29th Ward alderman Deborah Graham

In a statement released last week, Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) announced that she has earned the support of former candidates Lawrence Andolino and LaCoulton J. Walls.

On Feb. 24, Graham was forced into an April 7 runoff against Chris Taliaferro, a Galewood lawyer and police officer. Graham garnered 40 percent of the vote, significantly less than the 50 percent plus one vote majority needed to win outright. Taliaferro won with 22.5 percent.

Since then, both candidates have made a mad dash to try siphoning the roughly 58 percent of votes outstanding that remain in the balance—at least theoretically.

“I called every last one of my opponents on election night and before it closed out, I had spoken to each of them,” Graham said in a recent interview with Austin Weekly News.

Since those talks, Graham said that she’s pocketed the endorsements of Oddis “O.J.” Johnson, LaCoulton J. Walls and Lawrence Andolino. The three of them represent more than 20 percent of votes cast for aldermanic candidates in the 29th Ward.

Andolino, the biggest catch for Graham, said that he and Graham had a heart-to-heart the night of the election. However, on election night Austin Talks reported that Andolino clearly stated that would be supporting Taliaferro. The Austin news service on Wednesday reiterated that Andolino’s support for Taliaferro was directly stated.

While Andolino denies that he made an explicit endorsement of Taliaferro that night, Graham said Andolino may have been in talks with Taliaferro about a possible endorsement, but that it didn’t happen because Taliaferro was being endorsed by former 29th Ward alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers.

“I don’t think he liked what he saw,” Graham said.

When asked whether or not this were the case, Andolino never directly addressed the question.

“I never actually made an endorsement that night,” he said. “I said I’ll be talking to Chris to congratulate him, but I never came out and endorsed anyone that night. I was still looking at my numbers, because I didn’t know 100 percent if I had lost. My decision [to endorse Graham], was based on the best interest of my community and the community as a whole.”

Andolino confirmed that he and Graham have had “several hours of conversations and heart-to-hearts.” He said out of those post-election conversations came the idea to form a voluntary Galewood Economic Development and Zoning Committee, of which Graham appointed him chairman. Andolino said the idea for the committee was his creation.

“I have experience in economic development and I know zoning law,” said Andolino, an attorney by profession. “In conversations with Graham I said that I can help head up a committee for Galewood. That’s my idea and she like the idea. It gives me a chance to do things I think are important. When someone is willing to help me and facilitate my platform—that’s a huge commitment.”

During the race, Andolino often touted his part in bringing a North Avenue Starbucks to the Galewood community. 

“Alderman Graham and I […] have agreed to partner in creating a development plan that will bring in quality businesses like a Mariano’s grocery store and to implement an aggressive strategy to attract new developments that will make our local economy stronger. This agreement has earned my full support and partnership. I’ve also offered to donate space for Ald. Graham to open a satellite office in Galewood to better serve residents,” Andolino said in the statement released by Graham’s office.

Graham said that the rest of her opponents, such as community activist Zerlina Smith, are remaining neutral.

“None are endorsing Taliaferro,” she said.

The endorsement announcement comes as Graham looks to somewhat distance herself from the controversy that has surrounded some of the policies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who she is supporting.

She said that the public has unfairly associated her with the mayor’s school closings and the red light camera system.

“I was at the meetings and attended every hearing,” she said with respect to the closings. “I stood up and fought without teachers to keep our schools from closing. My opponents weren’t present. They didn’t write a letter or do anything of the sort—they just complained.”

Regarding the red light cameras, Graham said, “The vote for the cameras took place in 2003. I wasn’t alderman at the time. I was in the General Assembly. I did not vote for those cameras.”

At press time, attempts to contact Taliaferro and Carothers for comment were unsuccessful.

 CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Austin Talks confirmation of Larry Andolino’s election night comments.

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