Single Member Greens?

The victories of Willie Lewis and Bill Spelman proved once again the power of Austin's Green vote. But will those victories help or hurt the Greens in the long run?

By winning all seven seats on the council, the Greens may have helped pave the way for another referendum on single member districts (SMDs). If SMDs finally become a reality, the environmental vote will be diluted, which means that the Greens will not be able to retain control of the council. Much of the push for SMDs will come from Hispanics who are upset that Manuel Zuniga lost to Spelman in the Place 5 race. Spelman's win signaled the end of the "gentlemen's agreement," the de facto arrangement which has kept a Hispanic councilmember in Place 5 for two decades. Former mayor Jeff Friedman says that with the agreement no longer in place, "For better or worse, it may help us push through single member districts."

Ironically, Spelman appears ready to lead this movement to dilute the strength of his own power base. On election night, Spelman was enthusiastically talking about the need for SMDs, and he told several reporters that he wanted to get together with mayor-elect Kirk Watson to talk about SMDs. Councilmember Gus Garcia, a longtime SMD proponent, said Watson has talked with him about putting together a committee to study the issue. Although Zuniga and others have claimed that Garcia is backpedaling on calling for SMDs, Garcia said he merely wants to take the time necessary to do it right. Garcia noted that "the election of Lewis and Spelman convinced a lot of people who were against single member districts" to change their minds, adding that SMDs appear to have solid support on the council, and with the results of the election fresh on everyone's mind, "The iron is hot." (Garcia and many others believe SMDs would benefit the city as a whole. Austin is the largest city in the South that does not have single member districts.)

Brigid Shea, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said that environmentalists are not concerned about losing their power base. "The reality is that we knew if we won frequently enough, they'd beg for single member districts and that's what has happened. We have wanted single member districts all along," she said. "You won't see anybody in the environmental community disappointed if we get single member districts."

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