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Adler and Martinez Look to Ramp Up Fundraising Ahead of Mayoral Runoff

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
Both Mike Martinez and Steve Adler have sunk over $100,000 into their campaigns for Mayor of Austin.

There was a time when it didn't cost a whole lot to win a race for Austin mayor.

Up until the election of outgoing Mayor Lee Leffingwell, mayoral elections in Austin were typically won with less than $300,000 – sometimes with much less.

But with the city's rapid expansion and efforts to combat low voter turnout, this year's mayoral election has produced the most expensive campaigns in the office's history -- and it's not over.

For the next six weeks, run-off candidates Mike Martinez and Steve Adler are poised to ramp up their fundraising efforts in the hopes of luring voters to the polls for the Dec. 16 runoff.

"We might need to get used to the idea that our local elections might become more expensive than they have in the past," says Regina Lawrence, the Director of UT's Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life. "The truth of the matter is it's harder than ever to engage voters these days."

She attributes the hike in campaign costs to the city's rapid growth, adding that voter engagement comes at a high price.

Just to compare, Leffingwell's total campaign expenditures from his first mayoral election in 2009 to last year were less than $250,000.

Steve Adler spent more than that in the first half of this year.

So, candidates need all the money they can get.

Mike Martinez has, admittedly, not been able to compete financially against the Adler campaign. But one of his strategists, Bo Delp, says campaigns need more than money to win.

"There is no surprise there are special interests out there who think they can just buy this election,” says Delp. “But, [Mike Martinez’s] message has been loud and clear: This city is not for sale.’”

Martinez's campaign messaging emphasized his story of rising through the ranks in the Austin Fire Department, and continuing his public service on the Austin City Council after his 2006 election.

Steve Adler says Martinez's story reflects Austin’s past, not its future.

"People can choose Mike Martinez and the status quo," says Adler. "Or, they can choose something new – new ideas." He believes the city's affordability issues and transportation woes can be attributed to the old guard.

For the next six weeks, both candidates will try to reach out to as many Austinites as possible. The idea is to knock on as many doors and place as many calls as possible. Social media and campaign messaging through traditional outlets are also available tools, but things like television ads can be costly.

The real challenge for both candidates, beyond getting the word out, is to fight voter fatigue and upcoming holidays to get their supporters to the polls for the Dec. 16 runoff.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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