If two’s a crowd and three’s a party, the Travis County Democratic Party could be in for a rager next year.
Former County Attorney Margaret Moore said Monday that she will run for district attorney, turning what was supposed to be a cakewalk for prosecutor Gary Cobb into a potentially bloody three-way Democratic primary. Defense attorney Rick Reed joined the race last week.
“About once every 10 years, Travis County Democrats have to have a messy local Democratic primary in order to reshuffle the deck or to settle old grievances. This might be one those years,” said political consultant Mark Littlefield, who said he gave Cobb a small donation before the race was contested but is now unaligned.
For months, Cobb appeared to have locked up support among Democratic insiders and had warded off any challengers in the race to replace District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Even Moore and her campaign treasurer, former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, were on his list of supporters.
But Rick Reed, a defense attorney who announced last week that he is running, and Moore both said they considered running after an American-Statesman story last month revealed that Cobb has a court-ordered $163,000 debt to his ex-wife stemming from their 1994 divorce and that he has made conflicting statements in sworn depositions about how he handles his finances over the years. Cobb has said his actions were the result of the “acrimonious” nature of the divorce and did not constitute illegal or unethical behavior, and that he is now working to settle the debt, but an agreement hasn’t been finalized.
Moore said in a statement Monday she was “very disappointed” in Cobb’s actions during the ordeal.
“The DA’s office doesn’t need leadership that brings more distractions and controversy. I decided to offer the voters an experienced and qualified choice,” said Moore, who declined to be interviewed before her formal campaign announcement next week.
Reed, a former prosecutor who unsuccessfully sued to have Lehmberg removed from office following her 2013 DWI arrest, has vowed to clean up the image of the office following scandals involving the current district attorneys of Travis, Dallas and Williamson counties. But he has not attracted significant support among the donors, lawyers and consultants who, for better or worse, often play significant roles in courthouse elections.
Moore — who served two terms as county attorney from 1981 to 1984, has done two stints as an appointed county commissioner and retired last year from the state attorney general’s office — is expected to line up some heavyweight support. Her naming of Todd as campaign treasurer, a job that is usually filled by a campaign worker and not a well-known politician, was the first sign of her ability to bring in big-name support.
Still, it will be an uphill battle against Cobb, who had a huge head start on fundraising and organization. His campaign in July reported having raised $85,000.
Cobb, who would be the county’s first black district attorney if elected, said in a statement that he is “dedicated to ending racial disparities in the criminal justice system” and is honored to have the support of prosecutors, civil rights leaders and others who have the same goal.
“I look forward to a substantive debate about which candidate is best qualified to restore the integrity of the Travis County district attorney’s office and restore faith in the community that laws in our county are being applied equally and fairly,” he said. “Our campaign has been and will always be about creating a safer, stronger and more united Travis County.”
So far, no Republicans have said they will run. The candidate filing deadline is Monday.