Restoring Services a Priority for Dunkerley
Brushing off accusations of shady campaign finance dealings, incumbent Betty Dunkerley waxed her most critical opponent by a margin as wide as the South Austin sky above her co-victory celebration Saturday night.
With her daughters and five of her 12 grandchildren in tow, Dunkerley cheerfully hailed well-wishers on the patio of the Hill's Cafe before closing out the evening with a vodka tonic and 63.5% of the vote. Rival Wes Benedict, who ran a persistent heel-nipping campaign against the frontrunner, claimed 18% in the five-way race.
The election party, shared with Place 1 winner Lee Leffingwell, brought out a mixed bag of familiar faces; there were grassroots activists, Downtown cronies, city staffers, and current and former elected officials, including outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Travis Co. Constable Bruce Elfant, and former state Rep. Ann Kitchen. The cigarette-puffing folks in the crowd kept their eyes peeled on the televised returns, where they ultimately saw their fight against a smoking ban go up in smoke.
Taking a brief break from her merrymaking, Dunkerley listed some priorities for her second-term agenda. "Number one," she said, easing onto a bench beneath a towering oak, "I will continue to focus on our low tax rate while adding back some of the things that we cut during the downturn." Sounding every bit like the city chief financial officer she used to be, Dunkerley offered up a vision of line-item goals in setting the next budget the City Council's most pressing task after summer vacation. She said she'd like to see a return to prebust operating hours for branch libraries, a restoration of cuts to social services, and more dollars earmarked for street maintenance.
While Benedict ran an uphill battle against an incumbent, he managed to pick up support and media coverage as the lead rabble-rouser in an otherwise predictable race and finished with double and triple (and greater) leads over the bottom three finishers perennial never-say-die contender Jennifer Gale, and unknown hopefuls John Wickham and P. Byron Miller. One of Benedict's last acts on the campaign trail was to file a lawsuit against the political action committees of the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Austin Police Association, claiming they violated campaign finance laws on several fronts in supporting their chosen slate: Dunkerley, Leffingwell, and unsuccessful Place 3 candidate Gregg Knaupe. But at the end of the day, it wasn't Benedict's lawsuit that the PACs' leaders were weighing; it was the understanding that, for their money, two out of three ain't bad.