(Editor's note: due to a production error, the report on the Place 6 City Council race did not appear in the May 18 issue. That story, slightly updated, is reprinted here. The Chronicle regrets the error.)
Attorney Sheryl Cole won a decisive victory in her race to replace Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas in City Council Place 6, despite early predictions she might be faced with a run-off against Darrell Pierce. Cole took home 60% of the vote, leaving Pierce (32%) and third-placer DeWayne Lofton well behind.
Under the city's "gentleman's agreement," Place 6 is the seat unofficially set aside for African-American candidates. Every surviving former African-American City Council member and the Austin American-Statesman endorsed small-business owner Pierce, a resident of Southwest Austin and well-known as a former planning commissioner. Cole also played a strong role in the community as one of three chairs of the AISD's citizens advisory bond commission, and as counsel at the Texas Municipal League, focusing on taxation and economic development. Both were a contrast to Thomas, a former police officer and minister who was best known for his affinity with Austin's law-enforcement community and his joint protection of East Austin interests with Raul Alvarez. Cole will become the first African-American woman on the council.
Cole said she had expected issues of race relations and transportation to dominate the campaign. Instead, in forum after forum, the talk returned to the issue of affordable housing. That broke down into a number of issues: not only property-tax relief, but also gentrification of East Austin and the displacement of the elderly. As a council member, Cole says she'll be a strong proponent of mixed-use development, affordable housing set-asides, and community land trusts. She also wants to explore collaboration between the city and the school district, such as joint city-district parks.
"I think the election is an opportunity for me to do some good things for the city," she said. "I really want to work hard to bridge the I-35 divide. And I want to work on economic opportunity projects, especially here on the Eastside." She added that while she was surprised by the margins of the defeat of Props. 1 and 2 (which she opposed), she expects that "some of the better provisions" of the two proposals will find their way into city ordinances.
As a CPA, Cole also wants to take a closer look at the city's budget and bond package. Everyone wants city bond projects, Cole said. No one disagrees about that. But she's more concerned about how the overall bond proposal is structured.
Pierce blamed low turnout on his defeat, saying that Cole's backing from political action committees, and specifically the environmental community, made it easier for her to win. Until people take more of an interest in the election process, it will be difficult to get more independent candidates to step forward, Pierce said.
Lofton said he wasn't discouraged by his distant third place and looked forward to playing an ongoing role in the community on issues such as affordable housing and improving city services.