but is it true? December 1, 2022
Mayor Watson’s scheme broke law, Senator Watson’s bill provided alternative, November 20, 2022
Mayoral race and three council contests will go to runoff, November 9, 2022
Watson grabbed 70 percent of mayoral donations, November 3, 2022
Watson circumvented law to fund new medical school, November 1, 2022
What kind of legislator was Celia Israel? October 28, 2022
What kind of major was Kirk Watson? October 24, 2022
Candidates offer competing visions on homelessness, October 18, 2022
The man who would be mayor…again, October 10, 2022
Want to get elected but not be accountable? September 28, 2022