And They're Off!

Council Contenders Race to the Finish

Austin is changing and there's nothing we can do about it. Or is there? That's the question voters may want to consider as they head to the polls by foot, bike, bus, or car on May 6. Those various transportation modes, by the way, are also something to ponder when selecting from the big crop of candidates running for three slots on the City Council. And then there's the mayor's race, where incumbent Kirk Watson is raising campaign funds -- more than $114,000 in the last roundup -- as if he has serious competition.

The real battles are being played out in Places 2, 5, and 6, with growth, environment, neighborhoods, and economic development as the overriding themes. What separates this election year from others is the fact that, for better or worse, Austin sure has changed. "Dramatically," says campaign consultant David Butts. The change factor figures heavily into the crowded Place 5 race, which Butts predicts will lead to a runoff between Clare Barry, an old-guard neighborhood activist, and Will Wynn, a green-friendly developer with crossover appeal. "The question is, can Will Wynn get the votes in the central city?" says Butts, who is working for Wynn. The central city, as it happens, is Barry's stomping ground and home of Austin's progressive voting bloc. "If any one of those two gets elected, though, I think [progressives] will be doing okay. They would both make fine council members."

Butts says there's a strong probability of a runoff as well in Place 2 between Raul Alvarez, executive director of the Lone Star Sierra Club, and Rafael Quintanilla, a lawyer long active in local community endeavors. "Whoever leads in this race will just depend on the turnout -- if it's heavy in the central city, Raul will lead, if it's a low turnout, Rafael could take the lead." Overall, he says, "it's going to depend pretty much on who you're tied to and who works the hardest."

The Place 6 race isn't as clear-cut as to whether incumbent Willie Lewis will be able to win the race without a runoff. "If he's in a runoff with Danny Thomas," says Butts, "Willie may be in trouble."

Besides the three positions on City Council, voters will pick one member of the Austin Community College Board of Trustees (two other members are running unopposed) and three members of the Austin school board. Voters will also decide the method by which Austin will send some of its tax dollars away to other, "property-poor," school districts. Two options are on the ballot; one involves sending tax money to other school districts and one involves sending it directly to the state. Voters can choose neither of the two options on the ballot by voting no, but if they do, the state will take about $2.3 billion worth of taxable property away from Austin forever and attach it to another district.

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