Strayhorn, Ingalls, and the Comeback That Wasn't
After running an attack-filled campaign, Strayhorn gracious in defeat
As election night campaign parties go, the Carole Keeton Strayhorn gathering at Jaime's Spanish Village was an extremely subdued affair, even before the election day returns confirmed what the early-voting numbers presaged. Not only was the crowd small and the side-room venue cramped, but a recent change in ownership had temporarily left the restaurant without an alcohol permit – partiers had to run out to BYOB if they wanted beer with their Tex-Mex. A few opted for harder stuff, perhaps understandably.
"She's not going to make it into the run-off," confided a resigned Brian Rodgers of ChangeAustin.org, the repurposed Stop Domain Subsidies group that had endorsed mayoral candidate Strayhorn at the head of its slate that also included Perla Cavazos, Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman, and Sam Osemene. Since Spelman was unopposed and Martinez virtually so, it was not a list that carried the day. Rodgers was already planning his next campaign – promoting equity in local property taxes – to be rolled out later this year.
The small assembly provided a visual definition of "strange bedfellows": The motley crew from ChangeAustin raised longnecks with its libertarian fellows from Texans for Accountable Government, while a handful of elderly Northwest country-club types in big jewelry or golfing plaids clumped at the edges of the room.
Despite the lectern at the head of the room and the scattered "Carole for Austin" signs, the candidate was playing hard to get – young campaign staffers said they had been told "15 to 30 minutes" or "8 to 8:30," and the times came and went, and the promises were repeated to the rising irritation of the assembled TV news teams. Campaign coordinator Christina Worrell said she had worked the polls with Strayhorn that morning, and the response had been encouraging: "Voters want to meet Carole, and they want to talk to her." Worrell, who worked for Strayhorn at the comptroller's office, called her "inspiring" and "more full of energy than anyone I've ever met" and added she hoped the numbers would begin to turn.
They didn't. Strayhorn's percentage stayed firm at 21% all evening, well behind both frontrunners, and it was soon clear that whenever she did arrive, it would be to concede. In her absence, the celebrity stand-in became Josiah Ingalls, the hapless challenger who would garner all of 401 votes (0.69%). Ingalls turned up when he discovered he couldn't hold a campaign event at City Hall, although his tiny campaign had been underwritten by fellow long shot, Realtor David Buttross (2,229 votes, 3.84%). (Buttross had the best of all excuses for his no-show; his wife, Betsy, was due to deliver their second child.) Ingalls said he considered Strayhorn and Lee Leffingwell the candidates most in keeping with his own beliefs. "I like Strayhorn for her energy and dedication," he said, "and I like Lee for his compassion, because I have compassion, too." Despite the loss, Ingalls called his campaign "a huge success: I gave voice to the voiceless and the needs of the lower-income people, instead of just the middle class and the wealthy." (Recently laid off from his houseman's job at the Downtown Hilton, Ingalls is looking for work and considering another run for office.)
Pushing 9:30pm, Strayhorn finally came rambling up Red River through a quickly assembled greeting line, faced the cameras, and flanked by a couple of granddaughters – "They'll be running for mayor in a few years!" – congratulated Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken, thanked her supporters and Austin for "a lifetime of sheer joy," and promised to continue contributing her experience to the city. As the crowd moved back into Jaime's, Strayhorn didn't offer an explanation for her loss nor for the abject failure of TV polls that all week had called the three-way race a toss-up.
The explanation was left to ChangeAustin's Linda Curtis, perennial champion of dubious causes, who, as she joined Strayhorn's departing entourage, fingered a familiar villain: The Austin Chronicle. "Congratulations," she sneered at me. "You got what you wanted. I hope you're happy. And I hope you print that." (Linda, your wish is...)
It couldn't have been the candidate, her erratic political history, her unlikely coalition, or the message, such as it was: highways, attack-headlines, and back to the Eighties. Nope, it was those evil denizens of the alternative press – forever cursed with the memory of Strayhorn's actual record.