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Garcia elected Mayor, as

Wednesday, November 7, 2001 by

All bond proposals pass

Vote count extra slow; Turnout heavier than expected

Gus Garcia’ s victory in yesterday’s mayoral race was not achieved this month, nor during the short campaign for the post. While Mayor Kirk Watson sets off on his quest to be Texas Attorney General, Garcia picks up public service after only a 17-month hiatus. The Mayor-elect has labored in the trenches of the Democratic Party. He has worked with the various chambers of commerce and is one of the great forces in the city’s Latino community. Garcia has gathered mostly good will—no small feat for any politician—and he has pronounced himself willing to work once more for the community. The offer was just too hard to refuse for roughly 59 percent of those who voted.

Garcia won with 35,645 votes, or 59.6 percent of the vote. Former City Council Member Eric Mitchell garnered nearly 17 percent of the vote, with the next nearest competitor, political novice Greg Gordon, getting more than 13 percent. While Mitchell undoubtedly had the advantage of name recognition with a large percentage of those who made it to the polls, he had the disadvantage of a nasty exit speech after his 1997 defeat. So, 16.6 percent may not be a low number for a candidate who did virtually nothing to promote himself. But he did have Sammy Allred of KVET talk radio to boost his candidacy. Gordon, on the other hand, proved once again that television is a great equalizer. Gordon gave his campaign a boost at the end of the race with TV commercials airing on several local stations. The small-business owner, who describes himself as a “committed conservative,” siad he would “restore balance to city government.” This may be just a test run for a conservative candidate who can tap into a growing base of Republican votes on the edges of the city.

Garcia could have taken the evening simply to savor the moment of victory, but before a band of cheering supporters he turned his acceptance speech into a pledge that light rail will be on the ballot again next year.

As his campaign manager Paul Saldaña pointed out, Garcia has never been quiet about his intention to support a second run at light rail, an issue that was narrowly defeated by Austin voters last year. As he made his first of two victory speeches to supporters, Garcia told the crowd that he intends to address Austin’s transportation problems.

“I’m no Republican, but I can say, ‘Read my lips.’ This is about making Austin friendly to all modes of transportation,” Garcia told the crowd. “A year from now, we’ll be voting on light rail.”

Campaign consultant Chuck McDonald, who worked with the Real Estate Council of Austin to push the light rail issue in the last election, said he’s not surprised to see Garcia put the light rail issue on the table so early, given that Garcia’s wide margin of support gives him some real clout right now. To pass it this time, though, supporters are going to have show tangible benefits to commuters outside of downtown, especially in South Austin. Last year’s campaign was perceived as one that only benefited downtown.(See Whispers)

“We had a complicated message. The opponents had a simple message,” McDonald said as he left Palmer Auditorium last night. “We need to do a better job of educating the voters.”

Neighborhoods were split on the light rail issue. Will Bozeman, past president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, was in Garcia's celebratory crowd at Threadgill’ s. He said Garcia understood neighborhood concerns and fears about light rail. Any light rail plan that passes, Bozeman said, will have to be reasonable to neighborhoods and formulated in the context of a regional transportation system.

“Gus Garcia is a moderating influence for all the serious issues. He understands neighborhoods and their needs,” Bozeman said. “He won’t forget about neighborhoods.”

Watson and most of the City Council floated through Garcia’s parties at Threadgill’s and Jalisco Bar & Restaurant. Other notables included State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) and State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, as well as a variety of civic leaders, key commission members and union officials.

Garcia made a triumphant entry into Palmer Auditorium shortly before 10 pm, trailed by a sign-waving, chanting crowd of supporters. Watson watched as Garcia led the crowd. He said he would miss being Mayor, “but I’m very happy for that man.”

Garcia will be joining a Council of mostly familiar faces. Both Council Members Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman said they were pleased by the election. “It’s a great day in Austin,” Slusher said. Goodman said, “We’ve finally made history in having two Hispanic Council members, and one is Mayor.” She said Garcia’s election breaks a barrier that was “long needing to be broken.”

Former Planning Commissioner Robin Cravey, also a former Council aide, said he had waited a long time to see Garcia to run for the city’s top office. Garcia was always a thoughtful and consistent public servant, committed to helping people in need, Cravey said.

A Council under Garcia, Cravey said, will probably be more measured than that of his predecessor.

“He probably won’t forge ahead with the same speed,” Cravey said. “He’s going to seek out a broader constituency, one that’s more close to the grassroots level.”

Votes in the mayor’s race will be canvassed at 1 p.m. on Friday. Garcia will be sworn in at the Convention Center at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

Just the numbers

When the votes were finally counted at 1:15am today, County Clerk Dana De Beauvoir reported that 73,453 of 526,846 eligible voters in Travis County had voted, making turnout 13.94 percent. Dismal projections from early voting were that maybe only five or six percent would make it to the polls on Election Day.

Garcia—35,645 (59.6 %) Eric Mitchell 9,924 (16.6%) Greg Gordon 7,965 or (13.3 %)

Final vote totals show how the rest of the candidates fared: Leslie Cochran 2,107 (3.5 percent), Jennifer Gale 1,538 (2.6 percent), David “Breadman” Blakely 1,131 (1.9 percent), Ray Blanchette 999 votes (1.7 percent) and Allen Phillips 485 (.81percent).

Final numbers For and Against the Bond Propositions:

Prop. 1 For 42,799 (58.7%) Against 30, 166 (41.3%) Prop. 2 41,157 (56.5%) 31,687 (43.5%) Prop. 3 42,058 (57.7%) 30,851 (42.3%) Prop. 4 47,074 (64.6%) 25,785 (35.4%)

By midnight, with less than half of the vote counted of the approximately 14 percent of Travis County voters who made it to the polls, bond supporters were celebrating and opponents finally gave up. Political consultant David Butts, who worked for the Garcia campaign, told In Fact Daily that even the large liberal precincts that were still uncounted could not change the outcome of the election. At that point, a number of precincts that would likely support the bonds—including some in Pflugerville and Lakeway—were still out too.

Cathy Bonner, treasurer for the YES! Travis County Bonds Campaign, told In Fact Daily “Propositions 1 and 2 are at 57 percent and Proposition 4 is at 63 percent, so that’s really indicative of people really wanting some relief.” Asked whether these bonds would be enough, Bonner said, “I think this is it for a while. This package is bigger and bolder than the commissioners wanted to put forward. The business community and Howard Falkenberg really pushed them to be courageous . . . Now what has to happen is these other counties that SH 130 goes through have got to step up and do their part.” She noted that “ Williamson had a huge bond election,” but Hays and Caldwell had yet to act. Bonner said that Williamson had recently issued a report on the progress of its bonds. “We’ve got to do that with these bonds. We’ve to stay on top of it and report back to the citizens every quarter” on the progress of the projects just approved. “We won’t just go away and not watch them,” she said.

County Clerk Dana De Beauvoir said that five Central City and West Austin precincts closed more than an hour after the official closing time because of the large number of people standing in line at 7pm. That would slow down an already slow process.

Voters approved bonds to purchase highway right-of-way, repair bridges and improve drainage, as well as to purchase suburban parkland, for a total package of $185 million. The package is projected to increase property taxes by $42 per year for the average homeowner in Travis County.

Proposition 1 allocates $57.4 million dollars for county roadway projects along with drainage and bridge improvements throughout the county. The item in this proposal that has drawn the ire of environmental groups is Travis Cook Road. It would also set aside money to improve Mozelle Lane and Kennedy Ridge, along with repairing older bridges and fixing low-water crossings in East Austin.

Proposition 2 provides $28.6 million for the purchase of parkland in East and Southwest Travis County and to improve two existing parks by adding new ball fields, picnic areas and soccer fields.

Proposition 3 will provide $32.7 million to buy land for the construction of SH 45 N and to widen FM 1826. SH 45 N will link Anderson Mill Road and FM 685 in northern Travis County. FM 1826, in Southwest Travis County, drew fire from environmental groups because it is over the Edwards Aquifer.

Proposition 4 will generate $66.2 million to buy land for SH 130, which would run on a north-south route through eastern Travis County, allowing some traffic—especially large trucks—to bypass the most densely crowded section of I-35 in downtown Austin.

The small crowd of opponents gathered at Aussie’s to watch the vote tallies on the Travis County bond election knew they had lost the war, but they were still committed to the long-term battle.

Consultant Mike Blizzard of Grassroots Solutions, worked against the bonds. Throughout the evening, the opposition had hoped for a bigger no vote. Blizzard said he was perplexed. “Obviously we’re swimming upstream on some of these road issues because people have become convinced that extending roads in the far flung areas will actually do something about our traffic problem.” Blizzard said the no camp was outspent by “at least 10 to 1,” and reiterated that contributions came from those who would directly benefit from road building.

Kirk Mitchell, chair of the board of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said, “It’s an education issue. We’re guilty of not doing a good enough job” getting the word out to voters.

At Palmer Auditorium, the chair of the committee that recommended the bond package saw the propositions in a far different light. Charles Akins said he was somewhat surprised by opposition to the bond proposals, but added that most voters could see that county’s plan was accurate and appropriate to address the increasing mobility issues within the county.

San Antonio company set

To buy Lakeview Apartments

Housing for low and moderate income folks

A San Antonio firm may succeed where others have failed to buy the 504-unit Lakeview Apartments in Southeast Austin by the end of the year.

The Texas Bond Review Board rejected the application of a New Mexico non-profit to purchase Lakeview earlier this year, questioning the company’s experience. Now San Antonio-based American Agape Foundation (AAF) has stepped forward to put $22.7 million on the table to purchase the 33-year-old property located off Riverside Drive.

The Travis County Housing Finance Corporation has agreed to call a public hearing on Nov. 27 to consider offering low-interest mortgage revenue bonds to assist AAF in purchasing the project. The interest savings could be significant to the non-profit. Those bonds are contingent on offering units to low- and moderate-income residents.

AAF hopes to close the sale on the project by the end of the year, a representative told the housing board. The group intends to put another $1.2 million to upgrade the apartments, or an average of $2400 per unit. AAF will also offer specialized programs, such as after-school tutoring and recreational activities that are tailored to residents’ needs.

AAF, organized in 1988, focuses on affordable housing options. Most of the 4,000 units in its portfolio are concentrated in Texas and many of those in San Antonio. Representatives from the company say the rents will range from $565 for one-bedroom apartments up to $945 for three-bedroom units.

Did you miss this week's news ? See top of page. Click on the day you want to see.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

New political organization announced . . . Save South Congress, a new political group formed by area merchants and residents, is hosting a press conference and party tonight at 5pm in the garden at Guero’s Restaurant, 1410 S. Congress. The group will be celebrating the anniversary of the defeat of light rail last November. The group is adamantly opposed to another vote on the topic . . . Sorry we missed it . . . The Austin Latino Music Association (ALMA) presented its second concert in the series Sonidos del Barrio (Sounds of the Barrio) last night, with Manuel Donley y las Estrellas and the Nash Hernandez Orchestra. ALMA was formed to provide opportunities for local students to learn Latin music and to raise awareness of the many styles of Latin music. Council Member Raul Alvarez is supporting the project and attended last night’s event. Alvarez’ aide, Veronica Briseño said the next concert is Dec. 11 at Miguel’s La Bodega, featuring Ruben Ramos and the Texas Revolution . . . GBRA develops voluntary program for Kendall County . . . The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and Kendall County have completed their study of growth and water quality protection for the area. The result is four voluntary techniques, including conservation education, developer incentives, development of a unified plan and better design to conserve open space. For more information, contact Judy Gardner at GBRA, jgardner@gbra.org . . . Round Rock zoning. . . Round Rock has scheduled a third Open House tonight to discuss a rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the city library. Tonight’s discussion will focus on proposed compatibility and buffering standards between residential and non-residential use. For more information, call Vickie Moreno or Leah Murphy at 218-5415.

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