Alter Holds Onto Her Council Seat, While Flannigan Is Narrowly Defeated

A tale of two incumbents in the run-off election


Jimmy Flannigan speaks at a campaign event last weekend (Photo by Jana Birchum)

A lone Republican voice will return to Austin City Council in 2021. Mackenzie Kel­ly unseated Council Mem­ber Jimmy Flannigan in Northwest Austin's District 6 run-off by a mere 677 votes out of more than 15,000 cast, a margin of around 4.5% in a race where about 9% of the electorate (split between two counties) turned out to vote. To the south, in Tuesday's other Coun­cil run-off, D10 CM Alison Alter barely held onto her seat against Jennifer Virden, also a Republican, winning by 587 votes out of more than 24,000 cast, about a 2% margin.

Supporters of the two conservative challengers, including the Travis County GOP, took credit for galvanizing pushback from the right against the city's policy directions on homelessness and public safety. The microscopic overall turnout, a consistent fact of life with required run-offs, amplified the voices of opposition, and in D6, the specific grievances of a single neighborhood seem to have played a significant role.

Voters in River Place, a wealthy enclave in D6 (Pct. 234) frustrated by Flannigan's vote on a zoning case in 2019, favored Kelly 78% to 22% in the run-off, contributing 564 votes to Kelly's margin of victory. While Kelly's campaign did not focus much on land use policy, Jennifer Mushtaler, president of the River Place homeowner's association, finished in third place in November after an aggressive campaign against Flannigan's approach to development, and eventually endorsed Kelly in the run-off.

Kelly now will begin the work of assembling her City Hall staff and identifying people to nominate for boards and commissions. Kelly told the Chronicle that while her thin margin of victory may not translate into a clear mandate to restore Austin police funding or reinstate the ban on public camping, "I do feel it's my responsibility," she said. "I plan on representing everyone, regardless of their political affiliation. Not all of my personal beliefs will be right for the district, but I need to balance the interests of the district with the rest of the city."

When asked about concerns around her campaign support from an Infowars contributor, Kelly said: "If I could go back in time I probably wouldn't have done it. I don't support Infowars at all." She said the contributor, Harrison H. Smith, did not help script or storyboard the video – he merely edited it. "I can only manage my own message, I can't manage the message of my supporters," Kelly said, adding in reference to her forthcoming boards and commission nominations, "I take that role very seriously. I have to be even more careful because of my past associations."

Flannigan knew that his principled votes on homelessness, land use, and police reform would not be popular with many in his purple district. Addressing supporters on a Zoom call, Flannigan reflected on how he was proud to serve as the first openly gay man and the first resident of Williamson County on Council. "This is a tough night for all of us," he said at one point. "But it doesn't mean that any of this work ends. And of course, none of us are going away. We didn't go away when we lost in 2014, and we're not going away now." (Flannigan lost to Don Zimmerman in the run-off in that first election to the 10-1 district council; Kelly finished third in that race.)

In District 10, Alter attributed her narrow victory to constituents rejecting the "politics of fear" promoted by Virden. "Thank you to the voters of D10 who voted in favor of my integrity, policy experience, and proven leadership," she wrote in a statement. In 2016, Alter trounced incumbent Sheri Gallo in a December run-off, and has on Council been a prominent champion of status quo zoning in single-family neighborhoods.

Virden did not return a request for comment, but a statement from the Fight for Austin PAC, established by local conservatives to oppose Council incumbents in 2020, said of the two election results, "Austin residents sent a clear message tonight. Stop the insanity. Restore public safety. Put taxpayers first. Save our city." Going 1-for-2 in an election that barely cracked 9% turnout is not really that clear of a message, but we'll see what 2021 holds.



Run-off Election Results

All results are unofficial and rounded to the nearest decimal. Asterisk denotes incumbent.

Austin City Council

DISTRICT 6

Mackenzie Kelly / Total: 7,875 (52.2%) / Travis Co.: 4,720 (54.3%) / Williamson Co.: 3,155 (49.4%)

Jimmy Flannigan* / Total: 7,198 (47.8%) / Travis Co.: 3,968 (45.7%) / Williamson Co.: 3,230 (50.6%)

DISTRICT 10

Alison Alter* / Total: 12,348 (51.2%)

Jennifer Virden / Total: 11,761 (48.8%)

AISD Board of Trustees

DISTRICT 5

Lynn Boswell 4,030 (54.8%)

Jennifer Littlefield 3,320 (45.2%)

AT-LARGE POSITION 8

Noelita Lugo 19,426 (52.2%)

Leticia Caballero 17,824 (47.9%)

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