Saturday, December 06, 2008

McCracken for mayor? Austin toller has a "reputation for changing his mind on issues abruptly and for political gain."

McCracken to run for Austin mayor

Two-term council member set to announce candidacy on Monday.


By Sarah Coppola
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken , whose interest in becoming mayor has been an open secret for more than a year, will formally announce Monday that he'll run for the job this spring.

The announcement is set for noon at the Austin photovoltaic company Heliovolt — a nod to McCracken's interest in renewable energy.

Currently serving his second three -year term, McCracken, 42 , joins a crowded list of possible contenders to replace Mayor Will Wynn , whose term ends in June .

Austin City Council Member Lee Leffing-well , former Austin mayor and Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and retired Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy have also expressed interest in the job, but none has officially announced a candidacy.

Through a spokesman, McCracken declined to comment for this story, saying he wants to roll out his mayoral platform on Monday .

Strayhorn didn't return a phone call. Levy's only comments were that he wishes McCracken well and that he's still exploring a possible mayoral bid. Leffingwell said McCracken "will be a strong candidate and worthy opponent."

Leffingwell declined to comment on McCracken's record but said of his own: "My strengths are maturity and a steady hand, someone who may be appropriate in a leadership role during the tough times ahead."

In the coming months, the City Council will have to cut more from the 2009 city budget — it has already slashed $25 million — if sales tax revenue continues to fall. It could be tough to find money for grand ideas that McCracken has championed, such as rail lines, downtown development and green-energy programs, amid the scramble to pay for basic services such as police officers and library hours.

A Corpus Christi native and a lawyer by trade, McCracken lost a 2002 council race, then was elected to Place 5 in 2003 . He won re-election in 2006 with 72 percent of the vote.

On and off the dais, McCracken is energetic and talkative — sometimes excessively so, say critics, who call him an avid self-promoter whose energy can be frenetic and unfocused.

He has a self-taught interest in New Urbanism — creating dense, walkable areas where people can live, work and shop — and has led three major land-use initiatives.

He worked with residents, developers and business groups for more than two years to write design rules for new shopping centers. He also helped write incentives to encourage developers to build projects with a dense mix of housing, shops and offices on major roads.

And he led the 2006 effort to enact the controversial "McMansion ordinance," which limits the size of new or renovated homes in older, central-city neighborhoods.

McCracken has been a vocal critic of cost increases in public safety contracts, saying they drain money away from other crucial needs, such as parks and libraries. And last year he pushed for, then backed away from, a ban on roadside panhandling, saying the city should first gather more data on panhandlers.

He sits on two transportation boards and has backed Wynn's idea to have a public vote on building a Central Austin passenger rail system that would connect the airport, downtown, the University of Texas and other areas.

And McCracken recently helped form the Pecan Street Project, a group that aims to draw renewable energy experts to Austin to develop a new electrical grid.

Austin political consultant Mike Blizzard said McCracken is a high-energy campaigner who will draw strong support from business professionals, who tend to donate generously to city campaigns.

But Blizzard said key groups such as environmentalists, city unions and Democratic clubs are more apt to back Leffingwell — a former commercial pilot who was a longtime member of a pilots' union and who chaired the city's environmental board.

David Butts , a longtime Austin political consultant who supports Leffingwell, said McCracken "is youthful and energetic, and that will be very attractive to the Austin electorate." But, he said, voters might seek a steadier, less flashy figure if the economy continues to tank.

Observers say McCracken will also have to overcome his reputation for changing his mind on issues abruptly and for political gain.

In 2004, for example, he and two other council members voted for a plan for seven toll roads, prompting a citizens' group to start a petition effort to try to recall all three. McCracken then actively criticized and questioned the plan, and the group removed him as a target. Late last year, when a toned-down version of the plan with five toll roads was introduced, McCracken voted for it.

Because of term limits, McCracken could not seek re-election to his council seat unless he obtains thousands of petition signatures.

McCracken has a 4 -year-old son, Ford, with ex-wife Mindy Montford, who lost a bid for Travis County district attorney this year. Last month, he married Sarah Groos, a program manager at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation.

Two other people have filed campaign-treasurer forms, indicating that they plan to run for mayor: perennial council candidate Jennifer Gale and Austin resident Josiah Ingalls.

Strayhorn and McCracken have also filed those forms, which allow them to start raising money.; 912-2939

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