The Austin Chronicle

Place 1: Surprising Riley Avalanche

By Lee Nichols, May 15, 2009, News

Political junkies hoping for some drama in the Place 1 race were sorely disappointed Saturday night – when early-voting totals showed Chris Riley with a 2-1 lead over Perla Cavazos, the race was clearly over.

And a bit surprising. Cavazos by any reckoning ran a real campaign, so the huge margin was a bit of a stunner. Consider this a display of the value of building a constituency well before – really, years before – the race ever begins. Although both candidates had experience as Planning commissioners, it's been no secret that Riley has long been a council member in training and his grasp of city affairs is beyond thorough.

"She's a very serious candidate," Riley said at his Scholz Garten election-watch party before the results were final. Still, he could see the roots of his victory: "I think it's a long history of involvement with a number of different groups and causes going across the board, and each of those causes entails a network of people that are active on issues, and having just grown up here and worked on issues for a long time, there are networks out there that were spreading the word that I was somebody that could be counted on."

And for his first few days in office? "The economy has to be a principle focus right now: figuring out ways to support small businesses, bring the budget under control, make some progress with Capital Metro, and get some movement going on transit. Those are the main things we have to deal with right away."

As is too often the case in Austin's elections, there was only one seat available for two good candidates. "I'm really proud of the campaign that we ran," said Cavazos at the Alligator Grill in South Austin. "We did the best that we could with the resources that we had. I'm proud that we kept it positive, and I'm proud that Chris and his campaign kept it positive too, and I think the voters appreciate that."

What little strength Cavazos had came from the heavily Latino Southeast, where she won several boxes. Cavazos wasn't certain what went wrong, but she wasn't prepared to cast any stones toward a city that had a chance to elect its first-ever Latina to City Council but chose not to. "I happen to be Hispanic and a woman and am very proud to be active in the Latino community, but I was running based on my qualifications and my experiences, and that's why I'd want to be elected, not because I'm Hispanic. But I think it would be great, and I'm hopeful that one of these days we'll elect another Hispanic to council."

Don't expect Cavazos to vanish from the Austin political scene. "I'll definitely be back. I'm going to stay active in the community, doing what I've been doing, working on issues of affordability, bringing more voices to the table, and having broader representation at City Hall. You can count on me coming back. I'm definitely not going to disappear."

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