Casual observers of city hall, at first glance, might take little notice that Mark Nathan, Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s chief of staff, has announced his departure.
But it is a noteworthy event whenever an executive politician’s chief of staff exits. A chief of staff is the one who gets stuff done, while their boss is smiling for the camera. The office of chief of staff and the person holding it become synonymous.
To that point, the mayor said on his own website “Mark has been a driving force behind almost every major initiative we’ve undertaken.”
As a nerdish observer of City Hall, which is one level above casual, I can read into that a few ways, but the simplest is just to look at three things the mayor’s office has pushed in the past 12-16 months: A new downtown hotel, an urban rail system and the United States Grand Prix F1 race. (As for the F1 race, one could say Lee isn’t a “pusher” maybe just an adamant supporter. He was the only council member who wanted to approve the contract about 60 days ago, when his six other colleagues — including Randi Shade on her last day — voted to postpone the vote under threats it could blow the entire deal. That’s telling.)
If we hold the mayor at his word, then we conclude that Mark’s fingerprints are all over those three initiatives, and it matters that he is leaving because each of those have an undeniable impact on downtown Austin. Political connotations not considered, I view Mark like Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, who has been called “Bush’s brain.”
Mark’s departure is even more intriguing to me, in the context of this Austin American-Statesman report from June 4, 2011, which pointed out that he could take some credit for getting four of the seven former council elected.
If City Hall is like high school, then Leffingwell, (Mike) Martinez and Shade are the cool kids — the clique that wields the power and usually gets what it wants.
Hundreds of recently released council emails showed how close they are and how often they communicate behind the scenes. Their council campaigns also were engineered by the same person, political strategist Mark Nathan , who now serves as the mayor’s chief of staff and has been a consultant to (Chris) Riley and Shade’s re-election efforts this year.
According to the Burnt Orange Report, he was also involved with the early days of Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole’s campaign in 2005.
Whether you voted for Randi or not — or you favor rail or not — I’m going on record that anyone who serves in public, political life at a municipal level should be commended, and Austinites should thank Mark for his service.
As an aside, I’m not totally believing that the mayor and Mark have been planning the departure since “earlier this year” though. I’m the farthest thing from a city hall insider, but one would have suspected to hear rumbling earlier than two days before the announcement became official, as I did. To boot, several of my connected sources were in the dark when I brought it up to them.
My guess is either — as the Statesman pointed out — his involvement behind the scenes, with a hand in so many pots, became a detriment instead of a compliment to the mayor’s office. Like it or not, the Austin Bulldogs’ work has made an impact and one of them could have been to unveil Mark’s involvement in all things City Hall to a wider audience.
Another scenario, and one that is just as likely, is that Mark is going to go full gas on getting a giant bond passed in 2012. A lot of the rainmakers in town have been sharpening their swords to fight or favor hundreds of millions in bond debt to start at circulatory rail in the inner core.