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Alvarez with grass-roots support wins Place 2 seat on narrow margin

Monday, June 5, 2000 by

Quintanilla edged by a mere 201 votes out of more than 20,000 cast

The June 3 runoff election in which Raul Alvarez defeated Rafael Quintanilla by a mere 201 votes involved more than the candidates. The winners included the Save Our Springs Alliance and SOS Action Political Action Committee (PAC), consultants Blizzard Fawal & Associates, Austin Firefighters PAC, PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources) and its executive director Susana Almanza.

The losers included Hispanic contractors, the old Brown Machine, meaning former County Commissioner Richard Moya and Robert Chapa, a longtime friend of retiring Council Member Gus Garcia, among others; El Concilio members Marcos de Leon, a former county commissioner, Gavino Fernandez and Robert Donley; the Austin Police PAC; and Republicans.

While waiting for election results Saturday night at the Filling Station, Raul Alvarez told In Fact Daily he started the day early, with stops at Quackenbush's in Hyde Park, Kerbey Lane Cafe central, and Juan in a Million in East Austin, hoping to shake hands and remind supporters to cast their ballots. From 11:30 a.m. till 6:55 p.m., Alvarez said he was on the phone trying to get people to go vote. "We called areas where we knew we had lots of supporters," he said.

Neither Alvarez nor opponent Rafael Quintanilla used television to get out their messages. Quintanilla told In Fact Daily, "To get the coverage I wanted I would have had to spend $50,000 just for TV. The $50,000 limitation (under the Austin Fair Campaign Contract, signed by both candidates) almost makes it impossible to do TV now." Alvarez said it was a philosophical matter for him. "The whole reason not to use TV was to have more direct contact with voters," he said. "We sent different messages to different parts of town." As Quintanilla did in the general election, he again employed Montgomery & Associates to run professional phone banks to get out the vote.

One of Alvarez' mail pieces criticized Quintanilla for opposing the Save Our Springs initiative in 1992, voting to approve the Circle C Ranch development when he was on the Planning Commission, and refusing to answer questionnaires from environmental organizations. Alvarez said that wasn't an attack. "We were just trying to show a distinction," Alvarez said. "No one had looked up his record on growth and development. We thought voters needed to know that."

Quintanilla told In Fact Daily, "I knew from Day 1 the only issue they could bring up was SOS. Circle C was approved in 1983. Do you have to go back 17 years to find an issue? Seventeen years ago a lot of people voted for Circle C who would not vote for it now."

As to not returning questionnaires, Quintanilla said, "I tried for months to talk to the SOS Alliance leadership. They would not return my phone calls. And the (SOS Action) PAC includes my opponent's campaign managers and campaign consultants. We had so many questionnaires I felt it would be wasting my time."

On election night things started off looking bad for Alvarez. When the early voting results were posted, Quintanilla led 2922 votes to Alvarez' 2438, a fat margin of 54.51 percent to 45.48 percent. As a result, the mood in the back room at the Filling Station was noisy but not boisterous as Alvarez and supporters waited for precinct results to be posted. The room fell dead silent when at 8:40 p.m. Joseph Martinez' cell phone rang. Martinez wrote down the results and gave the paper to Alvarez, who announced, "With 47 percent of the vote in we have 50.15 percent." The announcement triggered loud screams and applause from the 50 some odd people present. Moments later the pandemonium was repeated as the Channel 6 monitor flashed the same results on the screen. Alvarez was now ahead by 5991 to 5953, a difference of only 38 votes.

More than an hour later there were still no new results and Alvarez announced the crowd should move to the City Coliseum to be ready for TV interviews at 10 p.m. Each supporter grabbed a sign and joined the herd that migrated across Barton Springs Road for the walk. Sabino and Lori Renteria pulled up in the Coliseum parking lot in a Chevy pickup with loudspeakers on top, back from rolling through East Austin for much of the day to encourage people to vote for Alvarez. They were counterparts to Gavino Fernandez Jr. and Robert Donley, who had been using a speaker-equipped car to urge East Austinites to vote for Quintanilla.

When nearly a hundred supporters had queued up just outside the Coliseum the chants began, "Ra-ul, Ra-ul," and shrieks let loose when they learned that with 94 percent of the precincts counted Alvarez was at 50.5 percent. "It's like this," campaign manager Matt Watson told the crowd, holding up a thumb and forefinger close together. Joseph Martinez, who was paid to work on the Alvarez campaign, said, "There are nine boxes out but we don't know which ones. We're up by 151 votes." The crowd started tapping the stakes of their yard signs on the concrete, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3, and even campaign consultant Mike Blizzard got the fever, clapping his hands in the same rhythm, a beat that went on for about five minutes. A campaign volunteer told Alvarez, "You're looking really mellow." Why not, he replied, "All the hard work is done." Soon a television reporter popped out and told Alvarez the final numbers. "You won," he said, and the crowd erupted. They marched inside for Alvarez to be interviewed on television, though few stations showed any interest in the contest.

When Mayor Kirk Watson congratulated Alvarez, the newest council member-elect gestured to his supporters and said, "These are the people who made it happen. The crowd remained jubilant, shouting, "2-0-1, 2-0-1," the slim margin of victory in the runoff election in which 20,303 votes were cast.

Council Member Beverly Griffith was clearly pleased with the outcome. As she hugged and congratulated him at the City Coliseum, she told Alvarez, "We're going to change some things." Asked later what they were going to change, Griffith replied, "I said we're going to have some fun." Griffith said she looks forward to working with Alvarez. "He's someone I've admired and respected. Raul is a person with experience and maturity and judgment far beyond his years. I think he will make a super council member and be very compatible with those in office. His commitment to solving problems involving the environment, transportation and health and human services has shown brightly throughout his public service."

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman also seemed pleased, as she sees Alvarez as an ally in neighborhood planning. "His planning expertise is going to come in especially handy as we try to figure out all the details to make Smart Growth work. The extent of his expertise is something we've never had on the City Council."

Meanwhile, at his party at Jalisco Restaurant and Bar, Quintanilla was philosophical. "I can't think of anything I would have done differently," he said. Quintanilla said he targeted those precincts where he did well in the general election, used phone banks and mail pieces. He said his race is the closest he can remember since perhaps the 1970s. Quintanilla said he would continue to be involved in the many community activities that he has been working on for years.

Among those attending Quintanilla's party was Alan Sager, chair of the Travis County Republican Party. Sager confirmed that he did a tape urging Republicans to vote for Quintanilla as the conservative in the race. Sager said the message was used by the Quintanilla campaign to try to get out 6,500 Republican voters.

As the Alvarez crowd headed back to the Filling Station, Quintanilla stopped in the street to congratulate Alvarez. In Fact Daily overheard the conversation between the two candidates. The two men talked amicably about the positive race they had run. They also discussed the frustration of not knowing which precincts had been counted and Quintanilla asked Alvarez to do something about the matter as a member of the Council. Finally, Quintanilla asked Alvarez if he could meet with him to discuss issues related to the financing of health care. Alvarez said he agrees that there is much to be done to assure that more people have the benefits of health care. Alvarez said he heard from a lot of people during his campaign, especially seniors, that health care is a major issue for Austinites.

The victory party

A moment later, jammed into the back room of the Filling Station, two women shook up bottles of champagne and sprayed Alvarez thoroughly. Drying his face with paper napkins, Alvarez told the crowd that he viewed his responsibility on the City Council to be "community service as an extension of what I've been doing in the community." He commended his opponent and said it had been a tough race. "I look forward to working with (Quintanilla) on the issues this community faces," Alvarez said.

"Most of all I want to thank each and every one of you," Alvarez said. He said the time and money given by supporters kept him going, through the faith that others had demonstrated. "This is what made it happen–you people right here. What made the difference was the grass roots. This took a life of its own."

Alvarez drew applause when he noted that many young people had worked in the campaign. "I want to get youth involved," he said, "to get youth fired up, and let youth know you can make a difference in the community."

Alvarez left no doubt that the real work was ahead of him. "I encourage everyone to stay involved. I need your help to make sure I know what the issues are, and the council is doing the will of the people."

Lots of people helped Alvarez win

Winning the election was a family affair for Alvarez. In from his home town of Rio Grande City were father Sabino Alvarez Jr., mother Yolanda Alvarez, sister Marissa Alvarez, first cousin San Juanita Garza and aunt Mary Ramon. Sister Araceli Alvarez came from Houston. The whole family walked blocks, drawing good natured complaints from San Juanita about knocking doors in Travis Heights. "I got a blister," she said. "Up the hills, down the hills, up the hills, down the hills," said Araceli.

Alvarez' mail in the runoff was handled by Rindy/Miller/Bates. Dean Rindy said the mail pieces were targeted to 15,000 households of people who had voted in the general election, especially swing precincts that could sway the election and precincts that Alvarez was expected to lose, but hoping to cut the margin of loss. The theme for all mail pieces was "quality of life," Rindy said. The messages were to cut property taxes, expand the acquisition of parks and greenbelts, and speed up transportation projects. What made the difference that put Alvarez on top? "The mail got him up to the margin in swing precincts he needed to win," Rindy said.

Robin Schneider, chair of the SOS Action PAC, told In Fact Daily that environmental volunteers were out in force, phone banking and block walking. Referring to the fact that the candidates the PAC backed in the May 3 general election were defeated, Schneider said, "I think the rumors of our death were premature."

Schneider, who works for Texas Campaign for the Environment, said much of the problems in the general election were due to the campaign finance restrictions that limited fund-raising. "The first time around three popular incumbents sailed to victory without a runoff," Schneider said, referring to the 1999 elections in which Mayor Pro Tem Goodman and Council Members Griffith and Daryl Slusher won new terms. "This year, a lottery jackpot winner and the Austin Police PAC dumped large amounts of money." (Her statement doesn't address the fact that the Austin Firefighters PAC may have spent more supporting Alvarez than the Austin Police PAC spent supporting Danny Thomas, who defeated Place 6 incumbent Willie Lewis in the general election.) Things may get even stranger in the future if single-member districts go on the ballot in November, Schneider said. "It's contrary to politics to give up power but these people care enough about justice and equity more than power for power's sake."

" Precinct 320 kicks butt," bragged Karen Akins, executive director of the Trans Texas Alliance and a former president of Old West Austin Neighborhood Association. "I made 300 phone calls today in Precinct 320, which votes at Mathews Elementary School. We know how to get out the vote because we know how important it is." The unofficial results for Precinct 320 posted to the Austin City Connection shows Akins was correct. A total of 316 votes were cast for Alvarez in Precinct 320 and 48 for Quintanilla, a margin of 268 votes and more than the total margin of victory for Alvarez.

Firefighters, who endorsed Alvarez, worked hard for him, building signs, block-walking and making phone calls. Mike Martinez, vice president of the Austin Firefighters Association, camped out at the Alvarez table for hours Saturday night, watching the slow-moving numbers and giving Alvarez' nervous campaign manager, Matt Watson, words of encouragement.

Martinez said the Austin Firefighters PAC sent out four mail pieces to the general public urging support for Alvarez, two for the general election and two more for the runoff. In addition, Martinez said, the PAC sent a letter to all 868 firefighters urging them to vote Saturday. Despite the fact that many firefighters on duty were up till 4 a.m. on Saturday morning because of two fires overnight, a half-dozen of them spent most of Saturday afternoon knocking on doors in Travis Heights, Martinez said.

"We spent $15,000 to $17,000 on this race in mail-outs and phone banking," Martinez said, including calling voters on both Thursday night and Friday night preceding election day. "We made Raul's campaign our No. 1 priority–and it paid," Martinez said.

Pay for firefighters is not currently an issue, Martinez explained, because the group signed a three-year contract with the city last November. However, Martinez said staffing is always an issue. "One of the things we agree to when we sit down is we don't negotiate safety," Martinez said the City Council agreed in 1992 to hire enough firefighters so that no fire truck would go out on a call without four firefighters at a minimum. At present, three firefighters are considered the minimum for a run, he said. As for the current City Council, Martinez said, "They're working on it. We would like to see that continue." The firefighter said getting four persons per truck is "a budget issue" and is unrelated to Austin's low unemployment figures.

Moneywise, the runoff election was a fair fight. The two candidates were about equally funded, although the final numbers will not be known until the July 15 reports come in. Each received $29,000 from the Austin Fair Campaign Fund. Quintanilla said he had received more money than he was allowed to spend in the campaign and would be returning the excess to the donors. Quintanilla said the limit under the city's campaign finance law is $125,000 for election and runoff. He said he stopped raising money several days before the election. Quintanilla was referring to the Austin City Charter Article III, which allows candidates to enter into a contract with the city.

Liberal precincts lift Alvarez to victory as suburbs fail Quintanilla

Hyde Park, Zilker, Travis Heights and Bouldin key to Saturday's election

Predictably, Rafael Quintanilla did better in the more conservative suburban precincts and Raul Alvarez, with strong backing from neighborhood and environmental groups, did better in central city polling places. However, Alvarez was able to energize his troops to bring out more voters, and Quintanilla could not hold on to all those who supported him in May.

On Saturday, Alvarez took Hyde Park, Precinct 346, with 86 percent of the vote. He got 168 votes there, compared to 27 for Quintanilla. Last month, Alvarez got 155 votes compared to 47 for Quintanilla in that precinct. So, more voters turned out in Hyde Park for the runoff than bothered to vote in May. That trend was reflected in other traditionally Democratic, environmental and neighborhood-oriented boxes.

For example, Alvarez picked up votes between the May 1 election and the Saturday runoff among the traditionally liberal voters of Clarksville's Precinct 320 and the Zilker Neighborhood's Precinct 332. Precinct 320, Mathews Elementary School, gave Alvarez 316 votes and Quintanilla 48 on Saturday. At Zilker Elementary School, 80 percent of Saturday's voters chose Alvarez, giving him 367 votes and Quintanilla 89. In that precinct alone, Alvarez brought in 67 more votes than he had last month, while his opponent lost 38 votes.

Last month, with six candidates to choose from, 761 voters cast their ballots at Howson Branch Library on Exposition, a conservative neighborhood. Of those, 113 picked Alvarez and 425 picked Quintanilla. However, Saturday, Alvarez received 124 votes and Quintanilla 275. This sort of decline in voting makes some analysts say privately that white conservatives don't really care much which Hispanic sits on the City Council.

At Trinity Lutheran Church on W. 45th Street, on May 1, Alvarez received 265 votes and Quintanilla 167. On Saturday, Alvarez was chosen by 235 voters and Quintanilla by 118. Voting had declined, but more of Alvarez' supporters returned to vote a second time.

Another big box for Alvarez was Precinct 424 at the San Jose Church in near South Austin, where he took 82 percent of the vote Saturday–157 to 33. Between May 1 and Saturday, Alvarez lost only 10 of that polling place's voters, while Quintanilla lost 27.

When the near South Austin neighborhoods of Travis Heights and Bouldin were combined at Becker Elementary School, some of Travis Heights' voters may have gotten lost. There were complaints on election night about the unannounced closure of the Methodist Church polling place where Travis Heights voters have traditionally cast their ballots. On Saturday, 457 voters from the combined precincts cast their votes for Alvarez, compared to 101 for Quintanilla. On May 1, the two precincts combined gave Alvarez 482 votes and Quintanilla 134 votes.

At Circle C's Kiker Elementary School, 93 percent of the voters chose Quintanilla, giving him 419 votes to 32 for Alvarez. Everybody was wondering what was happening with that box all evening at the City Coliseum, especially with the story going around about Gary Bradley's e-mail calling on Circle C residents to vote for Quintanilla. Last month, Quintanilla garnered 220 votes, with young conservative Republican Monty Markland receiving 172 votes and Alvarez 37. But that precinct was probably Quintanilla's best on Saturday.

Quintanilla was popular at Mills Elementary School on Davis Lane, receiving 52 votes to Alvarez' 21. At Cedar Creek Elementary School on Pinnacle Road, combined precincts 347 and 317 gave Quintanilla 170 votes to Alvarez' 65. Quintanilla got 95 percent of the vote in the combined suburban precincts 311, 312, 313, 318 in Northwest Austin. However, that was only 87 votes.

Voting in East Austin was sparse, with Hispanic precincts voting more heavily than African-American precincts. Voters at Carver Branch Library on Angelina Street gave Alvarez 70 votes and Quintanilla 26 votes. Voters at David Chapel Baptist Church were almost evenly divided, giving Alvarez 46 votes and Quintanilla 44. At Sanchez Elementary School, 73 San Marcos St., Alvarez received 99 votes to Quintanilla's 50. Alvarez got 67 votes to Quintanilla's 55 votes at the A.B.Cantu/Pan-American Recreation Center, 2100 E. 3rd St.

Far Southeast, at Onion Creek Baptist Church, 17 voters chose Alvarez and five picked Quintanilla. Quintanilla took Precinct 426, ACC Riverside Campus, with 50 votes to Alvarez' 37. Alvarez won Allan Elementary School, 4900 Gonzales St., but that only gave him 19 votes to Quintanilla's nine. Each candidate received 17 votes at the Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis.

It's clear that the Alvarez campaign targeted the big precincts. His people walked these precincts and called these precincts, guided by his team of consultants Blizzard Fawal & Associates, assisted in the runoff by David Butts and Dean Rindy. Quintanilla did not employ a consultant.

Council members definitely unhappy over lack of timely precinct results

Observers had no sense of election's progress at specific polling places

As Council Member Daryl Slusher and political consultant David Butts tried to make sense of the quilt-work of election results they had received, a clearly angry Slusher said, "At the canvassing of the vote (from the general election) I said we should put out precinct results and every council member backed that–and they ignored us." Precinct results, which used to be printed and distributed to the tables for press and candidates, were not available.

Later, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith expressed the same frustration. Mayor Kirk Watson came in later and he too wanted to know what precincts were still out.

City Public Information Officer Michele Middlebrook-Gonzalez confirmed that Alvarez had won as Alvarez and his chanting troops streamed into the Coliseum. Mayor Kirk Watson said, "This is scary," thinking that perhaps the Alvarez supporters, who were jumping up and down in victory, might have been given false information, because he did not yet have the night's final numbers.

Further confusing matters was that the one-page sheet listing the final results showed 169 out of 170 precincts reporting, making observers wonder if there was still one precinct out that could change the results. Middlebrook-Gonzalez had to explain that the 170th box was one that could only vote for the Austin Community College board election and, indeed, the city election results were final.

Meanwhile, at Jalisco Restaurant, Rafael Quintanilla was also wondering which boxes had come in, and feeling frustrated. "We kept trying to find out which boxes (had been counted). I'm used to the old days when you knew what boxes were in. I'm just surprised that the City of Austin can't do better."

Farewell Gus Garcia…That's the name of the community-wide event in appreciation of Gus Garcia's nine years of service on the Austin City Council. The event is Tuesday, June 6, 6-10 p.m. at Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Bergman Ave. A wide variety of live entertainment is slated, including Mariachi Estrella, Ray Lozano's Ballet Folklorico, Santhi Kodali (semi-classical Indian dance), Boyd Vance & Friends, The Love of China School of Chinese Dance and Johnny Degollado y Conjunto… SOS reunion…On Wednesday, June 7, the Save Our Springs Alliance will holds a reunion t o honor 100 Austin residents who spoke June 7, 1990, at the all-night City Council meeting to oppose development in the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer. Also to be honored are Soul of the City Award recipients Mary Arnold, Lee Walker and Whole Foods Market. The event runs 6-9 p.m. at Threadgill's World Headquarters, Barton Springs Road at Riverside Drive. For more info call 477-2320. Also to mark the event, Saturday, June 10, is Free Swim Day at Barton Springs Pool, and the Soul of the City Benefit Concert will be held Sunday June 11 at La Zona Rosa, 6 p.m. to midnight… Transportation meetings this week… Capital Metro will hold public hearings regarding preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement phase for future transportation planning Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 7-9 p.m. each night, June 6, 7 and 8. Tuesday's meeting is in the Winter's Building of the Texas Department of Human Services, 701 N. 51st St. Wednesday's meeting is in the South Austin Multi-Purpose Center, 2508 Durwood. Thursday's meeting is in the Austin History Center Reception Room, 9th and Guadalupe. These meetings are part of the federally mandated process for future transportation planning. For more info, visit the web site at… New home life…With Council Member Bill Spelman leaving the council and his wife, Niyanta Spelman leaving her post at the Legislative Budget Board, she says they will now be able to see a bit more of each other. "He'll be working upstairs and I'll be working downstairs," she says… Bicycle Europe…That will no doubt be part of the agenda for Gayle Cummins, executive director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. Cummins tells In Fact Daily that she will be traveling to Amsterdam to speak at Velo Mondial 2000, the second Worldwide Bicycle Conference . She will be one of only a dozen people from the United States who were invited to address the conference scheduled June 18-23. Also going is Preston Tyree, education director for the Austin Bicycle Coalition, Cummins says. She plans to update the Texas Bicycle Coalition's web site daily during the conference . "I'm staying two weeks longer and will take slides of what bicycle facilities should really look like," Cummins says… Lawsuit to be appealed…The Hays County Water Planning Partnership lost the court decision in the first lawsuit it lodged against the Hays County Commissioners Court for an alleged violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. But HCWPP Chair Erin Foster says the board of directors voted Friday night to appeal that decision. "We will file the appeal Monday morning," Foster said Sunday. The lawsuit alleged that a quorum of the Commissioners Court attended a private meeting at the Salt Lick Restaurant sponsored by Newhall Land and Farming Co. ( In Fact Daily Aug. 19, 1999).

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