Poor Little Rich Girl

So if you had two candidates for city office in a city where campaign laws limit donations to a fairly modest sum to prevent undue influence by the rich, and you saw a story like this one:

(Candidate B) appears to be gaining ground. She raised $44,885 in the past few weeks, loaned her campaign another $40,000[…]
(Candidate A) has raised nearly $170,000 since the fall — nearly $100,000 of it from early January to early April, the period reflected in Thursday’s finance reports.

which one of those candidates do you think the media could, responsibly and rationally, call the “little guy” or the “establishment candidate”? Which one do you think would be painted as the rich one in bed with the old money in Austin, and which one do you think would be painted as the voice of the masses?

Well, you’d be wrong.
Randi Shade has gotten more people to donate money to her – and Kathie Tovo, the supposed ‘voice of the neighborhoods’, is loaning herself money that most of us couldn’t afford to get to a run-off. Shade has deeper and broader support among the population as a whole, obviously, while Tovo is relying on the fact that the Austin Neighborhoods Council, the most conservative political entity in the city representing purely the interests of the wealthiest central homeowners, is a turnout machine especially in the lowest-turnout elections (run-offs).

Statesman story

Wait a minute, I hear you saying, the Austin Neighborhoods Council? Conservative? Rich?

It’s a dirty little secret, occasionally alluded to even in the horribly biased Austin Chronicle, that the Austin Neighborhoods Council is really representing what one of their writers called the landed gentry. For instance, as I wrote back in the days of the McMansion Ordinance in this post:

Laura Morrison chaired this task force – and lives in a home which, according to TravisCAD, is worth $1.4 million and has 8,537 square feet. Pretty big, but I had previously assumed it fit well within the 0.4 FAR required by McMansion. Yes, this is a big old historic house, but that’s not the metric of the ordinance (it doesn’t say “big houses are OK if they are stunners”, after all). Also pretty expensive for somebody whose negative campaign ads try to paint Galindo as the rich candidate.

Yes, this is not the first time – and it worked before. It’s incumbent on all of us to make sure it doesn’t work again – a candidate who can loan herself $40K and can rely on the landed gentry for support is NOT what most people think of when they say “progressive” or “listens to you” or “for the little guy”.

To own property at all in central Austin, you have to be disproportionately wealthy – of course. To own a single-family house in such a neighborhood, you have to be wealthier still. (Neighborhood associations discourage participation from multi-family residents, even multi-family owners, for the most part). To own such a property and have time to participate in the minutae of a neighborhood association’s governance (i.e. government by those with the most time on their hands)? Richer still. In other words, you don’t see people with full-time day jobs running these associations – it’s the idle rich for the most part, with a smattering of people in less-than-full-time jobs and/or marginal employment, and Tovo clearly fits that bill. So did Laura Morrison.

What Tovo will do is precisely what Morrison does – listen to a few rich homeowners in the richest central Austin neighborhoods whose only interest in city government is to make sure nothing changes – nobody new gets to move in; no new businesses get to open up; no improvements are ever made. Our area will sprawl far more than it otherwise would; our major arterial roadways will remain deserts of surface parking and strip malls rather than walkable urban development; and our air and water will get worse and worse and worse.

If that sounds good to you, Tovo is your candidate. Her completely content-free answers to questions indicate she’ll be Laura Morrison Lite – a rubber stamp for the ANC – while Shade set the bar highest – blowing Tovo out of the water.

Now, what about the money issue above? You know, the candidate who loaned herself so much money because comparatively few people were willing to donate (and remember, again, there’s a very low cap for donations in Austin)?

Turns out that if Tovo can make the runoff, she will get up to $60K in free money from the “Fair Campaign Fund” because she signed the pledge to limit spending in the first round of the election – a pledge that is meaningless because Shade had already indicated she’d spend more than the limit in that ordinance (meaning Tovo is not bound by it either). In other words, the rich candidate – again, that’s Tovo if you’re not paying attention, is going to get public funding because she entered the race late enough that the other major candidate had already raised and spent too much from a larger base of supporters.

In past elections, “neighborhood candidates” Margot Clarke and Laura Morrison signed this pledge much earlier on, and were actually bound by it for a fair amount of time (before their opponents either didn’t take the pledge or the filing deadline had passed). Not this time around; Tovo entered late – and could make a completely meaningless pledge that basically buys her $60K of public money in the runoff, if it happens.
And in that runoff, the ANC, that represents the interests of the tiniest fraction of richest people in the richest neighborhoods in central Austin, is responsible for a disproportionate share of voter turnout.

So it’s incumbent on everybody who cares about our future to make sure that runoff doesn’t happen. Get out and vote for Randi Shade, and get everybody you know to do the same.