Meet Your New City Council, Austin!
Recapping the run-offs
By the News Staff,
8:00AM, Wed. Dec. 17, 2014
Although not everyone's ready to concede just yet, it appears as though the new City Council is finally here, and it looks almost nothing like the old one. Also newly arrived: three trustees on the AISD board, as well as one on the ACC board.
• "The sun is gonna shine again tomorrow." That was the comfort defeated mayoral candidate Mike Martinez offered his supporters, along with thanks for his campaign and office teams and all the faithful gathered at the Rattle Inn: wife Lara Wendler, mother and stepfather, father and stepfather, sister. The bad news had come quickly, a few minutes after 7pm, when the early returns showed Martinez 40 points behind: 70-30. The gap closed slightly by the end of the night – 67-33 – but when Martinez walked through the door, he told Newsdesk, "There isn't going to be a 40 point turnaround." The candidate refused to be somber, encouraged the crowd to "celebrate" all they had accomplished in eight years, and to be proud of their love for their community: "This is Austin freakin' Texas, and we are not done!"
Martinez added that he had already called Steve Adler to concede, and had told him he would be his "biggest supporter" and offered any help that he could. A few minutes later, over at the Midway Fieldhouse on East Riverside, Adler was celebrating amidst a raucous crowd and multiscreens, while supporters crowded the stage to congratulate him and to get their photo taken with the victor. Visible celebrants included former opponents Todd Phelps and Randall Stephens, as well as a range of others: D7 candidate Ed English, Dick Lavine of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Roy Waley of the Sierra Club, former state Rep. Glen Maxey, and many, many more. The candidate was besieged by well-wishers and reporters, but stopped for a few words on his victory: "It's really, really exciting, and the early returns suggest we won in precincts all over the city, which is reaffirming and exciting." Of Martinez's concession, Adler said, "He was incredibly gracious. I know well that he really loves this city … He offered to help, and it's help that the city and I will welcome and take advantage of." – Michael King
• It was not exactly a cliffhanger in District 1, where Ora Houston led DeWayne Lofton 73-27% in early voting, and ended the evening at 74-26%. As her watch party came to a close, nearly 10pm at Midtown Live, Houston said wearily, "I worked just as hard in the run-off as I did in the first round," reciting her own block-walking of the last few days. Houston had nearly won the first round outright, short just 1% of a majority among nine candidates, with Lofton garnering only 14%. But he was determined to continue, believing that the run-off electorate would change the game. It was not to be, and Houston said his concession call was "very gracious," and she offered to meet with him to make certain that "he can express the issues that his constituents consider most important." She joked that her first priority on getting to City Hall would be "finding the bathrooms," although she is quite familiar with city facilities and city issues already. She said she would first want to get to know her fellow Council members, so that they can "begin to find the ways to work together." Asked if she had any reaction to the Adler mayoral victory and its overwhelming margin, Houston said it means, "Austin's ready to do something different, and we need to honor that." – M.K.
• Chanting “Pio, Pio!” the lively crowd of supporters at Pio Renteria’s election night party on Haskell Street ushered the District 3 winner up to a podium, where he joined his wife Lori and campaign staff to make a victory speech. Surpassing his opponent – and sister – by 20% of the vote, Renteria said the victory is proof that you can run a modest grassroots campaign and still come out on top. “We don’t have to go out there and raise and spend a big amount of money to run, that’s what we proved to the city tonight – that someone with a humble beginning that loves Austin can go out and win and represent the people. And that’s what I’m planning to do,” said Renteria. The future council member says he’ll tackle pressing issues of the district including gentrification, resident displacement, and rising property taxes. “When you force people to move out then we lose the community,” he said, while also adding, “I’m not against growth – we have to create jobs, it’s the only way to survive, but we have to do it in a way that respects the community.”
While he admittedly felt surprised by the sizable and steady lead in early vote totals (Renteria trailed Susana Almanza by less than 230 votes in the general election), the newly elected D3 representative attributed his success to the young, energetic, and experienced campaign staff (hired on after he secured a shot at the run-offs) who tirelessly knocked on doors and phone banked for his campaign. The sea of supporters, who enjoyed barbecue and beer throughout the night, included former D3 opponents Jose Valera, Mario Cantu, and Ricardo Turullols-Bonilla. "Pio will be more approachable and willing to open the door to anyone in the district," said Valera. As for the sibling rivalry, Renteria said, as he has before, that he harbors no hard feelings toward Almanza and complimented her campaign. He playfully reminded all those that came out to keep him in check while he serves on the dais. “You guys better keep me straight now!" he said, igniting laughter from the election night partygoers. – Mary Tuma
• In the packed house at Taqueria Arandinas just off I-35 North, District 4 winner Greg Casar was introducing his raucous supporters to Congressman Lloyd Doggett. "They said he was too young, too," Casar said, speaking of Doggett's ascension to the state Senate in 1973, at the tender age of 26, now representing the 35th Congressional district many years later. "Our districts will overlap somewhat," continued Casar, "and I'm very proud to be able to follow in the footsteps of Congressman Doggett." Stepping outside the restaurant for a moment, Casar was excited but not yet counting his victory over Laura Pressley, although he maintained a fairly steady 30-point lead on the evening: It closed at 65-35% for Casar. (He said he hadn't yet heard from Pressley, not a major surprise in the increasingly bitter district campaign.) Casar said he believed what resonated most with D4 voters was no particular policy issue – affordability, traffic congestion, etc. – more than the enthusiasm they returned from the campaign engagement itself: "a respectful conversation about how to make the city better; that's what we want to continue to do." Asked his thoughts about the mayoral outcome, with a major victory for Steve Adler, Casar said he is "excited and ready to work with whoever is mayor." As for Doggett – asked if he indeed had ever been 26 years old, the Congressman grinned and responded, "Sure – two or three years ago." – M.K.
• It feels like a very long time ago that the New York Times was speculating that District 6 candidate Jay Wiley might bring a conservative perspective to Council. Instead, along with Wiley’s friend Ellen Troxclair and the more moderate Sheri Gallo, Don Zimmerman will be one of three conservative voices speaking from the dais come January. The race between Zimmerman and Jimmy Flannigan started out close, with a separation of 201 votes, but ultimately, it was a gap Flannigan couldn’t bridge - last night’s final count had him down by 189. At around 10:30pm, Flannigan conceded, expressing pride in his team. “We couldn’t have done a better job,” he said. “It just did not turn out the way we wanted it to turn out.”
Over at Zimmerman’s campaign headquarters, the mood was both jubilant and a bit hostile once Newsdesk made its presence known – he and his supporters were eager to enumerate the ways in which the Chronicle has mischaracterized him – last week’s story was tacked to the wall for reference. Asked about his plans for Council, Zimmerman said that he’ll start by having a discussion with the other members about whether they’re “willing to start looking for a new city manager.” The search would be a “good bonding experience,” he opined. Before he gets started at his new job, Zimmerman will first be making a stop at the Travis County Courthouse tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 18, when the court is scheduled hear a motion to dismiss his suit against the Austin Bulldog and its editor Ken Martin. – Amy Kamp
• On a table at La Mancha, amidst a sea of Leslie Pool’s supporters, sat a chocolate cake reading “Yea Leslie, District 7 Champion!” in light blue lettering. It was set there before the candidate’s victory by one of her many vibrant supporters. “I had to come up with something,” said the woman to an acquaintance, “but I didn’t want to jinx it.” Her friend looked at her and fired: “How is that not a jinx?”
Indeed, very little could jinx Pool’s good fortune on Tuesday evening. The longtime civic leader came into election day with a good ride of momentum, having swept nearly every precinct in D7 during the general election and holding a lead over her run-off opponent in even the two she lost. By 7pm, when early voting numbers were reported, Pool held a 31.5% lead. An hour later, Jeb Boyt’s watch party at the Casa Chapala on Burnet had already grown subdued. Pool interrupted a conversation shortly after 8:30 and shot outside the restaurant – returning moments later to warm hugs and loud cheers. Boyt had conceded; by that time, total tallies had him down 1,657 votes to 3,200. She’d close out with 66% of the vote. – Chase Hoffberger
• The night’s closest race was between Ellen Troxclair and Ed Scruggs. As of last night, Troxclair led Scruggs by 0.46% of the vote, a mere 57 votes. Scruggs said he planned to call the county clerk in the morning to confirm the results before conceding. Of her lead, Troxclair said last night, “it proves how desperately people want a taxpayer advocate on Council.” – Nina Hernandez
• It was apparent once the early voting results came in that Sheri Gallo would likely be taking office next month – she led opponent Mandy Dealey by a little over 1,000 votes. Gallo, who has in the recent past declined to claim a party affiliation - although she ran as a Republican in the 2002 Precinct 2 County Commissioner’s race - will join fellow non-Dems Troxclair and Zimmerman to make up a politically diverse Council. Gallo’s primary message has been anti-spending; she’s also taken a strong position against the source-of-income anti-discrimination ordinance passed at last week’s Council meeting. – A.K.
• Election fatigue can be a killer. That could explain why so few people bothered voting, and why even fewer voted in the three Austin ISD races. Case in point, in the 30 precincts that make up District 6, a total of 6,000 Austinites cast an early voting ballot, but only half of them made it through all the races. That meant a nervous night for PR and management consultant Paul Saldaña, who started off the night less than 100 votes ahead of former Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders teacher Kate Mason-Murphy. He finally re-enforced his margin, but said he was concerned that participation and engagement was so low.
It was an equally close battle in the more heavily contested District 1, where UT department chair Ted Gordon took a surprisingly narrow win over Austin Stone Community Church minister and former charter school teacher David "D" Thompson. In his victory statement, Gordon tried to put a positive spin on the unending campaign, saying that "the length of the election did give me the opportunity to reconnect with long time education advocates, as well as meet new ones."
Even advocacy groups seemed to be getting weary of the process. Saldaña's watch party became the de facto election night venue for all the Education Austin-endorsed candidates, but both contenders in the At-Large Position 9 race chose to spend the night having dinners with their respective families, rather than staying glued to the screens. In the end, it was District Advisory Council member Kendall Pace coming out on top, easily besting UT program director Hillary Procknow. Pace joked that she now has double the reason to make sure her kids make it to school - if they don't, the state won't pay their weighted daily allowance, and she'll have a smaller budget to allocate. – Richard Whittaker
• Finally, the remaining ACC race was decided in favor of Gigi Edwards Bryant, who attended ACC and has served on its foundation board. She beat out Jade Chang Sheppard. One person pleased with the results was State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who wrote on Facebook, “Congratulations to my girl of more than 20 years, Gigi Edwards Bryant on her decisive win for Place 2, ACC Trustee, Austin Community College District. You’ve come a long way, baby!”