Mayor's Race, Districts 3, 5, and 9 All Headed to Run-Off

Ready for round 2

Council Member Chito Vela greets Celia Israel at her watch party at Lustre Pearl (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Kirk Watson (Photo by John Anderson)

The rain didn't dampen spirits much at Lustre Pearl East Tuesday night, as state Rep. Celia Israel's supporters buzzed at early-vote results placing her ahead of former mayor and state Sen. Kirk Watson by about 11,000 votes. That margin only widened as Election Day results came in, with Israel ending the night about 16,000 votes ahead of Watson, 41%-35%.

With six candidates in the race, and with well-funded Jennifer Virden able to mobilize Republican voters, the race going to a Dec. 13 run-off was always in the cards. But Israel's sizable lead was unexpected, given the Watson campaign has outspent Israel 3-to-1 and enjoyed about $500,000 of spending to date on its behalf from political committees representing interests ranging from real estate to organized labor to charter schools. "We did it," Israel told supporters while huddling under a tarp to avoid catching a cold in the rain. "We made it to a run-off against the most powerful interests in Austin ... the good ol' boys are not having a good night tonight."

Political insiders, many of whom could pass as good ol' boys (as could Watson) assumed Watson could potentially win the race outright, but a small and dwindling share of the fast-growing Austin electorate remembers his mayoral triumph 25 years ago, and most people don't know who their state senator is. The game changes completely during run-offs though, and Watson's war chest and solid support west of MoPac – people who will make a point of turning out – will likely hit the reset button on what promises to be a lively month of campaigning ahead.

Virden pulled in about 18% of the vote, which is low even for a Republican in Austin, but Watson has plenty of Republi­can friends. A lot of Virden's vote simply won't come back in December.

As Watson's election night party at Speak­easy wound down, he told the Chronicle that he wasn't surprised by the result. His focus over the next five weeks: reminding older voters and educating newer ones of his record as a former leader at City Hall. That former experience will be a crucial part of the Watson run-off campaign message. "We don't have any time to screw around," he told us. "We need somebody who can do the job from day one and who has proven they can."

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Celia Israel, Kirk Watson, November 2022 Elections

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