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Dunkerley swept most areas of city, except core

Monday, May 6, 2002 by

Council Member Beverly Griffith, who managed to gather more signatures on petitions to overcome term limits than her Council colleagues Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman, fell far short of victory on Election Day. Former Assistant City Manager Betty Dunkerley, a political novice, showed surprising strength in most parts of the city, bringing in nearly 42 percent of the vote. At the same time, Griffith managed to carry only inner city boxes—and not all of them.

A perusal of the box totals on Sunday showed that Griffith won only 11 precincts by more than a 50 percent margin. Her highest percentages were in Precincts 123, 137, 145, 274, 275 and 437. (Readers should bear in mind that In Fact Daily has no sophisticated computer program to assist in our analyses.) But a check of boxes where Goodman and Slusher did well, do not reflect similar enthusiasm for the Place 4 incumbent. At Barton Hills School, Pct. 325, about 64 percent of voters chose Slusher to continue in Place 1 and 72 percent put the stamp of approval on Goodman’s fourth term. However, Griffith got only 41 percent of the vote there, one percent more than Dunkerley. More conservative voters at Canyon Vista Middle School on Spicewood Springs Road gave Slusher 47 percent of the vote, with Mitchell coming in at 26 percent. However, Griffith got only 9 percent, compared to 64 percent for McCracken and 25 percent for Dunkerley.

Pct. 274 in the North University neighborhood, shows Goodman at 75 percent and Griffith at 59 percent. The precinct should have been a lock for Mitchell, since Slusher voted for the Villas on Guadalupe, angering members of the North University Neighborhood Association. Both Griffith and Goodman voted against the project. Slusher and Mitchell tied at 46.3 percent.

Attorney Brewster McCracken, who came out early as a possible runoff contender, won only one box south of the river, Circle C. His base in Northwest Hills, combined with a smattering of votes in the remainder of the city, equaled less than 27 percent of the 42,430 total votes cast.

While Goodman and Slusher racked up 60 percent and 55 percent respectively, winning in most areas of the city, Griffith only had 29 percent of the vote at the end of the evening. Such a poor showing is especially bad news for an incumbent who advertised her record of accomplishments on television, as well as in print media.

Political consultant David Butts, who has been involved in numerous City Council races, said, “There’s just been this erosion of support for Beverly among the middle-of-the- road progressive voters. Her fight with the former Mayor (Kirk Watson) was a little damaging to her, so it was not just the conservative areas” that failed to support her. Butts, who advised Slusher on an unpaid basis, said it would not be impossible for Griffith to win a runoff, but admitted it would be difficult.

Mike Blizzard of Grass Roots Solutions, consultant to Griffith’s campaign, said a runoff is totally different from the campaign it follows. He said he received many phone calls Sunday from Griffith supporters asking what they might do to help her. “She could definitely win a runoff,” he said.

Griffith herself said she would be meeting with her campaign staff today to talk about the next step. “I am very proud that I have run a positive, clean campaign . . . I was committed to running a positive campaign.” She blamed Dunkerley for putting out “half-truths and misrepresentations,” about her record. McCracken, she said, made misrepresentations during forums, but did not put out the negative emails and direct mail received by many voters.

McCracken set to endorse Dunkerley

McCracken indicated Saturday night that he likely would endorse Dunkerley. On Sunday he said Dunkerley wanted to choose the time and place. He said he would not be contesting the election, even though he was concerned about voters who may have lost their opportunity to vote because of an insufficient number of ballots. “I think it’s impossible to tell what would have happened,” if there had been no election errors, he said. However, a look at our election map for Place 4 shows it is unlikely that McCracken would have prevailed, regardless of the number of voters. Please be aware that we cannot vouch for 100 percent accuracy, due to time constraints. But here is an In Fact Daily map of voting patterns in Place 4 race.

McCracken was unhappy on Election Day because voters from the Spicewood Library in far Northwest Austin were unable to vote for four to five hours, when the election judge ran out of ballots. Williamson County Pct. 275/329 combined at the Spicewood Springs Branch Library, voted 46 percent for Dunkerley and 31 percent for McCracken, according to city figures. He said he would work to make sure voters are always able to vote and vote in their own neighborhoods. He said a number of northwest precinct voters were sent as far away as the University of Texas to vote.

City Clerk Shirley Brown was very distressed that voters were without ballots for any length of time. She termed the four-hour wait at the library “inexcusable.” However, she said precinct workers at Precinct 249 only closed the polling place for about 30 minutes. She said an abusive voter and members of the media made the situation much worse than it might otherwise have been. Election workers at Highland Park Baptist Church ran out of ballots at about 11am, but new ones were delivered by noon, Brown said. Election workers described voters at that church as “wonderful.”

Election Day surprises

Strange things sometimes happen on election days. Kirk Mitchell took 57 percent of the vote in a number of Williamson County combined precincts (178 WC266/147/152/216-218). He was surprised to hear it, wondering if they liked his fiscally conservative message, or if they were just angry at Slusher because they had been annexed. Mitchell did not do well in general, especially considering the money he pumped into his own race. On the other hand, he said he enjoyed meeting people and hoped to continue his quest to get the county to help the city pay for street maintenance and other items, since 70 percent of Travis County’s money comes from Austin residents.

Mitchell’s opponent, Slusher, took Circle C for the first time. During his last election, Slusher said, precincts 302 and 304 were combined, and he only got 10 percent of the vote. This time, Slusher took 65 percent of the relatively conservative southwest precinct. “I’m proud to have their vote,” said Slusher. “It is a historic occasion. I don’t know if it was totally a pro-Slusher vote, but I think I established communication with the homeowners group, even though I didn’t change any of my positions. He said, “Clearly people in the outlying areas have gotten to know me better and have confidence in me.”

Term limits remain, as does $100 contribution limit

The two propositions that had garnered the most public debate were both defeated on Saturday, disappointing supporters of the “Austin Fair Elections Act” and single-member districts.

Proposition 1, which would have set aside city funds to help candidates with their campaign expenses, was defeated convincingly. Only 26 percent of voters were in favor of the measure. Fred Lewis, an attorney for the “Clean Campaigns” organization that promoted Proposition 1, said the extensive media blitz in opposition to Proposition 1 likely played a role. Lewis said he had “seen the face of the establishment, and it is venal.”

Mike Blizzard, campaign consultant to the Clean Campaigns, said he thought three factors weighed heavily in the race. The first, of course, is the impending budget crisis. When the group started its petition drive, he said, there was no budget problem. Now, the city is looking at cutting services and raising taxes. The second big factor was the animosity of the Austin American-Statesman. The newspaper ran numerous editorials against Prop. 1, and many voters heeded those words. Finally, “tax revenues” in the ballot language was a killer. In addition, he said, the language was “clunky, long and has semi-colons.” He noted that other ballot propositions that would have cost tax money, such as Proposition 3, which also failed, did not use the dreaded T word.

Local elected officials who had come out against Proposition 1 were more restrained in their reaction late Saturday night. “A lot of people, philosophically, have a problem with their tax dollars going to fund candidates,” City Council Member Will Wynn said. “And a lot of people who didn’t have that mind set still thought that this particular ordinance had some holes in it.” Mayor Gus Garcia was also relieved the proposition had failed. “I thought it would go down,” he said, because the commitment of one-quarter of one percent of the city’s budget “so stuck in everybody’s throat. That’s close to $5 million. It’s not something you want to set aside,” the Mayor said, noting that the city was facing especially difficult budgetary decisions for fiscal year 2002-2003. He was also opposed to the additional powers that would have been granted to the Ethics Commission had Proposition 1 passed. “The creation of a super agency . . . with subpoena power . . . didn’t make any sense,” Mayor Garcia said.”

The proposal did enjoy some pockets of support in Central, South and Southeast Austin, but won in those scattered precincts generally by a very thin margin. In contrast, precincts that voted against the proposal usually did so overwhelmingly, in some cases by margins up to 90 percent. Precincts which supported Proposition 1, or in which it received between 45 and 50 percent of the vote, tended to be precincts in which Council Member Beverly Griffith also did well.

Proposition 3, the “single member district” plan, was defeated by a convincing margin. Only 42 percent of the voters were in favor, with the other 58 percent opposed. Council Member Daryl Slusher had helped craft the mixed system for the ballot, with eight single member districts and three Council members plus the Mayor elected at large, but did not campaign vigorously on its behalf since he was occupied with his own campaign. The Real Estate Council of Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce endorsed the proposition, but the two groups had devoted most of their campaign resources to defeating Proposition 1. The proposal did well in some Williamson County precincts in far Northwest Austin, as well as in far South and Southwest Austin.

Wynn, who supported single member districts, predicted it would be several years before voters were asked to consider the system for a seventh time. “It’s a systematic change, and some folks may be concerned about that drastic of a change,” Wynn said. “A lot of folks think the Council’s pretty representative now . . . and a lot of folks like voting for all the Council members.” Mayor Gus Garcia, who supported Proposition 3, believed the failure of the Council to approve a map might have played a role in its defeat. But Wynn was less convinced. “In 1994, it was a relatively close election, and there wasn’t a map then.” Wynn said. He predicted that the issue could come up again after the next U.S. Census, especially if Austin continues its current population growth.

The other propositions gathered relatively little notice. Proposition 2 narrowly failed by a margin of 49 to 51 percent. This proposition was one of great interest to political insiders and candidates. It would have repealed the $100 limit on campaign contributions previously approved by voters. Proposition 4, the proposal to repeal term limits, was also rejected by a 45 to 55 percent vote. And Proposition 7 was defeated by a 30-70 percent margin. That proposal would have created the position of electric utility consumer analyst, and would have directed that person to report to the City Council instead of the City Manager. Mayor Garcia said he was satisfied with its defeat, since he felt it would have been a violation of the council-manager form of government, which he supports.

The remaining three propositions all passed. Voters approved a proposal to allow the City Clerk to publish their campaign finance filings on the Internet instead of in a local newspaper. Municipal judges and other city employees appointed by the Council will be required to resign before running for elected office. And the City Manager’s purchasing authority on certain contracts was clarified.

Other winners . . . New City Manager Toby Futrell must certainly be counted among the winners, since there are a lot of new problems she won’t have to face. The defeat of Propositions 1, 3 and 7, in particular, are good news for her and for other members of the city staff. Mayor Gus Garcia got two out of three. He rejected both Propositions 1 and 7, but supported Proposition 3, single-member districts. However, it wasn’t a big surprise for him when it went down. Council Member Will Wynn also opposed Propositions 1 and 7, and was especially vehement about the use of tax money for campaigns. He won, even though he did not see his friend, Brewster McCracken, come close to winning a Council seat. Wynn, who has opposed Council Member Beverly Griffith on many issues, has to be happy with her poor showing. The Real Estate Council of Austin gave up on single-member districts and concentrated on defeating Proposition 1. They also were in the “anybody but Beverly” camp. They won. Lobbyists for firefighters and police endorsed Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman, rejecting Griffith, so they are probably happy . . . Losers . . . Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance personally campaigned for his friend Kirk Mitchell and Grassroots Solutions, which consulted and lost on three campaigns, have to be feeling depressed. Of course, Griffith can still win a runoff, but there is not yet a sign that she has made the decision to keep fighting. Council Member Raul Alvarez seemed to be the only member of the Council who might want to participate in the Clean Campaigns funding. He was the only one arguing with Wynn about it, but he didn’t lose much. He later told In Fact Daily that his argument with Wynn only about interpretation of one section of the ordinance and that he had taken no public position on the ordinance. However, he was the only member of the Council who wanted to challenge Wynn on the immediate funding question, which Wynn was using to vilify the ordinance Campaign consultants in general lost because the $100 limit was not repealed. The same is true of would-be candidates who do not have deep pockets. The limit keeps a lot of people from running, and the city loses as a whole because of it. On the other hand, a lot of well-heeled friends of candidates can honestly say they’ve given all they can when they hand over the $100 check. You’ll have to be the judge on that . . . City Clerk Shirley Brown is certainly a loser, even though she tried very hard to do her job well. Brown said she had between 4,000 and 5,000 calls between 5:30 and 7:30am on Election Day from new clerks and judges trying to figure out what to do. The day just went downhill from there, and she was still working at 6pm Sunday night, as were several members of her staff. If the Council decides to fire her, it will be a loss for the city as a whole, in spite of the recent problems. . . Note to Griffith supporters posted on her web site: . . . If you tried to vote Saturday May 4th between 7pm and 9pm and couldn't, please call the City Clerk's office and lodge an official complaint. 974-2210 x4. Leave your name, voter registration # if you have it or your birth date and/or address. Sorry for the confusion! Thanks for being a Beverly supporter!

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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