Randi Shade

Randi Shade discusses her experience as Austin’s first openly gay city council member after a screening of the 1984 documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk,” Wednesday night. The film was screened in the LBJ Library by the Harvey Milk Society & the Gender and Sexuality Center.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

UT alumna and former Student Government president Randi Shade served on the Austin city council from 2008 to 2011 and worked under three different governors, in addition to serving on several committees and holding membership in numerous local and national organizations.

No longer serving on city council, Shade now serves as mother to two young children and lives in central Austin with her partner, Kayla Shell.

Shade said she was open about her sexuality while running for city council but does not promote gay issues as her main agenda. Shade said she is proud she ran openly because she stayed true to herself and said she is a better person for it.

“My son is only 5 and doesn’t understand this now, but I don’t want him to think I was ever embarrassed of who I am,” she said.

Shade said she was surprised when she heard there had not been a gay council member in Austin, calling the city “a blueberry in red tomato soup”, meaning the only area with Democrats surrounded by a large area of Republicans.

“Unlike most cities in America, really the world, Austin does not have a gay ghetto,” Shade said. “In Austin, the liberals fight the liberals. The fact that I was a businesswoman actually hurt me more than that I was gay.”

Members of the Harvey Milk Society, an LGBTQ student group within the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and the Gender and Sexuality Center invited Shade to speak Wednesday.

Shade said she respects the work of the openly gay 1978 San Francisco city councilman Harvey Milk because he led the way for others to be accepted and run for political offices no matter what their sexuality.

“Harvey Milk’s main identity was being a gay activist,” Shade said. “Being gay is not my main identity. You can’t only focus on your agenda where this is a much larger contingency to represent.”

Asha Dane’el, Harvey Milk Society lead coordinator and textile and merchandise graduate student, said she was excited to hear from Shade.

“Harvey Milk is our mascot, of sorts, because he was a gay politician, and as part of the school of affairs, we try to stick to that area,” Dane’el said.

Dane’el said members are really trying to reach out to students across campus and not only within the LBJ school.

“This is my first year at UT, and I identify as queer, so I wanted to be part of that community,” said Alice Bufkin, public affairs graduate student and member of the Harvey Milk Society.

A crowd of supporters cheer for Kathie Tovo seconds after her victory of the Austin City Council Place 3 runoff election is announced Saturday night at Scholz Beer Garten.

Photo Credit: Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff

Kathie Tovo was the clear winner of the Austin City Council Place 3 runoff election hours before the final numbers came in, and a room of excited supporters reveled in celebration and relief.

Tovo defeated incumbent Randi Shade, who had held the Place 3 seat since June 2008. In the runoff, Tovo brought in 56.25 percent of the vote to Shade’s 43.75 percent.

“I am going to focus on issues of affordability, on really working with our school district partners to keep our neighborhood schools open and really making sure that I am being responsive to the citizens of Austin,” Tovo said.

Tovo said she’ll be making an effort to represent Austinites who wanted to keep Shade in office.

“I think it’s going to be really critical for me to reach out to those who haven’t supported me and begin to build a relationship there,” Tovo said.

The runoff between the two Place 3 candidates generated a greater turnout than the general election. In the first race, 7.4 percent of registered voters turned out to the polls, while 9.58 percent voted in the runoff. Tovo received 46.38 percent of the general election vote ­— short of the 50 percent needed to call the race without a runoff.

The two candidates both said they care about serving students but differ in their approaches.

Shade, an entrepreneur and former executive director of the Austin Entrepreneurs Foundation, said she wanted to create a healthy business climate in the hopes that recent graduates find a receptive market for their talents after graduation should they choose to stay in Austin.

Tovo, who served as the vice president of the Neighborhood Planning subcommittee and on the Austin Independent School District’s Community Committee, said she wants to ensure that affordable housing for students is available in all neighborhoods, including the desirable central areas.

Tovo received a doctorate in American studies from UT in 2000 and continued as a lecturer, teaching classes in writing and women’s studies. Shade served as student body president at the University during the 1987-88 school year and graduated from Plan II Honors in 1988 before graduating with an MBA from Harvard.

“We’ve made history by getting this many people to turn out in a runoff. We’ve gotten a lot of people involved that were obviously not interested earlier,” Shade said. “I think we’ve accomplished a lot at City Hall in the last
couple years.”

Tovo won even though she entered the campaign after Shade and had fewer financial resources. She received a total of $238,934 in contributions compared to Shade’s $328,416, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed June 10.

Tovo’s contributions included $64,129 for her runoff campaign because she opted into Austin’s Fair Campaign Finance Pledge. Shade did not opt into the program.

The purpose of the fund is to provide an incentive to local politicians to cap their contributions at a certain level in a runoff to avoid high donations from specific interests, said

Danette Chimenti, a volunteer who worked on Tovo’s campaign finance reports and serves on the city’s planning commission. The fund is paid for by a collection of fees which registering lobbyists pay.

“We had to go out there and get money from your ordinary citizens, so it was very much a grassroots campaign versus a campaign by development interests,” Chimenti said.

Tovo will take office in an inauguration ceremony with re-elected council members Laura Morrison and Chris Riley at City Hall June 28. Shade’s last meeting with the council will be this Thursday.

The Daily Texan endorsement: Randi Shade

City council candidate Randi Shade speaks at the Austin Neighborhoods Council candidate forum in March. A UT alumna and former student body president, Shade faces Kathie Tovo in the runoff for Place 3 on the council.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

This year’s city council race for Place 3 between incumbent Randi Shade and challenger Kathie Tovo has been one of the most tightly contested local elections in years. The months-long campaigns have featured vicious attacks on the other candidates and may very well serve as a sort of referendum on the future of this city.

Shade, a UT alumna and entrepreneur, has campaigned on a platform advocating sustainable growth and maintaining city services. Shade has been supported by Austin’s business community and has won endorsements from the Austin Police Association and the Austin Firefighters Association.

Tovo, her opponent, has a long history of community involvement and has been a member of several commissions and committees. Tovo has drawn support primarily from the city’s various neighborhood associations and won an endorsement from the Austin Neighborhoods Council.

In last month’s general election, Tovo nearly pulled off an upset, netting 46 percent of the vote, while Shade received 33 percent. Because neither candidate received a majority, Tovo and Shade entered a runoff, which will be decided Saturday.

Several key municipal issues have been the highlights of the race so far, including the proposed F-1 racing track, transportation, infrastructure, the approval of a new water treatment plant, and transparency after the Austin American-Statesman obtained hundreds of email correspondences from city council members in February.

Meanwhile, issues affecting the student population of Austin haven’t received much attention but will still be significantly affected depending on which candidate comes out on top next week.

Oftentimes those issues that have the most immediate impact on student quality of life are shrouded in layers of city code and other legalese. For instance, the availability of student housing in areas around campus has a major impact on student life. In recent years the Central Austin Neighborhoods Planning and Advisory Committee has been actively working to create additional restrictions on group residential housing, which would make it harder for new student housing to be created.

While Tovo was not directly involved in the advisory committee’s decision-making process at the time, her links to Austin’s neighborhood associations and their anti-growth politics are troubling. We question whether, if elected, Tovo would govern in the best interest of all Austinites, not just those select few neighborhoods. The Shade campaign has held up a particularly contentious zoning case in Hyde Park as an example of Tovo’s support for a neighborhood association imposing its will on the rights of a homeowner.

Also troubling is the matter of the city’s historic zoning commissions. Currently, properties designated “historic landmarks” by the city receive generous tax breaks. In recent years, that practice has come under scrutiny as a disproportionate number of properties receiving these tax breaks were located in affluent West Austin neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods whose associations have been so adamant in their support of Tovo. Misuse of “historic” zoning has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue for the city. Shade has called for closer scrutiny of the historic designations while Tovo has voiced support for the process.

In the past two years, Shade has drawn her fair share of criticisms, and rightfully so. Shade’s close ties to Austin business interests and support of subsidies have some questioning her loyalties, and environmentalists have criticized her pro-growth policies. Additionally, her malicious campaign tactics and flippant remarks within City Hall have turned off many voters.

However, while we recognize Shade’s shortcomings over the past two years, we still believe Shade is the more qualified candidate to serve on Austin’s City Council and that she will do the most to serve the interests of all Austinites, including students, not just politically-connected neighborhood associations. We encourage you to vote to re-elect Councilwoman Randi Shade this Saturday.

Randi Shade

                                                                                       Kathie Tovo and Randi Shade

Early voting opens today for the City Council runoff election for the Place 3 seat between incumbent Randi Shade and opponent Kathie Tovo.

Registered voters may go to any early voting location today through June 14 to cast their ballot for the June 18 election. The Flawn Academic Center will be the on-campus location will be the, and vote-by-mail ballots must be received by June 10.

Shade received 32.90 percent of the votes to Tovo’s 46.38 percent in the May election. At least 50 percent of the vote is required to secure the seat. Since neither opponent has ceded their campaign, it has gone to a runoff.

Shade has held the Place 3 seat since June 2008. Before serving on the City Council, she launched Americorps in Texas under Gov. Ann Richards, started an internet business and served as executive director of the Austin Entrepreneurs Foundation, according to information from her campaign office. Shade garnered 64.15 percent of the vote in 2009.

Tovo served in appointed positions for the City Council, including vice president of the Neighborhood Planning subcommittee, as a planning commissioner and on Austin Independent School District’s Community Committee, according to her website.

Both candidates have roots at the University. Shade served as student body president from 1987-88 and graduated with Plan II Honors in 1988 before getting her MBA from Harvard.

As a council member, Shade said she wants to continue to create a healthy environment for students to obtain employment and pursue entrepreneurship after graduation.

“I have always had an eye on making sure we have job opportunities,” Shade said, “That’s all about making sure that Austin continues to be vibrant and has an economy that can support all the talents and entrepreneurial dreams of students at UT.”

Tovo earned her doctorate in American studies at the University in 2000 and continued as a lecturer, teaching writing and women’s studies. Tovo’s campaign has focused on keeping schools open during AISD’s financial trouble and keeping housing costs and utility rates low.

“The decisions the council makes definitely affect students’ quality of life, because if everybody else is paying higher utility rates, well — they will too,” said Tovo. “We would all benefit from doing what we can as a city to promote housing for people of all income levels.”

Shade said her experience and willingness to hear many different perspectives of many different sides makes her a stronger candidate for the office.

“I came to City Hall with a very broad background in my community involvement,” Shade said. “I think it’s very important to have people there who are not City Hall insiders.”

Because students often plan to stay in Austin, Tovo said it is in their interest to participate in city government. Only 7.4 percent of eligible voters, or 32,880 people, participated in last month’s general election.

“Anything we can do as a community to increase voter turnout is important. We really do need to get those numbers up, and that is going to require some long-term thinking about how do we get Austinites to get out there and vote, because it’s important,” said Tovo.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell endorsed Shade, as did Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and Place 1 member Chris Riley.

Former Place 3 contenders Kris Bailey and Michael Nofzinger have both issued formal endorsements for Tovo, urging their former supporters to vote for her in the runoff.

In the May 14 City Council elections, both Chris Riley and Laura Morrison kept their seats, Places 1 and 3.
The city holds staggered at-large elections for half the seats every year. Next year the city will vote for the Mayor and Places 2, 5 and 6.