Tina Cannon Challenges Bill Spelman

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Tina Cannon kicks off her city council campaign
Austin Entrepreneur Seeks to Bring a Small Business Owner’s Voice to City Hall
by Rebecca LaFlure
Tina Cannon kicks off her city council campaign
Tina Cannon kicks off her city council campaign

Tina Cannon emphasized her slogan, “fostering entrepreneurship in Austin,” last Friday, when she officially launched her campaign against incumbent Bill Spelman for the Place 5 Austin City Council seat.

Despite chilly winds and rainfall, about 30 supporters huddled under a covered patio outside Pour House Pub in North Austin as Cannon discussed her desire to bring a small business owner’s perspective to City Hall.

“I want us to put Austin back on the map as a leader in innovation and economic development and growth, and bring back transparency in city government that has been so absent at our City Hall,” said Cannon, noting that her friends and family have encouraged her to run for office over the years. “I’m really trying to lean on my background in business and entrepreneurship … and be a completely new voice.”

An Austinite for almost 20 years, Cannon has worked as an emergency medical technician, financial auditor, and business consultant, according to her campaign website.

Cannon, who on Twitter describes herself as a “start-up addict,” co-founded and sold Lavaca Street Deli, and was the CEO and co-founder of PetsMD.com, an online pet health resource acquired by Pet360.com in 2011. She was also co-founder of Booqoos.com, LOCALoyalty.com, and Book-a-Vet.com.

Cannon is a Democrat and northeast Austin resident who serves as entrepreneur-in-residence at Texas State University and chief operating officer of LOCALoyalty.com, according to her website.

She faces two opponents so far: Spelman, a public affairs professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has been elected to two nonconsecutive terms on the council, and Dominic Chavez, an Army veteran and senior director for external relations at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Chavez announced his intent to run for the Place 5 seat in a February 14 news release, saying his campaign would focus on public safety, workforce education and restoring “financial stewardship to Austin Energy.”

Cannon said she is a proponent of creating City Council districts and supports moving city elections from May to November, arguing it would save money and increase voter turnout.

Bringing high-paying jobs to Austin would be a top priority if elected, Cannon said, and she would look to expand the city’s office of economic development and ensure small business owners have a voice on City Council.

“Currently the focus is on big business, and (city officials) kind of take their eye off the ball on the small independent operator that’s helped make Austin weird and wonderful,” Cannon said. “I’m looking to put something in place that is a resource for the small business operator to turn to, to cut through those layers of bureaucracy.”

She addressed Austin Energy’s proposal to increase electricity rates by 12.5 percent, and said the need for such a large increase is “because of a lack of planning on prior councils to take any initiative to have forethought that energy costs are rising to make any changes.”

“We’re now absorbing all of that at one time. I would be in favor of capping energy costs,” she said.

Cannon did not shy away from attacking Spelman, saying, “My opponent has been on record saying he’s going to cut the public safety budget. I mean, are you kidding me? … I don’t know about you, but when I call 9-1-1, I kind of want someone to answer.”

While drafting the fiscal year 2012 city budget, Spelman questioned whether hiring 49 more police officers to keep up with the city’s standard of two officers per 1,000 residents would be the most effective use of resources, according to a September 13, 2011 article in the Austin American-Statesman.

He instead proposed hiring 33 officers and 14 civilian Police Department employees, including 9-1-1 call-takers. The City Council did not pass his proposal.

Cannon differentiated herself from Spelman by emphasizing her experience launching businesses, noting that Spelman has spent much of his life in academia.

“It’s one thing to write policies sitting in your office. It’s another thing to actually have boots on the ground and live it everyday,” Cannon said. “As a small business owner and entrepreneur, I know the impact of those policies made in an office, and I know how it plays out with citizens and with businesses here in town.”

Spelman did not respond to an e-mail invitation for comment by Monday afternoon.

Several supporters who attended Cannon’s launch party said that although they did not regularly keep up with Austin city politics, they saw the need for a small business advocate on the council. Fellow entrepreneurs who attended Friday’s event included Kevin Koym, co-founder of technology startup accelerator Tech Ranch Austin, and Susan Strausberg, co-founder of EDGAR Online and 9W Search.

“I have absolute confidence in Tina’s judgment and her ability to get lemons and turn them into lemonade, which is part of what good politicians do,” Strausberg said. “I can tell you she’s one rare bird: an even-tempered, even-handed, tough-as-nails manager who over and over delivers on her vision.”

According to campaign finance reports released January 17, Spelman’s campaign raised $31,600 through December 31. Cannon and Chavez have yet to file any campaign finance reports since they both announced their candidacy after January 17.

Despite the challenges ahead, Cannon’s supporters have no doubt that she’ll put up a good fight.

“She’s very persistent,” said Lotta Smagula, a master sergeant in the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and a long-time friend of Cannon’s. “When she decides she’s going after something, she keeps going until she gets it.”

Raul Calvoz, an attorney and former CEO of PetsMD, was appointed as Cannon’s campaign treasurer on January 25. Although he lives in Austin, according to the treasurer’s appointment form, he is currently of counsel with the business law firm Tuggey Fernandez LLP and CEO of PiCoSa Investments, both of which are headquartered in San Antonio.

Related coverage:

Bill Spelman’s Re-election Campaign Kickoff Draws an Appreciative Crowd, The Austin Bulldog, January 19, 2012

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