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Victory at the Victory

Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole celebrate reelection at the Victory Grill

By Michael King, 6:07PM, Sun. May. 13, 2012

Waiting for the Victory
Waiting for the Victory
Photo by Michael King

Incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole's contest against a novice opponent figured as a walkover, and incumbent Place 5 Council Member Bill Spelman's multi-front race was not supposed to be – but both crowned the evening at the historic 11th Street restaurant with decisive victories.

It was a relaxed but loosely organized joint party at the Victory Grill, with campaign staff suddenly realizing as the evening began that "We don't have a TV!" to watch the eventual returns. Greeting well-wishers, including family members from Austin and her mother and brother from Wichita Falls, Cole joked that she and Spelman had only lately decided to hold a joint election-night event, and now "nobody's in charge!" A TV was eventually commandeered (although it never quite provided returns), and a jerry-rigged laptop cum projector finally provided intermittent voting info on one wall. Somebody from the Spelman campaign finally remembered to bring in a few of their candidate's signs as well, and the venue began to fill with enthusiastic supporters and one-by-one, several City Council colleagues. The initial early vote returns reflected Cole with nearly 70% over her opponent, Shaun Ireland, and Spelman doing well enough (at roughly 55%) that it seemed likely he could hold on through the evening and avoid another month of campaigning and a run-off against one of his six opponents.

Neither candidate wanted to jinx the outcome by claiming victory too early. Cole would say only, “I’m anticipating a strong statement by the voters of confidence in my leadership, and I hope to continue to do that, and I would be honored to do that.” Early on, Spelman was even less willing to speculate, saying, "I don't want to anticipate reality, I want to see reality first," although he said he was gratified by the early vote totals.

In the end, neither candidate need worry. Cole's resounding early numbers were only echoed by the election day totals, which brought her just shy of 71%, by far the largest margin in the day's four council contests. Spelman's early lead broadened as well, ending at 58%, with his closest competitor, Dominic "Dom" Chavez, far behind at 19%, the others strung out behind. Audrey "Tina" Cannon was third at 10%, and Occupier John Duffy a fairly surprising fourth, just clearing 6%.

While folks noshed on chicken wings, cheese, and chips and waited for the final numbers that never seemed to arrive, they were serenaded for a time by Austin's "First Lady of Jazz," Pamela Hart, singing a brace of standards this evening. With all due respect to the political festivities, Hart was undoubtedly the unacknowledged highlight of the evening.

Eventually the politicians returned to speechifying, and introduced by her husband Kevin, Cole welcomed her family, thanked her staff and supporters, and noted proudly that her son Nelson had voted Saturday for the very first time: "And he better have voted for me!" She noted her background first engaging in public school volunteerism, while noting that the council members share responsibility for all kinds of issues, and described them as "the hardest working group of people" she has ever known. She said she was very glad that her colleague Spelman is returning to the dais, after all the speculation that he might face a runoff: "I am so glad he's back to watch Laura [Morrison]," she laughed. She acknowledged that the voters were returning to council people she believes have the city's best interests at heart, summarizing, “For all that we might do wrong, we are, as a community, doing something right.” She noted the challenges ahead, most specifically the Austin Energy rate case decision as well as the determination of what should be on the charter ballot regarding geographic representation, in a form that will persuade previously skeptical voters, "because we don’t want the charter election to fail, and we don’t want the community to have to go through that again." Finally, she noted the most daunting challenge to the community, that a "segment of the community is beginning to lose their trust in government. … We have to work at strengthening the community bonds to move all of the city forward, because all of the city matters."

Spelman was introduced by his spouse as well, Niyanta, who noted that her husband has worked extraordinarily hard as LBJ School professor, council member, and full-time father when Niyanta is traveling for her work as director of the nonprofit Rainforest Partnership. Spelman would return the compliments as he took the mic, "really glad to be here with a smile on my face." He thanked his campaign staff and his City Hall staff, providing each with half-serious gifts connected to World War II British prime minister Winston Churchill.

"Politicians come in two types," Spelman said. "Those who want to be Gandhi and those who want to be Churchill." "I'm no Gandhi," he said, granting that distinction to his wife, who he said works to save South American rainforests at virtually no pay. With his campaign manager, Jim Wick, joining him onstage, Spelman noted that Churchill told the English people during the Battle of Britain, "We cannot guarantee victory, we can only deserve it" – then had Wick unveil a framed poster of Churchill declaring, "Deserve victory!" To his office staff he gave a similar memento of the war, a public service poster exhorting, "Keep Calm and Carry On!"

Spelman spoke of the difficulty of roughly six months of campaigning, glad to be finally done. He noted that it's impossible to be a public official without making people angry virtually all of the time, getting a broad, cheerful show of hands to the question, "How many of you have disagreed with something I've done – be honest!" Yet he noted that Saturday's election results, in all the races, reflect that the voters believe that the "folks trying to run the city are doing a pretty good job.” He thanked everybody for that outcome, concluding that it shows, "We’re a grown-up city, we can do the right thing."

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