Gus and the Others

Gus Garcia takes the mayoral election.

Mayor-elect Gus Garcia addresses the crowd at Palmer Auditorium.
Mayor-elect Gus Garcia addresses the crowd at Palmer Auditorium. (Photo By John Anderson)

When it was all over, even the shouting, there were few surprises. Longtime public activist and civic elder statesman Gustavo Garcia is the new mayor of Austin; the county bonds rolled easily to victory (now all we have to do is pay for them, but who's counting?); and despite some local annoyance over Prop. 3 (Raw cocoa and green coffee for Harris County? Wha?) and Prop. 14 (tax exemption for snow birds? Huh?), all the state constitutional amendments also passed easily. Those of us who vote -- frankly not many, despite endless patriotic exhortations that we do so -- appear mostly to endorse the status quo. And those of us who vote -- despite endless anti-tax diatribes to the contrary -- also appear cheerfully ready to spend money we don't have on projects we haven't seen for people we don't know.

One small surprise is that more of us voted -- at 73,453 and 13.94% in Travis County, about three times the predicted turnout and roughly twice the statewide turnout -- which means that Garcia's 35,645 votes is more of a mandate than it might have been for such an off-season contest. Of Garcia's opponents, Eric "Peekaboo-- Mitchell garnered 16.6%, which considering his anti-campaign would seem not too bad, except that unknown novice Greg Gordon, possessing neither experience nor name ID, managed 13.3%. Had the race lasted another month, enough of Mitchell's oxymoronic coalition of disaffected Eastsiders and suburban conservatives-without-a-home would have drifted to Gordon to reverse that ratio. Leslie "Just-a-Regular-Guy-in-a-Dress-- Cochran (who other than his wardrobe ran a thoroughly more responsible, issues-oriented campaign than did Mitchell) was a distant fourth, at 3.5%. If Leslie ever decides to change shopping aisles at the thrift store, he could blossom into a Nofziger.

Reliable sources ("I've got pictures!" reported Nokoa editor Akwesi Evans) say that Eric Mitchell, bringing his petulant campaign-as-elongated-pout to a close, indeed showed up at his own election-night party at the Millennium Youth Center -- and promptly declared victory. Mitchell told reporters that the specific number of votes he received was not important -- rather, the fact that people came out and voted for him as a "people's choice" alternative was all that really mattered. At least Mitchell's in good company: Wednesday morning The New York Times trotted out the yogic Yogi Berra to explain that even though the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series, the Yankees didn't really lose.

Yet another set of reliable sources have told the Chronicle that Mitchell is in fact already in the midst of a long-planned move from Austin to Atlanta -- potentially making a hash of those speculations (e.g., Alberta Brooks in the Statesman) that his entire mayoral campaign was in fact a re-positioning for a new run at the council. "I don't know Eric's plans for certain," said Evans, "but I really don't think he wants to be in office in Austin again. In running for mayor, I really think he did what he was asked to do by his supporters." Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

On the scene with the actual victors, the Palmer Auditorium basement count-and-celebration was somewhat subdued, with Garcia and effusive company arriving on schedule for the 10pm news. The candidate affably moved from station to station delivering Live and Exclusive interviews to choral accompaniment ("Viva Gus!" "Dale Gas Gus!"). The mayor-elect was self-effacing as always, declining to dwell on the historic aspect of his election as the city's first elected Hispanic mayor, emphasizing instead his experience and knowledge of the way the city and its politics work. "I want to make it clear that I reached out to all the voters, all the areas of the city," Garcia told the Chronicle, "and I'm happy to see that the city as a whole responded to that call." He reiterated the "positive" nature of his campaign and said his first task is to re-establish his relationship with the current City Council and to pay attention to all the council members' policy concerns. "And I'm not going to forget what I've said about education," he added, of his determination to focus attention on improving the school district.

Several words echoed through the gathered pols' judgment of the new mayor: "experience," "maturity," "stability," and "wisdom." "He'll be a great new mayor," said Council Member Beverly Griffith. "He's mature and wise, and he knows how to work to get necessary city projects done." "Whether you agree with him or not," said Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield, "Gus sticks to his word, and he's made a commitment [to police] to make Austin the safest city in the country. He's never backed down from a commitment." "He's very calm, knowledgeable, methodical, and committed," said Council Member Jackie Goodman. "And in a time of economic downturn -- even before Sept. 11 -- he will know how to strategically support projects that may be financially difficult but still need city support."

Incumbent Kirk Watson -- who marched into Palmer arm-in-arm with his designated successor -- admitted to a sudden personal feeling of nostalgia, but watching Garcia speak to his supporters added, "I'm very, very happy for that man.

"He brings to the office maturity, stability, and a real sense of history," said Watson, "and I think people may be making too much of the fact that he's entering office during an economic downturn. The biggest part of being mayor isn't affected by the economy or even the specific issues. You need someone to take the job who works hard, loves the people, and has a good, clear vision of what he wants to do. If he can define those goals, he can lead the people to join him in that effort."

Mayoral Vote Totals

Gus Garcia 35,645 59.6%

Eric Mitchell 9,924 16.6%

Greg Gordon 7,965 13.3%

Leslie Cochran 2,107 3.5%

Jennifer Gale 1,538 2.6%

David "Breadman" Blakely 1,131 1.9%

Ray Blanchette 999 1.7%

Allen Phillips 485 0.8%

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