Mayoral, sheriff races heating up

Published 7:39 am Wednesday, July 14, 2010

With the the primary less than a month away, local candidates for mayor and sheriff are beginning to slowly ratchet up their campaigns.

For some, this has meant getting yard signs out into the community. Others have concentrated on the mainstay of grassroots campaigns — going door-to-door. And while TV and radio ads haven’t really gotten going yet, some of the candidates are starting to turn to print.

As the Aug. 10 primary approaches, here is a look at what candidates for the county’s two highest-profile races have been up to so far:

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Crowded mayoral race getting started on the ground

For the four people vying to be Austin’s next mayor, grassroots campaigning has been the name of the game.

None of the candidates have turned to TV or radio ads, and only two of the four — lesser known challengers Zeke Dahl and Gordon Anderson — have turned to print ads.

Instead, the group has focused most of its attention to date on simply meeting people and knocking on doors. Marian Clennon, the Ward 3 councilwoman who is challenging incumbent Tom Stiehm, said this is a way to become more visual in the community.

“I go to a lot of events,” Clennon said. “I’m not handing things out actively, but I just want people to know I’m around.”

Dahl, who is a security guard running for elected office for the first time, said he has been doing “old-school, all-American” campaigning.

“I’m doing it myself. It’s just about (handing out) business cards and word of mouth,” he said. “I like to meet people.”

Anderson, too, has been focusing on face-to-face meetings.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of people,” he said. “They’ve been receptive of what I’ve had to say.”

Like Dahl, Anderson is brand new to politics. A retired printer, he said he’s enjoying his first campaign experience.

“It’s been interesting and challenging,” Anderson said. “I’m surprised very few people have said ‘no’ to me.”

The incumbent Stiehm hopes very few people say ‘no’ to him when the primary rolls around. However, the mayor said he isn’t doing much active campaigning before then.

“I think people just get sick of political stuff,” Stiehm said. “I kind of figure I’ll wait (to campaign) until later in July or August.”

He added that when he does, “It’ll be pretty low-key.”

Still, Stiehm said he’d do the usual mix of yard signs, pamphlets and door-knocking. The other candidates also said they’ll begin to pick up their campaigning in coming weeks. Clennon said yard signs are on their way, and the councilwoman added that she will run print ads and may explore radio ads if she can afford them. Both Anderson and Dahl said they’d continue knocking on doors, while each might look at more advertising.

Sheriff candidates focus on efficiency

The race for sheriff is yet to really heat up in Mower County, partially because a primary won’t be required in August with two candidates running. The candidates are already focused on the November election.

That’s not to say the early start to the campaign season hasn’t had an effect. When she first ran for sheriff in 2002, Terese Amazi said, signs started going up Aug. 1 but now they’re going up by the end of June.

“It’s different because it’s earlier,” Amazi said.

Amazi, who is seeking her third term as sheriff, said this election is also different because she is running against an internal candidate — Sgt. Jeff Ellis. She declined to speak further about running against a colleague.

Amazi already has campaign signs up around town and she’s ordered T-shirts, but she noted her campaign hasn’t yet kicked into high gear because of the early start.

One of the key focuses of Amazi’s campaign is getting the jail open and operating as efficiently as possible. She said she’s currently working on some scheduling changes to work toward personal savings.

“It’s very involved and time consuming,” she said. “I’m trying to get it up and running with as few people as possible and as efficiently as possible, and we want to get it done as soon as possible because we want to alleviate those boarding costs.”

However, that work has kept her focus away from the early campaign season.

“I think the hardest thing is getting everything done,” Amazi said, noting that the campaigns will really start picking up around fair season.

As for her challenger, Ellis said the key focus of his campaign has been familiarizing people with his name and more than a decade of experience in the sheriff’s department. Much of that time has been served as the handler of decorated police dog Taser.

“The biggest challenge in this campaign is getting out and talking to people and letting them make an informed decision,” Ellis said. “It’s making them aware of me and what I’m about.”

Ellis said he’d like to improve the internal communication within the sheriff’s department from the top on down. Another key focus of his campaign will be economic responsibility.

“I can’t sit here and tell you that I’m going to lower people’s taxes. I have no control over that,” Ellis said. “But what I can tell you is that I’m going to operate the sheriff’s department as efficiently as possible to try and prevent the need to raise taxes due to the sheriff’s department.”

While he has campaign signs, T-shirts and other promotional materials, simply being accessible is an important part of the Ellis campaign. He said it’s important let people know they can approach him and ask questions.

“It’s always a learning process, too,” Ellis said. “They’re learning about me, and I’m learning more what concerns them.”