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Turnout across the state is up, especially in Democratic areas

Wednesday, October 30, 2002 by

Early voting in Travis County has been more than double what it was during the last mid-term election, exceeding 10 percent of the county’s registered voters. More than 10 percent of the voters in Williamson County have also voted early.

Yesterday produced some of the best numbers yet, thanks no doubt to the sunny weather. By mid-afternoon, the election clerk at the Travis County Courthouse had already seen 345 voters, the highest turnout so far in two weeks of early voting. Election clerk George Hermes said election workers had witnessed a steady stream of voters.

“I think the rain has kept people away,” Hermes said. “Generally, we’re seeing good numbers. We’ve got a lot of people coming in who work downtown or have business at the courthouse.”

Local malls have seen even higher turnouts, especially on weekends. Saturday, almost 1,000 people voted at Barton Creek Mall. An average of 500 people have voted each day at Northcross Mall, and better than 4,000 have voted at various mobile voting locations across the city. As of Monday, a total of 58,340 people had cast early ballots for next week’s races.

At least one election analyst predicts the turnout is due to more competitive races this year. Many voters had a lackadaisical attitude during the 1998 mid-term races, says analyst Harvey Kronberg, who publishes the on-line Quorum Report. This year, both parties have done a better job of reaching out and touching their respective voters.

In 1998, turnout was high in Republican strongholds like Williamson, Collin and Tarrant counties. This year, those numbers are being matched in Webb, Hidalgo, Cameron, Travis and El Paso counties. That could be good news for Democratic candidates Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk, who hope to tap into a segment of registered voters who don’t typically go to the polls.

“I can’t predict how the voters are voting. We don’t have precinct-level information,” Kronberg said. “But it is obvious that the Democrats are motivated, and that they do have the machine in place to bring their people to the polls. Whether or not that will be enough to win an election, I don’t know; but it’s much better than the Bush-Mauro race in 1998 when most people said, ‘Why bother?’”

Early voting ends on Friday. At this stage, it appears that Republicans may win, but the advantage the party held over Democrats for the last six years is waning, Kronberg said.

Attack ads, heavily used in the top statewide races, typically suppress independent swing voters during early voting, Kronberg said. Early voters are usually activists who feel strongly about their candidates, he suggested; swing voters are more likely to wait until Election Day to go to the polls.

11th Street Partnership hopes to begin in early 2003

Hair stylist David Hill came to last week’s Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA) meeting to make one point: Revitalization plans on 11th Street were created with people like him in mind.

The ARA has targeted a number of blocks along East 11th Street for redevelopment. Last week, the 11th Street Neighborhood Partnership, led by developer Michael Casias, presented a plan for the northwest corner of East 11th Street and Navasota that would include a three-story mixed-use development. The project would add 20,000-square-feet of new construction to 11th Street.

As small as the numbers may be, the concept is still a new one: giving current business owners the chance to buy, rather than lease, property in East Austin. Hill, who has run Hair Hunters Beauty Salon out of the same leased space on 11th Street for 35 years, has been waiting for just that opportunity. “I’ve been down there longer than any other business on 11th Street—35 years—and when you’re talking about redeveloping an area where people can live and work, you’re talking about me,” Hill said. “I’m looking to ARA to guide me, to show me what’s necessary to take advantage of this opportunity . . . I’m not asking for you to give me anything, but I want everything that I am entitled to.”

Hill’s candor drew a laugh from commissioners. Ownership was the key issue the team of developers stressed during a presentation on the Block 19 Project. Attorney Nikelle Meade of Brown McCarroll, who led the presentation, pointed out the potential for ownership and the interest among minority businesses. Some have already signed reservations, hoping that construction could be underway by the first quarter of 2003.

Small business owner Rudy Malvo said he has an interest in putting a recording studio in East Austin to spark an East Side entertainment district. And Casias, a developer with Esperanza Land Co., who also sits on the Planning Commission, discussed a plan consistent with ARA goals. Businesses in the preliminary plan include a toy store, café, recording studio and business incubator, along with some residential units at both affordable and market rates.

The development of Block 19 would follow plans for Blocks 17 and 18, yet the block has presented its own set of challenges. Owners of the Quicky Picky refused to sell its parcel of land to the Urban Renewal Agency or the City of Austin, although owners of the convenience store have signed a letter of intent to participate in the new development. A restaurant in the original plans was scrapped to provide adequate parking spaces.

The project will require the approval of the ARA, URA and the City Council since both the Urban Renewal Agency and the City of Austin own the parcels. Developers estimate the total cost of the Block 19 project would be $3.1 million. The Council is scheduled to hear from the URA at today’s work session.

Commissioner Sterling Lands called the Block 19 project “one of the most exciting things we’ve heard in a while,” but he asked that the project be moved to the ARA’s development committee for further study. A report will come back to the full commission next month. In the interim, the developers will take their plans to the URA.

Seton's plan for new children's

Working group seeks interim process for thorny issue

Members of the Hospital District Working Group were called to a meeting at United Way headquarters on East MLK Tuesday afternoon to discuss the impact that Seton’ s proposal to build a new, separate children’s hospital would have on a hospital district. The group of city employees, elected officials and doctors met in a two-and-a-half-hour closed session to lay out their positions and discuss different scenarios.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley attended the meeting and said the gathering had been productive. “We were working together in good faith trying to figure out the best route for the hospital district,” she said, “and to work up an interim process of looking at the issues of a children’s hospital . . . within the context of the hospital district as a whole. I think we were successful in doing that.”

Momentum has been building for a hospital or health-care district for the past several months. It was mentioned several times during the city’s renegotiation of the lease with Seton for Brackenridge Hospital. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 8, 2002.) That lease also covers the operation of Children’s Hospital of Austin, which Seton also runs as a separate entity from Brackenridge. Should Seton decided to build a new, separate Children’s Hospital to replace the current facility, it could increase costs for the city-funded safety net for indigent care since that new facility would be privately owned. While Seton could build a new facility without permission from the city, closing the existing Children’s Hospital of Austin would require city approval. Doctors at the hospital recently called for a newer, larger facility citing the central Texas region’s explosive population growth.

Dunkerley said the city was well aware of the over-crowding issues faced by both Brackenridge and Children’s Hospital. “During the campaign, you heard me say time and time again that something had to be done,” she said. “I think we need to see what we can do without losing the vision of the hospital district. We’ll just have to work through these issues in good faith like we do anything else. We don’t know how to go about achieving the goal that we all want, which is the best health care system in the country.”

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

Democrats endorse Ramsey . . . Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and State Rep. Elliott Naishtat are asking Democrats who live in State Board of Education District 10 to vote for Green Party candidate Leslie Ramsey. There is no Democrat in the race for the seat currently held by Republican Cynthia Thornton . . . Attorney General endorsements . . . The grand dame of Texas newspapers, the Dallas Morning News, endorsed Republican Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott for Attorney General yesterday, with a kind word for Democrat Kirk Watson also. The editorial begins, “If only all the races in Texas this year offered voters the no-lose proposition of the contest for Texas attorney general, people would have little cause for worry or complaint. The match-up between Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson has produced two credible and qualified candidates, either of whom could step in the office tomorrow and do a respectable job as the state’s top law enforcement officer.” Lined up in Watson’s camp are the newspapers of Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso and Corpus Christi . . . Positive, positive, positive . . . That’s the word from Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, who said no matter what her opponent throws at her, “I’m not going there.” Sonleitner was looking at a negative mail piece that opponent Sheri Perry Gallo had sent out, adding, “A lot of people keep forgetting that after November 5, there’s November 6.” She said she got her fill of negative campaigns when she covered the race between Jim Mattox and Ann Richards for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1990 . . . Biscoe to speak at Gateway graduation . . . County Judge Sam Biscoe is slated to be the keynote speaker at this Friday’s graduation ceremony for students who have completed the Construction Gateway program training. The program is a joint effort of the Austin Community College, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Builders and Contractors and Associated General Contractors. The ceremony will begin at 11:30am at the ACC Riverside Campus, 1020 Grove Avenue . . . Ready for Halloween . . . The voter registration section of the Travis County Clerk’s Office is decked out in black and orange in honor of the season, with black plastic tombstones for the paper ballot and “the uncast vote 2002” . . . Seeking compensation . . . Former inmates Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa, who were wrongly convicted of a 1988 rape/murder and spent 11 years in prison, have both filed notice with the City of Austin that they intend to file suit. Danziger and Ochoa were released from prison last year when they were cleared as a result of DNA testing. The matter is on the executive session for this week’s City Council meeting. City Attorney Sedora Jefferson said Tuesday that the city is expecting Danziger’s suit to be filed soon since the city has already received a draft copy of the petition alleging civil rights violations . . . Condemnation approved . . . County Court at Law Judge Orlinda Naranjo has granted the city’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in the condemnation suit over land for the Convention Center parking garage and Austin Energy district cooling plant. Naranjo‘s ruling means that the city has proved all jurisdictional prerequisites necessary for the taking the downtown property and that the taking is for “valid public purposes.” The final question of the property’s market value remains.

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

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