At a packed and very lively Midway Field House on East Riverside, mayor-elect Steve Adler celebrated with a few hundred of his friends. Amidst the celebrants, the music, and the myriad overhead TV screens – between snacks and speeches you could catch up on the Grizzlies vs. Warriors or marvel at Bruno Mars, resplendent with a head full of curlers – Hizzoner-to-Be indulged swarms of admirers with smartphone poses and tried slowly to work his way offstage to yet more interviews.
A few moments earlier, he had spoken to the crowd about his acceptance of victory (opponent Mike Martinez having conceded by phone shortly after the early returns), and where he wants to go from here. The brief speech was not heavy with policy, but Adler laid out his larger vision: that the "live music capital of the world" also become the capital of "social invention and innovation"; that the city find new ways to "get out in front of poverty, get out in front of gentrification"; that we need to address affordability, social investing, public-private partnerships, and the whole host of issues raised in the long campaign. He highlighted creating "middle-class jobs for the people who live here" over importing high-paying jobs, and to end "losing people and communities" because of unaffordability and property taxes – "We need to focus on that and get out in front of it."
The new system of city government, he continued, offers "a historic opportunity to come together, to break down silos, and to build coalitions" – adding the need to "recreate the [construction] permitting process to make it as cutting-edge as our city while preserving what it is that makes Austin special." (Oddly enough, other than his peroration, that line got the biggest hand from this particular crowd.)
En route to another TV stand-up, Adler told the Chronicle, "I'm excited that we won all across the city, in precincts all across the city, and I think that's real reaffirming, and exciting." He described Martinez's concession call as "incredibly gracious," adding, "I know well that he loves this city ... He offered to help, and it's help that the city and I will welcome and take advantage of." Asked if he could explain the scale of his victory, he said, "I just think a lot of people in the town are hoping that we move forward in a different way, that we do set up government differently, that we change how government makes decisions – and they see it as an extension of the 10-1 adoption, that it was the beginning of that process."
At the Rattle Inn and Martinez watch party, the mood was initially much more somber, but when the candidate arrived – already steeled to his defeat, a few minutes after the 70-30% early vote was announced at 7pm (the night ended slightly better for him) – he wore a huge smile, and encouraged his supporters to "celebrate" all that they had accomplished during the last eight years. Thanking his family and his campaign and office staff for their "heart" and "grit," he stood by his wife Lara Wendler and recounted some of those communal accomplishments – single-member districts, revitalizing Capital Metro, fighting for working people, etc. "We fought not to make friends, but to make a difference."
"We hold no regrets," Martinez continued. And no matter the defeat, he insisted more than once, "The sun is gonna shine tomorrow."
Not all the assembled were so sanguine about the defeat, and several prominent Democratic activists (asking to remain unnamed) pointed to what they said was the "targeting" of Republican voters by the Adler campaign, which they argued had both exaggerated his victory margin and helped defeat Democratic candidates in the far western districts. One even flashed a cellphone screenshot of what was described as an excerpt of an Adler campaign doorknocker list – featuring Attorney General Greg Abbott and his wife. Asked about the accusation, Adler said flatly, "There was never one moment of truth to that rumor."
But Martinez encouraged his supporters to follow his lead and offer their support to the new mayor, to reclaim their dedication to the community, and to continue their work on behalf of the city. "This is Austin freakin' Texas," Martinez declared, "and we are not done."
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