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

October 1st, 2009
Mayoral victory costly in San Marcos

San Marcos City Hall.

News Reporter

For its size and attributes, is San Marcos an expensive city in which to run for mayor?

Comparisons between San Marcos and similar cities in Texas indicate that mayoral campaigns in San Marcos are on the expensive side, especially for incumbents.

For her successful November 2008 re-election bid, San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz spent $99,757.84 between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, according to campaign finance reports. Narvaiz spent more than 13 times the total expenditures of her two opponents, David Newman and Daniel McCarthy, combined. Newman’s campaign finance reports showed that he spent $5,113.65, while McCarthy signed a statement with the Texas Ethics Commission saying he would not raise or spend more than $500.

Though Narvaiz almost certainly broke city records for campaign spending for 2008, large expenditures in San Marcos mayoral elections aren’t new. In the most recent previous contested election in 2004, Narvaiz and former Mayor Robert Habingreither spent about $70,000 between them.

Habingreither said he spent about $40,000 on his re-election campaign against Narvaiz that year, while campaign finance reports from that election show that Narvaiz spent $30,240.71 for campaigning between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005. Narvaiz defeated Habingreither in that election by 123 votes.

The city has maintained Narvaiz’ 2004 campaign finance reports, but not Habingreither’s, because Narvaiz remains active in political fundraising and Habingreither does not. The city clerk’s office said that once a candidate files a final finance report, which is an effective declaration that the candidate no longer intends to raise political money, that candidate’s finance reports are destroyed after two years. The state requires cities to maintain campaign finance reports for only two years.

Narvaiz’s 2008 campaign, along with accounts from former San Marcos Mayors Habingreither (2002-2004) and David Chiu (2000-2002), indicate that more money is available to incumbent mayors seeking re-election, thereby making re-election campaigns more expensive. Habingreither said he spent about $8,000 on his first campaign in 2002, while Chiu, unable to recall ballpark figures, said he spent much more to win in 2000 than to lose his re-election bid to Habingreither in 2002.

In an effort to determine how San Marcos stacks up in with respect to the cost of winning a mayoral election, Newstreamz collected campaign finance reports for mayoral winners from comparable cities. The comparisons are rough, as no other Texas city quite matches San Marcos in its coarsely defined characteristics.

San Marcos, home to Texas State University, claims a population of 50,373. The city is located 31 miles south of Austin and 49 miles north of San Antonio on Interstate-35. Newstreamz looked at local cities and other Texas university cities in the neighborhood of 50,000 population or higher, located on major highways. Following are the results:

Georgetown (population 49,741): Located 27 miles north of Austin and including Southwestern University, Georgetown provides the closest comparison with San Marcos. George Garver won the mayor’s race in May 2008, spending $18,190.46 between Feb. 11, 2008 and Jan. 15, 2009.

Garver received $740.10 and spent nothing in the last six months of 2008, a period starting about two months after the election. During a similar period after her November 2008 election, Narvaiz spent $42,530.85. Garver retained $2,170.87 in his campaign account as of Jan. 15, 2009. Narvaiz maintained $142.68 as of June 30, 2009.

New Braunfels (population 53,547):
New Braunfels doesn’t have a university, but is located about 15 miles south of San Marcos and has a very similar total population. New Braunfels Mayor Bruce Boyer received $27,142 and spent $28,194.82 in his first successful bid for mayor in May 2005, which was the last contested mayoral election in the city.

Denton (population 105,550): Home to the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s College, Denton is 39 miles north of Dallas on U.S. 77 and about twice the size of San Marcos. Mayor Mark Burroughs spent $84,571.44 to win a May 2008 election that included a run-off.

The reports covered July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008. Burroughs received $5,984 and spent $29,067.09 in the report for the period between the May 10, 2008 general election and the runoff the following month. Burroughs reported $37,700 in outstanding loans from himself during the month of the runoff, and his campaign still carried the debt as of April 2009.

College Station (population 86,480):
Mayor Ben White received $21,699.44 and spent $14,645.48 in his first successful mayoral win in 2007. White ran unopposed in 2009. College Station is home to Texas A&M University, 95 miles north of Houston and 104 miles east of Austin on U.S. 190.

Round Rock (population 91,571): Incumbent Thomas “Nyle” Maxwell spent $13,509.97 running successfully for re-election in May 2005, the last contested mayoral race in the city. The period covered in the reports was July 1, 2004, to December 31, 2005.

Maxwell received nothing and spent $1,012.11 in the last six months of 2005, following the election. As of December 31, 2005, Maxwell reported $30,171 remaining in his campaign account, most of which was left over from the $33,460.18 in contributions he received between July 1, 2004, and December 31, 2004.

Round Rock is home to the Round Rock Higher Education Center, an educational facility used by Texas State, Austin Community College, and Temple College at Taylor. Round Rock is 15 miles north of Austin on Interstate-35 and U.S. 79.

Seguin (population 25,090):
Mayor Betty Ann Matthies received $7,775 and spent $6,214 in her first successful bid in 2004, which was the city’s last contested mayoral race. Seguin is home to Texas Lutheran University, located 36 miles east of San Antonio on Interstate-10.

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0 thoughts on “Mayoral victory costly in San Marcos

  1. How many ways can Newstreamz repackage the same story and pitch it as “news?” Three and counting…

  2. I have to agree with John. The point has been made, why keep beating the same (dead) horse?

    One would think that this site might have an axe to grind…..

  3. I’m always interested in how our numbers stack up to comparable cities. Thanks, Sean, for digging into it.

  4. It is interesting, but it isn’t really news. I’m kind of wondering why this sort of information wasn’t included in the first story. Certainly there was room in that story for a table, without all of the filler.

    Of course, the other site seems to have all but given up on San Marcos news, so one can’t be too fussy.

  5. I appreciate the story. The could consider capping the expenses for election. Bill U doensn’t always have to throw his money in the mix.

  6. B. Franklin, he does seem to have a little bit of life left in him! I see his ears twitching. Nevermind, NS, carry on with the beating!

  7. There should be a “drinking game” where you have to take a shot every time NS runs another story about how much the mayor spent on her campaign….that might provide enough business to the bars on the square that they can also stop harping on downtown…..

  8. Dano, sounds like you might be onto something here. The new Downtown revitalization plan! And, it does not cost the taxpayer a dime of tax money!

  9. If y’all don’t want to know as much as you can learn about how San Marcos operates in relation to the times and other cities, then read your palms. The more information, the better. If you don’t want people to know more, then at least say why. If you think the information is redundant, then learn how to read. Sounds like folks are scared of reality and they don’t want to look. There’s a lot to learn from these stories.

  10. The lesson from these stories is that if you want to become mayor of San Marcos, you’d better raise money. If you have a candidate that you want in that position, you’d better contribute.

    When I saw the first story that SN spent $100,000, I thought she was crazy. Now, it makes sense. Last time she was in a contested race, her opponent spent $40K. Last year, she had two challengers and the possibility of a run-off. She thought she needed at least $80,000. Makes some sense. Looks now like SN wasn’t crazy. Looks more like Newman and McCarthy weren’t serious, or just didn’t realize what it would take.

  11. Yes, we learned that the Mayor spent a boatload of money on her recent campaign. That is her and anyone else’s right under our system.

  12. COS, you are exactly right. Under our system, every candidate has the right to raise as much money as they want and can. That raises a questions: Do we want that? Is that the best way to elect representatives who serve the interests of the community? Do we really have a representative democracy if a handful of big contributors can essentially buy the mayor’s office? Because when we start talking about this kind of money, that’s what we’re talking about.

    We live in a town where a homebuilder in Illinois (Bigelow)cut SN $5,000, about twice as much money as her leading opponent raised and right about as much money as that opponent spent. How likely is it that the desires of San Marcos people will be served when a homebuilder in Illinois contributes more to one candidate than the other candidate spends?

    It means we either need to fix the campaign laws here somehow, or people running for mayor have to realize what time it is. So, these stories are serious. They are a wake-up call. We need to wake up.

  13. Though I infrequently post comments, I must weigh in on this particular thread lest NS gets the wrong idea about what reader want to know or not. This story and the others related to the same issue being fleshed out in our local newspaper are exactly why other newspapers have lost public support over the years. This is a story that needs attention to every detail as it affects every person living or conducting business in our city. This story and others like it also potentially serve a more general civic education to our common benefit. Whether you like to discuss issues online in a forum or at a local diner or coffee shop these stories provide the information citizens need to have informed discourse within the community.
    Obviously some citizens are more interested than others, perhaps the sports section will provide the diversion required to avoid the reality some so desperately wish to avoid.
    Well done NS.
    Carry on.

  14. Jason: Who wants informed citizens strutting around and counterbalancing the pre-packaged, ritual nonsense the PR flacks have ready to retread and sell? That’s private business at its best and most productive. Just read the paid-for stuff and you will get more or less the product you choose. Pay for it yourself, and you become Oz, behind his curtain, speaking for you and your issues. You get to peep out and see your views be expressed, your favorite policies adopted, and, if you are a skilled player, make back a great return on investment. Make a star of your stalking horse, sell shares, and make “EFFECTIVE” government work! Your bonus is access and the ability to program the candidate, giving him or her the chance to share or take credit for your brilliant ideas, and if the deal goes south, nobody can blame YOU! If it goes well, you can cash it in now , then next time have an entrenched incumbent, much harder to unseat.

    But some people prefer not to have this stuff discussed much, because it could give voters “the wrong idea.” If they get too curious or too close to having their own ideas come up and then turn rambunctious, the smoothness goes away and makes us all look bad. Takes the luster off when the sheep don’t herd well, or begin to know things and think for themselves and step off line. First thing you know, officials start having to explain things, listen to people not in the “chosen few.” A real bummer!

    Ignorant, incurious people are much easier to please and to manage, and they don’t pester you about facts.

    (MI: My own bet’s not Judge, but Legislature, where the stars and the “playahs” can REALLY shine–and make real coin and really impressive bennies.) Kudos to the curious!

  15. The comments from former mayors and now the comparison to similar cities further informs the story, but why not have that information in the first piece. Did NS sandbag to draw the story out? Was the tail trying to wag the dog? The content appears to be chosen to push an agenda; maybe the articles are edited similarly.

    The importance of an issue doesn’t bless a bias in the reporting, and readers should question the perspective of a writer/editor. Blind acceptance is not a virtue and is far from curious or informed.

  16. Thank you, Newstreamz, for reporting on this important subject further. The facts in the comparison resonate with the feelings, concerns, questions many of us are starting to ask, including:

    Why should it cost so much money to run for Mayor of San Marcos?

    Should we have limits on how much money a mayoral candidate is allowed to spend on a campaign?

    Is it beneficial to limit the amount of money any one entity can contribute?

    Can we have greater transparency and timeliness in visibility on who is contributing how much money?

    How do we prevent undue influence from the money contributors in council decisions?

    These are just a few of the questions and rumblings I hear in the community on this topic.

  17. “Under our system, every candidate has the right to raise as much money as they want and can.”

    That is correct.

    The issue is NOT how much money is raised.

    The issue IS what it it spent on (campaign vs. living expenses), both before and after the election.

  18. “The issue is NOT how much money is raised. The issue IS what it it spent on (campaign vs. living expenses), both before and after the election.” B.Franklin

    Until you posted this, I hadn’t read or heard any allegations that her campaign funds were spent improperly. Got any proof?

  19. “Until you posted this, I hadn’t read or heard any allegations that her campaign funds were spent improperly. Got any proof?”

    For your consideration:

    Please check the campaign expenditure reports, posted earlier by Newstreamz, for all the mayoral candidates.

    26462.51 to Sedona Staffing (Narvaiz’ former business who she still consults for/to) for “Contract Labor.”

    Here is a breakdown:

    7/02/08 281.26 contract labor
    7/17/08 112.50 contract labor
    8/20/08 212.50 contract labor
    9/24/08 350.00 contract labor
    9/24/08 381.25 contract labor
    10/09/08 418.75 contract labor
    10/22/08 818.75 contract labor
    11/06/08 737.50 contract labor
    12/03/08 650.00 contract labor
    3/03/09 12,500.00 contract labor
    4/06/09 10,000.00 contract labor

    From this, I can say with certainty that the rates that Sedona Staffing charges the Narvaiz Campaign (for whom Narvaiz DOES still admittedly perform “Consulting Services” for, even after she sold it a couple of years ago) have increased considerably.

    Maybe she should have kept it! But then,…

  20. I agree that the information is important and interesting, but I also question (as earlier stated) why it wasn’t just included in the original story. Part of me thinks it is to drag the story out and keep the issue on the front page, part of me thinks it is to avoid the work of coming up with another story, part of me thinks it is because the story continues to generate interest. One scenario represents pushing an agenda, one represents creative slacking and/or a dearth of ideas and one represents good business.

    It is the possibility of advancing an agenda which is cause for concern and just as worthy of discussion as the possibility of outside interests having undue influence on our elections.

    I don’t really know what I think yet, but I am inclined to think it is not an agenda issue and thankfully, the active discussions that follow most of the big stories here really make it difficult (IMO) for anyone to successfully push an agenda. There are too many people offering too many compelling counterpoints on the various issues, unlike older media, where there is only one voice.

  21. OK, so the earlier small invoices were probably to pay the administrative help who answered the phones, etc. at Narvaiz’s campaign office. The two larger invoices at the end could have been bonuses for her campaign manager or staff.

    The fact that the rates charged to the campaign by Sedona could easily represent the rising cost of labor due to the ever-increasing minimum wage.

    I’m no fan of Narvaiz, but to call foul over these expenditures when there is a perfectly good explanation sitting right there isn’t the way to go.

    If you can show me that those two large invoices were fraudulently rendered, then I’ll jump on the bandwagon right next to you. Until then….eh.

  22. Sir/Madame;

    Could I interest you in the purchase of some prime sinkhole land in Alaska?

    I can give you a really good deal!

    You have to act now, however!

  23. So I take it this means you don’t have any proof.

    So what we have is your suspicions based on your personal dislike for our mayor.

    The sad thing is that you seem to feel the need to mock others when they aren’t willing to accept your suspicions as fact even in the face of your lack of evidence.

    Instead of mocking me for not buying what you’re selling, how about you try to back your smack with some facts?

  24. If you prefer to view the obvious problems in our city government with rose colored glasses, then there is probably nothing that ANYONE (myself included) can do to change that, as is evidenced by the history of your commentary.

    For that reason, I do make this reply to you out of courtesy, however in the future, please consider my comments to be directed to those members of our community who are not satisfied with “business as usual” at City Hall.

    It is/was not my intention to offend you, but merely to illustrate that critical point.

    Apparently I am not the only person whose eyebrows were raised by the revelation of these figures.

    If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.

    In this case, only a formal, comprehensive investigation would reveal the hard evidence to support the truth.

    That is still an option.

  25. The only problem with your diatribe is that I’m NOT satisfied with “business as usual” at City Hall.

    You make that assumption simply because I won’t accept your unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing in the mayor’s campaign spending….and that’s sad.

    Maybe if you stopped making so many assumptions about what things are and people are or are not, then you would gain some credibility. Until then, you’re just tilting at windmills.

    Maybe if the “politically concerned” in this country would base their opinions on verified fact a little more and invest a little less in rhetoric, we wouldn’t have the problems that we have….on the City, State, or Federal levels.

  26. Sure wish I would have kept an eye on all this while it was popular.

    Her consultants def. deserved $21k but I doubt her heavy hitters were coming out of Sedona. What’s this? She works for Sedona? And you’re not allowed to spend campaign money on personal stuff? And the company she works for just happened to get tens of thousands of dollars four and five months after the elections are over? That must have wrecked their quarterly profit estimates.

    She woulda spent only $80,000 like other cities but then she might not have won! ;p Her formula was perfect. Spend 19 times your two opponents combined, get 19 times fewer votes per dollar. The trick is in decimals.

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