City Council Elections: Ten candidate profiles
Citizens of Austin:
This is a friendly reminder that on Saturday, May
10, three of the seven Austin City Council spots are up for grabs,
and many of you reading this are allowed to vote in the election.
In this, our first CITIZINE VOTER
GUIDE, you will find some information on the biographies
and issues that distinguish the candidates on this years ballot.
Some of the candidates who have stepped forward
represent the interests of politically ascendant property developers
(and with panoramic views from their towering condominiums, these
figures are literally ascendant as well). Some of our choices are
young 40-somethings who have spent the bulk of their careers working
for non-profit charity organizations, though
they do quite well for themselves while directing resources for
the community. The top-tier candidates aim to continue
the vertical mixed-use revolution that could make everything
in Austin tighter, more crowded and more expensive, thus creating
so much pressure on people that one day (someday), Austinites all
over will wisely decide to park their cars indefinitely, climb on
a bicycle, and glide down city-sponsored bike paths to the light
rail station of their choice.
So there are three seats up for election this May
10th, two with incumbents (Place 1 and Place 3), and one that is
wide open (Place 4), given the retirement of Mayor Pro Tem Betty
Dunkerley. If you are so inclined to inform yourself about your
choices in these City Council contests, then please vote on Election
Day. However, if you are going to vote based on slanted information
from the TV, in the Statesman, and in the Chronicle, then please
reconsider. Democracy does not work when the electorate is ill-informed.
Lee Leffingwell was elected to the City Council
in 2005, and he is the son of an Austin firefighter. His online
biography details his professional career in the U.S. military and
as an airline pilot:
Austin City Council member Lee Leffingwell is
an Austin native and a retired airline pilot. An alumnus of UT with
a degree in mechanical engineering, Leffingwell joined the U.S.
Navy in 1962 and attended aviation officer training school, flying
transport aircraft during the Vietnam War. In 1967, Leffingwell
left active military duty, joined the Naval reserves, and became
a commercial airline pilot at Delta Air Lines. He retired from the
reserves in 1982 with the rank of Commander, and from Delta in 1999
as a Captain flying MD-11 aircraft.
Upon retirement from Delta Airlines, Mr. Leffingwell
immediately became immersed in Austin municipal politics:
That year  Leffingwell was appointed to
the city's Environmental Board, where he served as Chair for almost
five years until stepping down to run for Place 1 on the Austin
City Council in 2005. He was elected with more than 62% of the vote.
Leffingwell is the father of two and grandfather of five. He is
a regular runner and hiker, and an accredited soccer referee.
Misfortune befell Mr. Leffingwell in the midst of
his victorious City Council run in 2005 -- his
wife was found dead at their home in the Wilshire Woods neighborhood.
The Austin American-Statesman reported (4/23/05): "Mary
Lou McLain, the board president for Family
Eldercare and wife of City Council candidate Lee Leffingwell,
was found dead this morning inside her Northeast Austin home. Police
are investigating the death as a suicide."
After suspending his campaign operations for a few
days, Mr. Leffingwell and his campaign manager Mark
Nathan held a press
conference on April 28, where he read a statement renewing his
candidacy for the election 10 days later:
"My wife was a wonderful woman who cared for
people and who cared about her community. Losing her is a great
tragedy in my life. But it cannot and will not be the end of my
life. The easiest thing for me to do now would be to go back inside
this house, lock the doors, pull the shades, and mourn for Mary
Lou. But I know that is not what she would have wanted, and so it
is not what I intend to do.
"My wife, a nurse and a passionate health care
advocate, was devoted to serving others. I know in my heart that
she would not be pleased if I ended my work to make a difference
in our community. So, I will stay in the race for Austin City Council,
and if I am fortunate enough to be elected by the voters, I will
serve in honor of her memory."
On May 7th of 2005, Mr. Leffingwell won his place
on the Austin City Council.
According to recent news reports, Mr. Leffingwell
is now "leading an initiative to consolidate Austin's four
law enforcement agencies under a single chain of command and standardize
training procedures for all sworn peace officers." Airport
police and other law enforcement have independent leadership from
the Austin Police Department, but Mr. Leffingwell's plan would change
Mr. Leffingwell is supported in the 2008 elections
by the "public safety" labor union triumvirate, the Austin
Police Association, Austin
Firefighters Association, and Austin
/ Travis County EMS Employees Association. There are a couple
challengers to Mr. Leffingwell, both younger and with differing
views on how land and transportation should be developed in Austin.
* * *
Allen Demling is referred to first and foremost
as a "competitive beard grower," but there is likely more
to him than that. Mr. Demling has worked as a mechanical engineer,
and has an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois.
He came to Austin to get a master's from UT, and "fell in love"
with the city like many recent arrivals.
Some of his platform goals include to "Make
Austin the premier green technology city," "improve transportation
and reduce congestion," "responsible growth," and
"Transparency in local government." To encourage "green
technology" implementation, he wants the city and Austin Energy
to offer more money to property owners who renovate their facilities
using "green-approved" building materials and fixtures.
As far as improving transportation, Mr. Demling
is the first to admit he's got a soft spot for bicyclists: "Cycling
is my passion, so naturally this is my focus
Cycling is efficient,
healthy, quiet, and emission-free. And in a temperate city with
300 sunny days a year, cycling is a very realistic alternative for
the urban commute." Mr. Demling hopes to introduce measures
that will make it safer and more convenient for bicyclists, and
he is also a proponent of the new light rail system that is about
This candidate also proposes a more "open"
City Council. His prescription for obtaining this? No more closed-door
meetings, and all Council members' e-mails would be available as
part of the public record. This would help citizens stay informed
on what's really going on within the City's business negotiations.
* * *
While both of his opponents are mechanical engineers,
Jason Meeker earns his bread as a "professional copywriter
and all-purpose sentence engineer." He is running for Place
1 on an "anti-Wal-Mart at Northcross" platform, and to
warn other neighborhoods that "Wal-Mart can happen to you too."
On his web site, he frames himself as a friend to those brave souls
fighting the "insiders" at City Hall.
Mr. Meeker has served as a
spokesperson for the Responsible
Growth for Northcross (RG4N) business/neighborhood group that
has been pressuring the city and developer Lincoln
Property Co. to NOT build a Wal-Mart at Northcross Mall. Unfortunately,
his organization has yet to gain any legal validation for all their
trouble. After a good deal of courtroom wrangling in 2007, judges
have determined that it is in fact legal to build a Wal-Mart
at the moribund shopping center, however unpopular that may be.
Place 1 incumbent Lee Leffingwell sided with the developer in the
RG4N/Wal-Mart dispute, and so Mr. Meeker will be taking shots at
the sitting Councilman over the matter.
McCracken's friend, Jason
Stanford, is acting as a campaign consultant for Mr. Meeker,
and some observers claim that one purpose of Mr. Meeker's negative
campaign against Mr. Leffingwell is to help smooth the way for Mr.
McCracken's bid to become mayor in 2009. Mayor Will
Wynn's term expires next year, and Mr. Leffingwell is shaping
up to be a potential opponent for Brewster in the mayoral race.
Randi Shade has lived in Austin since about
1990 and she is a member of several prestigious organizations, including
Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Texas
Hillel Foundation, and the Austin
Clean Energy Initiative. Ms. Shade did her undergrad studies
at the University of Texas, and earned an MBA from Harvard Business
On her website, Ms. Shade vows that, "If I'm elected, I'll
work to solve our traffic problems, keep our air and water clean,
keep Austin affordable for middle-class families, deliver reliable
and efficient city services, and restore the community's trust and
confidence in City Council Place 3."
This is Ms. Shade's first run for office, although
she was student body president during her days at UT. She has a
strong political background as a Democratic Party financier, and
worked as Ann
Richards's fundraising coordinator during Ms. Richards's successful
run for Governor in 1990.
Ms. Shade has experienced political assistants for
her insurgent campaign against incumbent Jennifer Kim. One of Ms.
Shade's top political consultants is Mark Nathan, who one source
describes as "notorious as the string-puller behind the Mayor
[Wynn], [Lee] Leffingwell, and [Mike] Martinez."
Ms. Shade is hoping to be the first openly-lesbian
person to be elected to the Austin City Council. In her online bio,
it says, "Randi and her partner, Kayla Shell, an attorney and
Dell executive, live in the Clarksville neighborhood and are the
parents of a 17-month-old son, Ethan." No openly gay or lesbian
person has yet been elected to the Austin City Council, but this
is the 21st century, a period that historians may someday refer
to as "The Gay Century." Austin has a large and influential
homosexual class, and so Ms. Shade's lifestyle choice should not
affect her chances of winning a seat on the Council here in '08.
The Statesman describes Ms. Shade as, "an internet entrepreneur."
She worked for consumer products giant Procter & Gamble at one
point, but other than that, she has been firmly entrenched in the
"non-profit" and "community service" industries.
She founded an internet company in 1999 called CharityGift.com,
which aimed to ease the processing of donations to charities. In
2005, she sold the company, either to make preparations for her
current political exploit, or because the enterprise was getting
to be a little too "non-profit-y" (This writer tried to
log onto CharityGift.com, but to no avail; the company no longer
exists). All the same, business experience is likely a non-issue
in this race given that Ms. Shade's main opponent, Jennifer Kim,
cannot advertise herself as any sort of businessman or entrepreneur.
* * *
Jennifer Kim has been around the world and
back on her way home to Austin, Texas. From her web site, a writer
describes her background: "Jennifer is half Korean and half
Chinese. As a child, her parents worked for the Department of Defense,
and she has lived and traveled abroad. She was born in Los Angeles
and lived in Japan, Korea, Germany, Arizona, and then Houston where
she graduated from Alief Hastings High School."
Influencing the political process has been a long-term passion for
Ms. Kim. She got a political science degree from Texas A&M in
1993, graduating magna cum laude. She then went into politics, working
for two years as a legislative aide to State
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). After this practical stint
in politics, she returned to school to get a more advanced degree,
earning a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University in
1998. Ms. Kim then worked as a U.S. government bureaucrat for the
Dept. of Commerce from 1998 to 2002, doling out federal money to
"economically distressed communities" in the Southwest.
She then arrived in Austin in 2002, and began to make a name for
herself in local politics. In 2005, she was elected to the Austin
City Council at the youthful age of 32.
Much like the Hillary/Obama match-up that has shaken up the national
stage, in a battle of PC-identity politics between Jennifer Kim
and rival Randi Shade, it really comes out as a draw. Ms. Shade
may be vying to be the first member of the "LGBT" club
elected in Austin, but Ms. Kim has already earned her stripes as
the first Asian-American to serve on the City Council.
In 2005, the firemen's union gave money and support
to Jennifer Kim in a runoff election, but this year, they have shifted
their support to Ms. Shade. Mike Bewley of the firefighters PAC
has been elusive in saying exactly why they have withdrawn their
support for Ms. Kim. The candidate told the Statesman that
she believes, "the firefighters' primary beef is over their
request for an additional contribution to their pension system
In another political role, Ms. Kim serves on the
board of CAMPO
(Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization), which determines
funding for local road projects. In the fall of 2007, she notably
voted against the toll road plan being pushed by State
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), so "kudos" to Ms. Kim
for listening to the people, and voting against this plan to convert
our existing highways into toll roads.
* * *
Also in the running against the two heavily-financed
frontrunners is Ken Weiss. He has lived in Travis County
nearly his entire life, and is running on a strong "pro-education"
platform, saying, "Education should be the cornerstone in any
society and should not be allowed to be anything less than excellent."
He has attended both Austin Community College and Concordia University,
and has run several small businesses over the years. Mr. Weiss joined
ROTC while he was at ACC, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant
in the United States Army, and has also served in the Texas Army
National Guard. Ken Weiss has done a lot of volunteer work for the
Blue Santa program, and also assisted in disaster relief during
the Houston flood of 2001,
and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Mr. Weiss is a strong proponent of "changing all city-owned
street lamps from mercury vapor bulbs to LED bulbs." He also
wants to make sure the Austin Fire Department is prepared for fires
in the new high-rise condos, and has a plan to fight possible brushfires
in the west Austin / Loop 360 area that could threaten newly-erected
million-dollar mansions. Mr. Weiss recognizes that residents out
there run the risk of suffering a wildfire disaster like those that
have burned down expensive homes in the arid hills of Southern California
in recent years.
Regarding toll roads, Mr. Weiss is opposed to "managed lanes"
on Mo-Pac (a code word for toll lanes) and does not believe "tax-paid
right of way" should be used for toll roads. He says, "We
need more major roadways and those should not be tolled."
To understand the son, you must understand the father.
Cid Galindo is the son of Bolivian businessman, diplomat,
and author Ramiro
Galindo. Ramiro brought his family to Texas in 1974 and has
since earned himself and his family "The American Dream":
Ramiro Galindo graduated from Texas A&M University with a
Bachelor's and a Master's Degree in Civil Engineering. He founded
Consultores Galindo, Ltda., a consulting engineering firm, in Cochabamba,
and a tin alloys factory in La Paz, Bolivia, and was knighted by
the Queen of Denmark for his services as the Danish Consul to Bolivia
. He returned to the United States to become a successful real estate
developer and entrepreneur
[and] is also the author of the
very well reviewed book "The making of an American", his
Cid Galindo actually got his start in the professional
world working for his dad's company in the early '80s while he attended
Texas A&M. Cid graduated from A&M with a B.A. in Economics
in 1986. In 1992, he earned an MBA and an M.A. in Latin American
Studies from the University of Texas. Since 1995, Mr. Galindo has
been president of Galindo Group Austin, a local real estate development
subsidiary of his father's international conglomerate, The
In his message to interested readers, Cid Galindo
offers a stark "fork in the road" for Austinites and urges
residents to allow the city to "grow up":
We are at the end of our adolescence as a city, and we have to
decide what kind of grown-up we want to be. Do we want to continue
being a string of suburbs dependent on commute times, traffic, and
vehicles to do just about anything outside our homes? Or do we want
to build a more urbanized future of neighborhoods in which we still
have our cars but rely on them a lot less?
Cid Galindo is an out-and-out futurist. He has three
grand plans for Austin: "The 2035 Sustainable City Initiative"
(a Power Point presentation showing Mr. Galindo's overall "vision"
for Austin's next generation); "Building the Safest City in
America" (omnipotent surveillance cameras to photo-enforce
all public activity); and "Toward a More Urban Future"
(the intentional crowding of Austin).
Mr. Galindo the younger has served as a top executive
Central Texas (ECT), a futuristic land development club. On
their web site, they describe the organization's accomplishments
since forming about five years ago: "The ECT visioning process
was unprecedented, with thousands of people from throughout the
five-county region discussing future growth as a connected community
In May 2004, we released the "ECT Vision" which
paints a compelling portrait of what we would like life to be like
in our community 20-40 years from today." The ECT plans specialize
in three realms: transportation, land usage, and the environment.
After the revelation of their vision, ECT leaders say they have
now entered an "implementation" stage to turn their dreams
into an undeniable reality for residents.
Mr. Galindo has been working "triple-time"
to carry out his varied "non-profit" duties that influence
municipal ordinances on property development. He served on the City
of Austin Planning Commission for 3 years while also acting as Director
of Austin, and as leader of the Downtown
Austin Alliance, a group spearheading efforts to install "Big
Brother" police surveillance cameras on Sixth Street (see this
* * *
While Cid Galindo has "visions" of a tightly
knit urban playland called Austin 2035, Laura Morrison writes,
"This race is about vision and values
I'm running for
Council to make sure that as we move into the future, we protect
the things that we love about Austin
Laura Morrison lives in "Old West Austin" and if you go
down Baylor Street, you'll see about ten houses in a row with her
yard signs. As president of the Austin
Neighborhoods Council, she has been an outspoken community leader
the last few years, and worked for provisions that allow neighborhoods
to "opt out" of "vertical mixed-use" regulations
that permit skyscrapers to be built in residential areas.
Mrs. Morrison moved to Austin in 1981 and is married to Phil, a
physics professor at UT; they have two grown children. Before being
a community leader, Mrs. Morrison lived the life of an engineer.
She worked for military contractor Lockheed
Martin overseeing engineering projects for the U.S. Air Force
and the Portuguese
Air Force. Mrs. Morrison holds a Masters in Mathematics from
UC-San Diego and a graduate degree in Disaster Management from UNC-Chapel
Laura Morrison's campaign slogan offers to make Austin "a city
that works for all of us."
* * *
On his web site, poet/publisher Robin Cravey
says, "I'm running a grassroots campaign to bring common sense
to this uncommon city
I've been in love with Austin since
I arrived in 1969, and I've been working on environmental and city
issues since 1970."
Like several other candidates, Mr. Cravey wants to focus the mind's
eye of every voter on his "vision for the future." Feel
the poetic justice in Mr. Cravey's vision for Austin: "We will
shape a city where people can live within walking distance of where
they work. We will also provide a comprehensive transportation system
centered around shoe leather, bicycles, motorbikes, and effective
public transit. It will transform the city, reducing traffic congestion,
air pollution, noise, pavement, oil imports and our part in climate
change. It will give us air sweet enough for a baby to breathe."
Basing his plans on the city's "Austin
Tomorrow Plan" from the 1970s, Mr. Cravey says, "
we must protect our water quality lands to the west, and protect
our farmlands to the east. That focuses our urban growth on the
desired development zone, that north-south corridor
Some other key soundbites in Mr. Cravey's campaign: "Keep Austin
green"; "Bring back affordability"; "Walkable,
bikeable city"; "Intentional, strong, democratic city."
Mr. Cravey owns his own publishing imprint, Tilted
Planet Press, which released books of poetry and short stories
primarily during the 1980s.
* * *
Samuel A. Osemene has lived in Austin for
almost 20 years. He is married with twin daughters. He earned a
B.A. in Political Science from the University of Texas and will
earn his Masters in the same subject in May 2008. He has served
in the U.S. Navy and is currently employed by the Texas Department
of Criminal Justice.
Mr. Osemene says he will "apply common sense to common problems."
While other candidates desire to lead a revolutionary transformation
of Austin 's transport systems and land usage laws, Mr. Osemene
promises voters that he will obey the rule of law, and protect everyone's
God-given natural rights, as laid out in Declaration
of Independence (not such a simple task nowadays).
On his campaign web site, he makes reference to his visionary opponents:
"Policymakers have constructed cocoons around themselves
exhibiting behavioral patterns that emphasized their own exalted
status," disconnected from the "ordinariness of the people."
Mr. Osemene wants to protect homeowners from skyrocketing property
tax increases that have forced many people to sell their property
to speculators and land developers. "Power has been used and
applied arbitrarily in confiscating private property in the name
of eminent domain. Another method that has been used consistently
to confiscate private property is an increase in property taxes.
Many old neighborhoods such as the ones in East Austin, Travis Heights,
Tarrytown, and Allendale have been affected by this taxation without
representation." Mr. Osemene aims to protect Austin homeowners
from this unjust taxation. If elected, he will propose an ordinance
to cap property taxes for homeowners who are over 55 years of age,
and for family homes that were built more than 30 years ago.
He is opposed to surveillance cameras at red-light intersections,
and claims that City of Austin leaders "took advantage of public
passion for road safety and convenience to adopt ordinances that
limit freedom of movement
by installing cameras on public
routes in the name of reducing auto accidents
Mr. Osemene has some harsh words for the way the "homeless
situation" has been handled in downtown, and proposes moving
the ARCH elsewhere, away from the entertainment district. He writes:
The downtown area is the face of the city. The
idea that Austin has ignored the plight of the homeless should be
looked upon with disgrace
When elected to the city council,
I will propose setting up a commission that will look into this
problem and recommend to the city council how to deal with it. One
of the solutions could be to relocate the homeless shelter and make
it more humane by providing permanent accommodations to these, our
fellow citizens. The ARCH was built to address this issue but the
policy of letting these men and women only spend the night and letting
them out during the daytime to wander around the city is disgraceful.
These are God's children. I will suggest a permanent site where
these citizens will call home and have the opportunity to build
on the skills they have and learn new ones to better improve their
way of life.
Samuel Osemene doesn't think the government can solve all your problems,
and in fact, he wants to get the government off your back. He explains
why in a simple way: "Limited government interference in our
personal lives promotes individual excellence." We've seen
plenty of mediocrity with the current City Council, but are we ready
to allow excellence to return to the political scene?