Off the Desk
Oh, that's right! There's an election Saturday, with voter turnout expected to be just a handful more than last year's 8%, given the fatter ballot that covers City Council, AISD (plus a referendum), and Austin Community College board candidates. "I'd like to see a 15 or 16% turnout, but realistically I think it might be closer to 10%," said Deputy City Clerk Betty Brown, adding that she hopes to have all the results tallied by 10pm. That's just the time the winning candidates will come bounding through the doors of Palmer Auditorium -- Election Central -- for a shot at being on the 10 o'clock news.
So who's going to win? "I can say with absolute certainty that [Kirk] Watson will win." That was political consultant David Butts sticking his neck out with a prediction in the mayor's race. Other forecasts: Both Butts (working for Wynn) and political consultant Mike Blizzard (representing Clare Barry) look for a Wynn/ Barry runoff in Place 5. While Wynn has the financing to spend on advertising, Barry has what Butts calls the "institutional vote," meaning she has a long dues-paying history in the community. Blizzard allows that Wynn has "smart people working for him," because the candidate is going after Barry's Central Austin base in a big way.
It's that strong central city voting bloc that pundits will be watching closely: one, to see how the progressive vote shakes out on the Wynn/Barry split, and two, to determine what effect the one galvanizing issue in Central Austin -- the planned expansion of the Hyde Park Baptist Church -- has on the overall council election. "Other than that," Butts said, "I haven't seen a very strong motivation for voters to be fired up in any part of the city."
In the crowded Place 2 race, most folks look for a runoff between Raul Alvarez and Rafael Quintanilla. But the race everyone's talking about is in Place 6, where Baptist preacher and police officer Danny Thomas is indirectly drawing on the lottery winnings of former Dallas Cowboy Thomas Henderson, who's spending a chunk of change on advertising on Thomas' behalf, trying to unseat incumbent Willie Lewis. The presence of a third candidate, Nelson Linder, could lead to a Thomas/Lewis runoff, making Lewis all the more vulnerable.
Adding a South Austin touch to this election madness is a blinking marquee sign in front of Torito's Mexican Bar & Grill on S. Lamar that reads: "Kirk Watson para alcalde. Marquee sign vigil tonight. Ritas $1.99." "I don't even know the guy," said manager Jorge Oliva, explaining that he put up the Watson-for-mayor promo in a reverse-psychology form of protest against the city's marquee sign ordinance, which Oliva is apparently violating. A city official recently informed him of such. A lot of businesses have them, but the short-staffed sign enforcers don't look for them unless acting on a complaint, said the city's Carol Raney, which is what happened in the Torito's case. Oliva vows to fight. "This is South Austin. We're always ready to fight the city." (Note to 'rita drinkers: Those are happy hour prices only.)