Early Tuesday evening, Ora Houston's campaign manager Jonathan Panzer had reason to be annoyed – disrupted phone service had forced an early move to the night's party location at Tres Amigos – but he was instead "very, very happy and very confident." That was understandable, since Houston's early vote was at 54%, though he noted that there were "still a lot of votes out there." And indeed, just enough of those defected to the other eight candidates on election day to bring Houston back to Earth, and 49%.
That meant a run-off, if DeWayne Lofton, second at 14%, decided to go on, and Wednesday afternoon he told the Chronicle that he intends to do so. He said Houston was largely supported by "establishment" interests who helped her with funding and organization skills; that she couldn't win outright sends "a clear message that she's not as strong a candidate as they said she was." Also working in his favor, he believes, is a low-turnout mid-December run-off, with his supporters more likely to stay the course.
"Side by side," Lofton continued, "people will see our differences more clearly. Ora's always recalling Austin 30 or 40 years ago; we need to be thinking about Austin 30 or 40 years from now."
Houston said she had hoped to persuade Lofton that the neither the district nor the voters need another, less convenient go-round, but said it's "his right" to keep fighting. She has been "humbled and overwhelmed" by support from people "of all stripes and persuasions." While recognizing Lofton’s youth and energy, she said, "In order to have a vision of the future, you have carry on the best of the past. It's not either/or, it's both/and."
Going forward, Houston said, she wants to work toward a "sense of place, and a sense of community” for the district. "We need," she concluded, "to know where we were, where we are, and where we need to be."
Much like the race for her district seat overall (she ran solo until the final filing day), Delia Garza's watch party Tuesday night was over before it began. In fact, the former assistant attorney general didn't even have a chance to show up to Trudy's South Star before she was already the presumed winner.
Garza opened early voting with 66.4% of the vote – the most in any district by 13% – and wrapped up the evening with more than 65%. Her campaign posted word of her "final count" at 11:42pm. By then, Dove Springs Neighborhood Association President Edward "Wally" Reyes trailed her by more than 4,000 votes – 5,567 to 1,323.
The relative ease with which Garza won is somewhat attributable to the general ineptitude with which Reyes and fellow opponents John C. Sheppard and Mike Owen handled their campaigns from the outset. All filed for candidacy on the final day, and failed to nail down definitive messaging; even with late support for Realtor Sheppard from the Austin Board of Realtors PAC, no one had the resources to take on Garza, who also locked up virtually all the endorsements. Heading into transition, she appears to be a good choice for the Southeast Austin community's needs; she's measured, energetic, and familiar with unions, city politics, social needs, and her community. She will also be the first (or one of the first, if Susana Almanza wins her district) Latina City Council member. – Chase Hoffberger
In a contentious race that pitted a dozen candidates – including several brazen personalities – against each other, District 3 ended in a (fairly predictable) run-off between brother and sister, Sabino "Pio" Renteria and Susana Almanza. Renteria, a retired computer tech and longtime neighborhood activist, netted 19% of the vote while Almanza, co-founder of PODER, garnered 21%. From his election-night house party on Haskell Street, Renteria – "excited" to enter Round Two – said he attracted supporters by leading a "grassroots" campaign that strayed from "glossy mailers or high-priced consultants," and relied on boots-on-the-ground block-walking.
Renteria said his years of community service in East Austin and time on city boards and commissions helped build trust with voters. If elected, Renteria said a priority will be bringing the homestead preservation district plan to fruition; he criticized certain groups in the district (e.g., the Almanza-linked El Concilio) for delaying its implementation. As for the sibling rivalry, Renteria says there is none: "I love my sister. I just feel differently about certain issues – that's all." (At press time, Almanza had not returned calls requesting comment.) Attorney and veteran Jose Valera, who entered late, came in third with 17%, followed by paramedic Mario Cantu (10%). – Mary Tuma
Greg Casar had reason to be pleased with the results of early voting – he was at 39%, his nearest competitor among eight at 23% – but he said his mother had just reminded him of an old saying from "el rancho": "You don't eat breakfast until the hens lay the eggs." So he wasn't counting his migas yet, but was "excited and humbled" at the early results. He declined to make predictions, but as the evening turned out, he would remain almost exactly in the same place, while his closest pursuer – Laura Pressley – dropped slightly, to 22%.
Asked about the relatively low turnout (about 8,400 voters by the end of the night), Casar noted that the district is relatively low in eligible voters, but that going forward he is "dedicated to getting more people engaged," both by voter outreach and by working on issues – services to renters, workers' rights, immigration – that should energize the district.
Over on Cameron Road at Midtown Live, Pressley said she was happy to be in the run-off – "I thought we'd win it straight out, but all things considered, this is fine." She said that of all her opponents to face in a run-off, Casar was her "first choice," because "there is a lot differentiation there," adding quickly, "We're not ready to talk about that yet."
Pressley added that she was particularly pleased that the "rail bond" (aka Prop. 1) had been defeated, because of its potential price tag. "People are scared about affordability," she said, and that has been the primary focus of her campaign thus far. Like similarly trailing candidates in D1 and D9, she faces the formidable prospect of finding enough voters to overturn Casar's lead by Dec. 16. – M.K.
Ann Kitchen glided to victory Tuesday evening, leading the pack with almost 54% of the vote. She celebrated the win surrounded by friends, family, and supporters (and mucho chips and queso) at Red's Porch on South Lamar. "I'm very excited to be part of this new, historic City Council and to have the opportunity to represent South Austin – I'm just thrilled," said Kitchen after the midnight totals sealed her victory. The health care advocate and former Dem state House representative attributes her win to her proven track record. "People recognize that I bring experience to the table and that I can help get things done." (Gaining endorsements from "virtually all" of the local advocacy groups didn't hurt, either.)
Kitchen applauded the strength of her six opponents and told the Chronicle the non-partisan race stayed impressively "collegial" – even with a couple of openly GOP contenders on the ticket – and never devolved into personal attacks. Kitchen says she's set on prioritizing affordability and easing traffic while on the dais. "Council has to take care of the people that live and work here but are being pushed out of the city. We need to focus on lowering property taxes, utility rates, and transportation costs." Mike Rodriguez, an Air Force veteran and retired financial advisor, came in behind Kitchen with about 22%. – M.T.
Only 25 votes separated frontrunner Don Zimmerman from Jimmy Flannigan. Between Zimmerman and third-place Jay Wiley, 211 votes. The results were somewhat surprising, as Wiley was the conservative establishment's favored candidate. Wiley said he plans to continue to be involved in public policy, and will be campaigning for fellow conservative Ellen Troxclair in the District 8 run-off. "I'm a big fan of hers," he says. "She'll make an excellent Council person."
Zimmerman, of the GOP's libertarian wing, is best known to many for his successful "illegal taxation" lawsuit against the city of Austin as well as another against the Voting Rights Act – and a literal "Tea Party" stunt at Lady Bird Lake. He shows no inclination to soften his positions, and says that he'll soon release more details on his plans for representing D6 on a Council where "the majority of 10-1 votes will likely be for more government and more taxes."
Flannigan remains suspicious of Zimmerman's proclivity for "governance though lawsuit." He's argued throughout his campaign that he would be the only candidate who'd be able to work with the rest of Council to actually get things fixed in D6. "District 6 voters know that to get anything done in 6, you need five more votes." He made it a point to attend as many forums and meetings as possible during his campaign, including the Republican ones, a strategy that should serve him well as he seeks to attract at least some of Wiley's voters. – Amy Kamp
Amidst intrafamily (and intra-neighborhood) fights in District 3, gay-baiting allegations in D6, and 9/11 conspiracy theories in D4, the eight-candidate scramble in District 7 seemed positively convivial. There's still time for the gloves to come off, as LiveableCity treasurer Leslie Pool and multi tenured city commissioner Jeb Boyt head into a run-off. A second round is no surprise: The finalists were always serious contenders, but then so were county planner Melissa Zone (15%) and former U.S. House staffer Jimmy Paver (11%). Pool emerged as frontrunner; there was some jockeying for challenger. Boyt's early vote was 17.3%, but Zone was close, as was dark horse Ed English (14%). Ultimately, while Boyt dropped a point on E-day, he held onto second place.
In victory, Pool praised her rivals. "Everybody brought so much to the table," she said, adding that she hopes to win their support. "We're organizing right now to bring voters along from the other candidates." She argues that the issues of the first round will persist, although the loss of the transportation bond will have an effect.
Boyt remained optimistic that he could make up the gap before the volatile December face-off. While Pool won 33%, he noted, "there's 67% that did not vote for her." That doesn't just mean winning over other candidates' voters, but a fresh outreach to people who stayed at home. Boyt sees potential in the areas north of Rundberg, traditionally low-turnout precincts. "Those are folks that have felt very disengaged from operations in the city and where it's gone." – Richard Whittaker
At the bar of the 290 Serranos, where District 8 voters go for happy hour margaritas and deals on enchiladas, Ed Scruggs greeted the results last night – pitting him against conservative Republican Ellen Troxclair in a run-off next month – with the same mild-mannered grace that won him support in his South Austin neighborhood.
"I've done a lot of work in the community," he said, referencing his work with the Circle C Democrats. "I always thought that would lead to this result, but I was cautiously optimistic."
Troxclair, who works both as a Realtor and chief of staff to state Rep. Jason Isaac, credited her lead (26.38% to Scruggs' 25.54%) to her campaign's strong anti-tax message, and efforts during early voting to engage the district. "I'm truly humbled and grateful for the support and our amazing volunteers, and I think the early vote totals show people are ready for a taxpayer advocate in Southwest Austin."
Moderate Republican and transportation engineer Becky Bray pulled in 19%, and management consultant Darrell Pierce, a pragmatic Democrat who ran for Council at-large in 2006, landed in fourth, with Democrat Eliza May, whose base of support came mostly from outside district lines, in dead last. Left to duke it out in the run-off are the prospects who took clear positions on the issues – the progressive and the spending hawk.
District 8 voters "wanted specifics from us," says Scruggs. "They wanted to get to know us. We had a clear message from the beginning." – Nina Hernandez
Only a few supporters were left at Scholz Garten when Kathie Tovo took to the podium a few minutes before midnight. "We do have a lead," the Council incumbent announced with a smile. "And it's a great one." In the end, just a few votes short of great enough for her to go home satisfied.
Early voting delivered Tovo 49.76% of the District 9 vote. Her opponent and Council colleague Chris Riley, was at 39.94% (with Erin McGann's 10.3% the margin of difference), and the two would dance around those numbers throughout the night. Tovo leapt above 50% briefly – though never so high as 51% – but eventually succumbed at midnight to a Dec. 16 run-off. Nevertheless, spirits ran high at Scholz, where Tovo balanced interviews, number-crunching, and the arduous task of keeping her two young children awake as long as she could. Her lead diminished slightly by the end of the night – 49.1% to 40.4%, a difference of 1,763 votes among 20,392 – but she walked away understandably confident.
"I feel really optimistic," she told the Chronicle Wednesday morning. "I feel honored to have gotten support from so many areas within the district. It does feel like we've got strong support throughout." She added that she plans to treat the time before the run-off vote much like the last nine months of campaigning: "Being present and active at community meetings ... and of course continuing my work on my priorities as a council member as well." Indeed, the campaign has taken place on the dais as much as it has within the district. Riley didn't respond to questions concerning his campaign strategy, but he faces long odds. Not only does he need to win most of McGann's supporters, a valuable segment of his support is UT students – many of whom will by then be out of town on winter break. – C.H.
One of election night's surprises was the elimination of Robert Thomas from the District 10 run-off. Not only did he seem determined to spend his opponents into the ground – he lent himself $100,000, more than any other Council candidate citywide, with additional independent funding from the Austin Board of Realtors PAC – and he also received most of the endorsements not picked up by Dem favorite Mandy Dealey. Even Dealey, D10's front-runner, couldn't contain her surprise that she'd be facing Sheri Gallo in the run-off, rather than Thomas.
"He's been an interesting opponent," said Dealey, as she followed the returns from her suite at the Driskill. Thomas recently sent out a mailer to Dealey's donors accusing her of using their money to spread "vicious untrue attacks" against Thomas by painting him as a Tea Party candidate. For her part, Dealey says that she was simply pointing out that Thomas had received support from the Austin Tea Party when he ran for state rep. against Donna Howard in 2010. Thomas appeared to accuse Dealey again this morning when he wrote on his campaign's Facebook page, "We simply refused to go negative in response to the mud being slung at us, and that mud was enough to knock us out of the race." (He did not respond to requests for comment.)
In contrast, Dealey says she expects the race between her and Gallo (also unreachable at press time) to be "civilized," with "personalities removed" from the discussion. "Positions will be everything," claims Dealey, saying that although some of Gallo's are "ultraconservative ... she's a very nice person." – A.K.
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