On Sunday afternoon at the AFL-CIO, Constable Bruce Elfant will host the 20th Annual Ice Cream Social. A campaign fundraiser that morphed into a charity event, the ice cream social is a concept that dates back to the 18th century — long before air conditioning and margaritas were born. It was a way to cool down and have fun with friends and family.
This year’s version of Elfant’s event, which may be his ice cream swan song as he steps down as Constable, will benefit the Austin Youth River Watch, an after-school and summer program for at-risk high-school students that teaches environmental stewardship. It will also benefit Elfant’s campaign for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, so it’s a doubly good cause.
For newcomers, Elfant’s party is also a competition for homemade ice cream makers who often give their creations Austin-weird names and delicious flavors. If you have a treasured recipe, make it and bring it. If you’re feeling ambitious, come up with a new one. For more information, check the official Ice Cream Social Facebook page or email email@example.com.
QUESTION: Where did the idea for the Ice Cream Social come from?
ELFANT: It came about when I was elected constable. Our office does a lot of work with children, so we thought it was an appropriate, family-friendly event. It was a fundraiser because I needed money for my campaign, but the next time I didn’t need money, so it was designed as a charity event to benefit different groups in Travis County.
QUESTION: This year the Ice Cream Social will benefit the Austin Youth River Watch and your campaign for Tax Assessor-Collector. How do you decide which charities to pick?
ELFANT: We created an office committee to decide, and they came up with the criteria and the recommendations — in part to protect me from any hint of cronyism.
QUESTION: Over the years the Social has contributed to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Legal Aid Society, Life Works, CASA and the Emmy Barrientos Scholarship Fund — just to name a few. How much do you think you’ve raised over the years?
ELFANT: Total? I’d say between $70,000 and $80,000. The record for one event was $10,000 for the Emma Barrientos Scholarship Fund in ’09. Boy, I still can’t believe she’s gone (tears up). You know she worked for me … or rather I worked for her. I still miss her.
QUESTION: For those who don’t know, tell us who judges the contest and what’s the strangest recipe you’ve ever tasted?
ELFANT: Everybody gets a ballot and votes. We declare the winner at the party. Last year’s winner was Keep Austin Blueberry. Lisa (Harris, his wife) and I both enter, so we compete against each other, but she’s done better than me from the beginning. I did a really good key-lime pie once, and I tried to do a burnt orange cream, but I couldn’t get the food coloring right. It tasted good though.
QUESTION: Why do you think this event has been so popular for 20 years?
ELFANT: I don’t really know. It’s just a nice event and a good excuse to eat ice cream when we’re sweltering in the summer heat. It’s always a lot of fun and always kid-friendly. We don’t serve alcohol, although I did a Kahlua and fudge ice cream one year. But you cook the alcohol out of the Kahlua, so that doesn’t really count.
QUESTION: You’ve been a constable for a long time – since 1992 — and a public servant even longer. What made you choose that path?
ELFANT: I worked in public policy for (Attorney General) Jim Mattox, and I think that set it off for me. The impact we were able to have was incredible, and it was just an amazing opportunity. After that I went to work for the county as director of the Sesquicentennial Committee and then the Family Unit Section of Constable Stacy Suits’ office. In ’92, when he ran for sheriff, I ran for constable. When you have an opportunity, you have a soapbox to make government better. I’m really proud of the work we’ve been able to do.
QUESTION: So why did you decide to run for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector?
ELFANT: I’m in my mid-50s, and I figured if I’m going to do anything else in my professional life, now’s the time. I heard that Nelda (Spears) wasn’t going to run again, and that office deals with important issues — voter registration and tax collection. Customer service was a priority for Nelda, and it will be Job One for me, too. Tax appraisals need to be fair, and our voting registration needs to keep up with our population growth.
QUESTION: You easily won the primary, and now everybody says you’re a shoo-in for the November election, but you always campaign hard. Do you think all those people who chant “Bruce” at you won’t vote?
ELFANT: Run like you’re losing, and if you win, fine. I need to reach 300,000 to 400,000 people in this campaign. The political graveyard is littered with people who thought they were going to win. I don’t take anything for granted.
QUESTION: Will the Ice Cream Social continue after you become Tax Assessor-Collector?
ELFANT: I don’t know. I want to see what the culture is over there and respect whatever their tradition is. I think office holders ought to be encouraged to give back. Especially as Democrats we should, because so many needs go unfulfilled these days.