San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 3rd, 2008
Buda mayoral race a ‘personal’ choice

The Myth of Jones: A Column
Editor at Large

BUDA – The people of Buda will pick a new mayor next Saturday at a moment of transformative change for the city, and it’s likely to be a gut pick. A growing city will reach new sophistication by the old-fashioned instincts of its voters.

Two veterans of Buda’s governing body, Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Lane and Councilmember Hutch White, are running for the top seat, vacated since the resignation of John Trube at the end of July 2007. By the usual measures of political candidates, the contrasts between Lane and White are minimal.

The winner will take the reins of a newly constituted city council operating under the city’s first charter. Under the charter, Buda becomes a home rule city with a council-manager form of government, meaning the city has new powers of annexation and self-determination.

The charter expands the city council to seven members from six and gives the mayor a vote on all issues. In addition, a new council operating under a new charter will select a new city manager, who will execute the new direction. 

At this definitive moment for Buda, one might expect clear alternatives to present themselves in the mayor’s race. But the moment has, instead, produced two senior members of a mostly uncontroversial city council, each trying to convince voters he is the best man for the job when the only clear differences are inherently personal and stylistic.

Lane and White both see the same general set of problems – infrastructure, downtown vitalization and a battle for retail and business development, which is picking Southlake Meadows to the north and Kyle to the south while leaving Buda mostly untouched.

Their proposals are largely the same. Both pledge to guard the city’s precious 18.7-cents property tax rate. Neither goes out of his way to urge confrontation with absentee landlords holding Main Street hostage, though both agree that neglected properties are key pieces to the downtown puzzle. Both talk about respecting the city staff and making decision processes inclusive. Both talk about diligence in public works projects and assertiveness in economic development.

Lane and White haven’t voted on opposing sides of many key issues, but even exceptions are hard to judge. For example, White advocated finding an experienced interim city manager from outside after Robert Camareno resigned in March, while Lane went along with Councilmembers Sandra Tenorio and Tom Crouse to form a majority that favored staying in-house. Lane also voted with Tenorio and Crouse to hire Waters-Oldani as the search firm for a new city manager, while White and Cathy Chilcote voted for Johnson Associates.

In each case, the jury is still out. Long before many voters decide if they like Waters-Oldani or the interim arrangement led by finance director Sarah Mangham, they will have voted for mayor.

The election will come down to how people directly judge other people. The voters can’t say one candidate is experienced and the other one isn’t, nor can they readily say the candidates are distinguishable in their pipe dreams and plans. They can only say who they think would be the better man for mayor, and it’s largely a gut decision.

Political commentators like to say voters make “personal” decisions when voting for president, that they select the candidate most reflective of their own values. But presidential voters have a lot of people in their ear, planting impressions of the candidates.

The mayoral race in Buda is “personal” in a much more personal sense. It’s safe to say that virtually every likely voter either knows the candidates from the last six years of city council activity, or they have met the candidates on the campaign trail. Both candidates are almost entirely unmediated to the voters.

Thus, the decision will be made in the tiny, ineffable details personal interaction. It’s who makes the best impression through a conversation, a handshake, a falling out, a reconciliation, a way of talking, a way of walking. It’s who campaigns the most and the best, and who gives the most voters the strongest personal impression of being the best leader.

Of the two, White is the more gregarious and talkative, while Lane is quiet and softly spoken. White makes more assertive statements, such as this nugget about economic development from a Saturday morning session with downtown Buda residents: “We’ve got Southpark Meadows and Kyle coming on strong. That’s why we don’t have the malls and other retail. It’s not enough to hand our demographics to the land men.” Then again, no one has ever lost an election in Buda for being too laid back.

Thankfully, in an election that will turn on personalities, neither candidate has allowed the election to turn personal, which speaks very well for both men. Then again, there’s one more instance in which the candidates can’t be distinguished.

In each of the two contested city council elections, the candidates are varied enough so voters can deduce their favorites from the positions. But Buda’s choice for mayor will be intuited.

That’s how Buda will enter a new world of government. Through the old, small-town world of intensely personal preferences. 

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