The Austin Chronicle

Clarke Garners Most Votes, No Guarantees

Place 3

By Lee Nichols, May 13, 2005, News

The emerging script in the Place 3 race is rather obvious: Jennifer Kim is the young thirtysomething who possibly represents (as firefighters union president Mike Martinez put it) the face of Austin's future, while Margot Clarke, 51, is the Austin traditionalist trying to carry on the enviro/neighborhood legacy of Jackie Goodman.

Clarke couldn't have picked a better location to emphasize this image than the private party room in back of the original Threadgill's, packed to the rafters with memorabilia documenting a time when Austin's population numbers were a lot closer to Waco's than Dallas'.

As soon as the early voting totals were released at the 7pm poll-closing time, smiles went wall to wall in purple-bedecked room (Clarke's campaign color). With 41.4% of the early vote, the only question was whom she would face in the run-off. Indeed, her final totals only slipped about one percentage point, while Kim increased her lead over Gregg Knaupe from a slim 268 votes to a solid 3,594. Kim finally took 27% over Knaupe's 21%.

Clarke seemed caught a bit off-guard by the opponent she drew for June 11. Noting that there was "more of a contrast between me and Gregg," the former outreach coordinator for the Texas Sierra Club continued, "This is about different visions for our city. I don't know [Kim's] very well, but mine is one of public participation, everyone participating, not just special interests."

No matter how commanding Clarke's lead may appear, she knows nothing is guaranteed. Voter turnout in run-offs is consistently – and usually markedly – lower. And one could easily argue that Knaupe's base identifies more with Kim than Clarke and could completely turn the numbers around. There are several precedents for frontrunners losing run-offs in Austin election history, the most obviously relevant to this race being the 1997 Place 5 contest: Manuel Zuniga took a 43%-28% lead into the run-off, but Bill Spelman converted that into a 55% victory less than a month later.

Rather predictably, Clarke campaign manager Elliott McFadden does not envision a repeat of those circumstances: "We had four different candidates running, many going after the same kind of voters. There were many new voters showing up for the first time, and many were making their decision based on the contact they had with the candidates. This [Clarke's 40%] is not a ceiling, but a base to start with. We had support from across the city, not just one demographic."

"We have to reach out to voters," Clarke said. "We have to turn out the vote. People will have a lot of other things on their mind between now and June 11."

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