IndyAustin, if you’ll recall, is the independent expenditure group that was formed to force a vote on CodeNEXT. It was set up by Linda Curtis, the perennial signature-gatherer based in Bastrop. Most of the money, however, did not come from earnest CodeNEXT opponents, but a few billboard companies, who were angling to use the code fight to settle long-time grievances about sign regulations.
Now, CodeNEXT is no more but Proposition J, which was aimed at killing it, is still on the ballot and, if approved, it could have a major impact on the city’s ability to revise its land development code in the future.
In the most recent campaign finance report, IndyAustin reports that it has broadened its mission. In addition to supporting Prop J, it is opposing Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Pio Renteria and District 9 candidate Danielle Skidmore (who is challenging Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo for the seat). Finally, it discloses that it will be supporting an “ordinance w/r/t City land & sports facilities/entertainment stadiums.”
IndyAustin reported raising just a whisker under $30,000 over the last three months. Almost all of it came from three major donors. The smallest one –– $3,000 –– came from local real estate investor Brian Rodgers, a regular donor to causes aligned with Fred Lewis and neighborhood preservationists.
Then there was $5,000 from Joel Hechler, who describes himself as a “former investor” who lives in Tenafly, NJ. What I gather from Google is that this is Cory Joel Hechler. A rather sparse LinkedIn under that name identifies him as an “executive director” at JP Morgan. An online database of securities brokers lists him as having worked at Bear Sterns from 1987-2006 and JP Morgan from 2006-13. There’s no obvious reason that I can identify for why he’d be involved in Austin politics.
Finally, IndyAustin got $20,000 from Irving Kessler, who lists his address in Paradise Valley, Arizona and describes himself as a “former investment manager.” It looks like his first name is misspelled on the campaign report, and that this is actually a check from Irvin or Irv Kessler, a hedge fund manager who serves as the principal or chairman of Provident Real Estate Advisors, which is based in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Star Tribune described Kessler as a “publicity-shy hedge-fund manager” in 2011 when it discovered that he was providing much of the capital behind a proposed casino.
So what is Kessler’s link to Austin politics? It very likely has to do with his link to the Circuit of the Americas race track. In 2012, the Statesman identified him as one of the investors:
A racing enthusiast, Kessler popped up prominently on the Internet after a 2009 incident in which his $3 million McLaren F1 road car caught fire while he was driving it in California.
Kessler did not return a call from the American-Statesman on Wednesday, and Circuit of the Americas officials did not disclose whether the Minnesota hedge fund manager was the Kessler listed in the SEC filing for the track.
COTA, of course, is unhappy with the Columbus Crew coming to Austin. It is host to a lesser soccer team that it doesn’t want overshadowed by an MLS team. It is therefore friendly to the efforts of activists to get the stadium deal proposed for the Crew overturned by voters.