Chito Vela Sails to City Council

Vela wins District 4 special election in a landslide

José "Chito" Vela (Photos by John Anderson)

José "Chito" Vela sailed to victory Tuesday night, Jan. 25, pulling in almost 60% of the total vote and avoiding a run-off in the City Council District 4 special election to replace Greg Casar as he campaigns for Congress. When Vela is sworn in Feb. 4, he will become the second-ever representative for the majority-Latinx district in Northeast Austin, from Windsor Park to North Lamar.

In total, 3,608 people cast a ballot in the first-ever special election since the 10-1 district council took office in 2015, according to unofficial final results from the Travis County Clerk's Office, which equates to just over 10% of the registered voters in D4. Vela got 2,137 of those votes, and none of the six other candidates in the race even came close to touching that figure; Monica Guzmán, who finished second, pulled in 495 votes, or about 14% of the total.

With just over one week until Vela is sworn in as D4’s next CM, he now begins a mad scramble to staff up for business at City Hall.

That's despite some heavy spending in what most predicted, and what turned out, to be a low-turnout election. Voices for District 4, the political action committee formed to support Jade Lovera and oppose Vela, invested nearly $40,000 in the race, according to two campaign finance reports filed by the PAC on Jan. 17 and Jan. 24. The Lovera campaign itself had spent just shy of $4,600 in the race according to a Jan. 18 report, with nearly $3,700 left in cash to burn through. We won't know how much, in sum, was spent on her candidacy until final reports post in the next few weeks – but what we do know is that, whatever was spent, it earned her a whopping 402 votes.

Guzmán's contributors (including Vela's soon-to-be Council colleagues Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen) saw a similar return on their investment; her Jan. 18 campaign finance filing shows about $8,600 in contributions, nearly $2,400 of which the campaign had spent, while maintaining close to $14,000 in cash to spend through the remainder of the race. A PAC called People Over Politics was formed to support Guz­mán's candidacy, but has not yet posted a campaign finance report, so it is unclear how much that group spent on the candidate's behalf. With the support and financial backing of Austin neighborhood groups and their leaders, Guzmán finished the night with 495 votes.

City Council District 4 special election day at Gus Garcia Recreation Center on January 25

Despite officially earning the endorsement of Save Austin Now, Amanda Rios finished fourth in the race, bringing in 349 votes. In Rios' Jan. 17 filing, she reported bringing in $4,850 in contributions while spending $7,000 and maintaining just under $3,300 cash on hand. Save Austin Now had not posted a finance report when the Chronicle went to press Wednesday, Jan. 26, so it is unclear if the group had thrown any financial weight behind its candidate – or just hoped its political brand, lacking in luster following SAN-backed Proposition A's drubbing last November, would get out the vote.

With just over one week until Vela is sworn in as D4's next CM, he now begins a mad scramble to staff up for business at City Hall. He's got a lot of work ahead of him; Mayor Steve Adler told Bloomberg he's interested in putting a new housing bond, maybe up to $500 million, on this November's ballot – the same election where Adler's successor will be chosen. Another battle is brewing over training at the Austin police academy as the first class prepares to graduate since Council voted to cancel classes in 2020; the Texas Depart­ment of Transportation just released new schematics for the I-35 Capital Express Central project (read more), which will certainly demand Council response; and Council must come to a decision on how to pay for at least $95 million in infrastructure to implement its adopted South Central Waterfront plan – and on what to allow to be built on the former Statesman property, aka the Batcave. And that's just what we can think up off the top of our heads!

In a conversation Wednesday, Vela told us he has a range of smaller concerns from constituents he wants to deal with once he's sworn in – camps of unhoused people that have grown, areas where drugs are dealt, and traffic safety. "Neighbors want a humane and compassionate response to these issues, but they want a response," Vela said. He also wants to explore development options at the North Lamar Transit Center, the northern terminus of the Project Connect Orange Line.

"I'd love to put some housing there now that we're developing plans for the Orange Line," Vela said. "It's a key spot and we could potentially put some city-owned public housing near the center, maybe with retail and other community assets."

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January 2022 special election, Chito Vela, Greg Casar, Austin City Council, City Council District 4, Monica Guzmán, Voices for District 4, Jade Lovera, People Over Politics, José "Chito" Vela, Save Austin Now, Amanda Rios

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