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Wynn sweeps mayoral contest,

Monday, May 5, 2003 by

Winning North, South, East, West

Turnout, as usual, highest in central city boxes

Council Member Will Wynn worked hard, spent more than $150,000 and beat eight other candidates Saturday in all but two tiny precincts in the city to become Mayor. Central city boxes, including Gullett Elementary School, which gave Wynn nearly 69 percent of the vote, Hyde Park, where he took more than 69 percent, and Hancock Recreation Center, where he garnered nearly 67 percent, gave him the big margins that made his victory so substantial. Voters on the west side of near South Austin— Barton Hills Elementary School, Zilker School and St. Marks Episcopal Church—added to Wynn’s margin with impressive turnouts. In Barton Hills, nearly 29 percent voted. Of those, Wynn took 64.5 percent. Nearly 26 percent of those in the Zilker School box cast their vote, and nearly 58 percent of them voted for the incumbent Council member. Nearly 33 percent of those registered to vote in Precinct 239, Gullett Elementary School, voted early or on Election Day, and 69 percent of them voted for Wynn.

Those precincts turned out two to three times the number of voters as did polling places in East, Far South and Far North Austin. Overall, Wynn finished the night with more than 58 percent of the vote. But there was little doubt of his victory from the moment results of Early Voting were announced. His Early Voting margin was 56.49 percent. That margin climbed as the evening wore on.

Wynn said he was proud of the campaign he had run: sticking to the issues and rarely even acknowledging the attacks of his seven opponents. He said he would be a better Mayor as a result of the race, adding that each of the seven other candidates had showed him different facts and points of view.

Max Nofziger, who came in second, got nearly 16 percent of the vote. Marc Katz, who campaigned little but counted on his name-recognition to carry him into a runoff, garnered only 13 percent. Brad Meltzer, an unknown, conservative restaurant owner, spent $249,000 but was unable to achieve traction against his more colorful and well-known opponents. He finished with only 8.26 percent of the vote.

Nofziger had also run for Mayor in 1997—against Kirk Watson—after serving three terms on the City Council. Asked if he was thinking of running again, he said, “No, I feel I’ve given Austin 25 years of service . . . I’m going to take some time off. There’s always a big relief after a campaign. This campaign has been on my mind since Thanksgiving. It’s time to shift gears.” He blamed a lack of money for his failure to make a runoff.

Deli owner Katz frequently seemed at a loss as to the issues facing the city, except for the $77 million budget shortfall. But he was philosophical late Saturday. He told In Fact Daily, “I’m disappointed in the vote, but the voters have spoken. I am going to support Mayor Wynn and I’ll do anything I can for him. I think he’ll do a great job. Austin is a city I love, and anything he ever calls on for me or from me, I’m there. I love Austin. I think if anything came through during this campaign, it’s that I love Austin with a passion. That’s unconditional.”

Perennial candidate Jennifer Gale received fewer than 1,100 votes and Leslie Cochran took home1,113. Christopher Keating received 240 votes and Herman Luckett got 114. As for Joaquin Fox, an official write-in candidate, only himself and three of his friends chose to vote for him.

Turnout across the city averaged 14.93 percent—proving County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir correct in her prediction that Early Voting would equal one-third of total turnout. But not all neighborhoods were as convinced of the need to vote as Hyde Park, with more than 22 percent of residents expressing their wishes at the polls. The turnout in traditionally liberal Clarksville at Matthews Elementary School (Pct. 250, formerly known as 320) was nearly 24 percent. Just across 12th Street, at Pct. 278, more than 25 percent of those registered voted, giving Wynn more than 76 percent of the vote. In his home precinct, which votes at Casis Elementary School, 940 voters—36 percent—took the time to vote, and more than 77 percent of them chose Wynn. That same precinct gave Brewster McCracken 60percent and Margot Clarke 32 percent.

By contrast, in Precinct 425, at Onion Creek Baptist Church in far Southeast Austin, 99 voters—only 4.15 percent of those registered—gave Wynn 46 percent of their votes. Unlike the rest of the city however, those voters put Marc Katz in second place and Nofziger third. Nofziger did well in areas close to his home: Bouldin Creek and Galindo Elementary School

In Pct.138, St John’s Church in deep East Austin, only five percent of voters bothered to register an opinion. They picked Wynn three to one over his nearest competitor, Katz, leaving Nofziger and Meltzer tied at only 14 votes apiece. David’s Chapel, considered a bell weather precinct for African-American voters, saw little action Saturday, with fewer than five percent showing up at the polls. However, those interested enough in the race to vote early totaled slightly more than five percent, just like the city overall. Those who voted there chose Wynn by a three-to-one margin over Nofziger, giving him 61 percent of the vote.

DeBeauvoir said, “I really attribute the Early Voting to the large turnout . . . The early voting was significantly up. In the May 2000 election, we had 6,290 early voters. This time we had 22,058 early voters and it’s because we went to a retail approach. So we really need to thank those merchants.” She said the shopping areas were most helpful in pulling in “that marginal voter that wants to vote but might not get to the polls on Election Day or might not go to a recreation center to cast that early ballot.”

City Clerk Shirley Brown said she was quite pleased with the turnout of 59,929. “That’s really good for a municipal election. So, I’m very pleased. I can’t tell you why they turned out, but I’m glad they did.”

McCracken, Clarke

Prepare for runoff

Central city fight could be Democratic slugfest

While Wynn was able to pull of a victory on Election Day, the battle for his Place 5 City Council seat is headed for a runoff. Brewster McCracken and Margot Clarke will have five weeks to motivate voters to go to the polls on June 7th.

McCracken was the top vote-getter with 43 percent. He benefited from the name recognition he established during last year’s run for the Place 4 seat that was won by Betty Dunkerley. McCracken was also the top fund-raiser, getting money from hundreds of individual donors. While much of that money was spent on TV advertising, McCracken did spend time on more traditional grassroots campaign efforts. “We knocked on over 10,000 doors in this campaign. We made thousands of phone calls, and it obviously worked really well for us so far and I’m going to keep at it,” McCracken said on election night. “We started planning for a runoff in early February. We expected this to happen. We got 41 percent of the early vote; the voters who voted on Election Day were over 45 percent. We have great momentum going into the runoff. We’re very excited.”

Clarke has been active for several years on issues related to the environment and women’s rights. She pulled 35 percent of the vote and ran a limited TV ad campaign in the final days before the election. “It seems like the voters were responding to my message about protecting the quality of life here in Austin, approaching our budget decisions with a long-term vision and basically just the way I feel about the city and wanting to help serve,” Clarke said. “We’re not going to change our techniques, because the whole campaign has been from our hearts and the way I feel about the city.” Clarke says she’s convinced she will be able to overcome the financial advantage of the McCracken campaign over the next few weeks. “We were out-spent three to one and came in with very little name ID compared to my opponent, who ran last year. So I think we’ve done a heck of a job and we plan to continue to do a heck of a job,” she said. “I feel very optimistic about the runoff. For one thing, I expect to get support from some of my other opponents.”

Candidate Robert Singleton, who received 5 percent of the vote, has endorsed Clarke. “I definitely will be endorsing Margot in the runoff. I didn’t know her before the election. She would make a wonderful City Council-person and I’ll do anything I can to help her get elected.” Singleton, who is focused on preventing future Councils from approving agreements like last year’s deal with Stratus Development, said he would announce today that he is running for Place 1. Council Member Daryl Slusher currently holds that seat. His term runs for another two years. Singleton plans to make environmental issues the top priority for that campaign. “I’m thinking of forming the radical environmental PAC forum,” he said. “A little bit ‘Fear Factor.’ a lot of Austin Interfaith.”

During the campaign, both candidates stressed their involvement with the Democratic Party and support for progressive causes. The Austin Chronicle and the Austin Sierra Club, endorsed Clarke, along with the West Austin Democrats and Central Austin Democrats. Endorsing McCracken were the South Austin Democrats, Austin Police Association PAC, Austin Firefighters’ PAC, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1624, former Mayor Kirk Watson and the Austin American-Statesman. The contest could turn on the crucial central-city precincts with traditionally high voter turnout. At Matthews Elementary, Precinct 250, voter turnout was 25 percent. Clarke received 344 votes there compared to McCracken’s 159. But in other high-turnout areas, such as Casias Elementary, Precinct 256, McCracken surpassed Clarke. At Casias, he received 532 votes compared to her 282. McCracken also surpassed Clarke in Precinct 278, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, which had a 26 percent turnout. We cannot guarantee the complete accuracy of the data, but to see our map of this race, Click here.

In Fact Daily asked Paula Nielson, Clarke’s campaign manager, if she was concerned about bringing in the funds for the runoff. She expressed confidence, saying that the money would come in now that Clarke is in the runoff.

Alvarez gets discomforting

Message in Early Vote returns

Still supports single-member districts

Steven Adams, a Libertarian candidate for City Council Place 2 who ran a low-key campaign outside of the media spotlight, made a mark on election night Saturday by grabbing 35 percent of the vote against eventual winner and incumbent, Raul Alvarez.

Adams, who did little campaigning, filed on the deadline day and spent about $100, ended up soundly beating the other contender in the race, Gavino Fernandez, Jr., an East Austin activist who was seen by political observers as the only real challenger to Alvarez in a seat reserved for Hispanic candidates by a long-standing “gentleman’s agreement” in city politics.

The results led to a variety of speculation from politicos watching the numbers throughout election night. “It’s a surname thing,” said veteran political consultant David Butts. Voters who know little or nothing about a candidate will pick a name that sounds more familiar to them, and if they’re Anglo that translates into “Adams,” he said.

Adams could not be reached for comment at the number listed with his address and an email address on his city filing.

Alvarez’ campaign was never in any real danger as the returns rolled in, and he ended up with 55 percent of the vote, while Fernandez managed just 10 percent. Still, the ending had the incumbent shaking his head. “I was a little surprised,” said Alvarez of Adams’s results. “He didn’t run much of a campaign . . . We’ll be analyzing the numbers ourselves, and it’ll be interesting to see what happened.”

Alvarez, who starts his second term on the Council with the win, said he has always supported single-member districts as a way to secure minority representation instead of a gentleman’s agreement that ends up with contenders who don’t follow the agreement.

Alvarez’s campaign manager, Frederic Lopez, agreed that the Anglo name gave Adams an advantage. “This reaffirms that the gentleman’s agreement isn’t firmly in place.” he said.

But Fernandez said Adams won votes from people with his platform of lower taxes and leaner municipal budgets. “It echoed the message that people felt overtaxed,” he said.

Fernandez also said Alvarez didn’t represent the voice of East Austin community or the city at large with his brand of environmental politics. “My campaign wasn’t a campaign that I was personally coordinating,” he said, adding that his effort was put together by a committee spearheaded by La Prensa newspaper editor, Cathy Vasquez-Ravilla.

“We obviously didn’t anticipate winning the race,” said Fernandez, whose final spending report showed just $1,497 to Alvarez’s $28,112. “However, we felt issues being neglected in the community . . . needed addressing.” For example, Fernandez said, getting the Holly Power Plant closure on track was a key issue pushed by his followers. “You now have Alvarez speaking about closing the power plant,” he said.

After crunching numbers Sunday, Lopez said that Adams garnered the most votes where expected, far north and northwest precincts that voted conservatively. His message—mainly against Austin Community College’s bond measure and tax increase, along with anti-light rail sentiments—might not have been the predominant reason for his high performance, but it resonated well in certain areas. “If you look at where Steve Adams performed better, you’ll also find a correlation of two things: where the ACC bonds didn’t do well and where Brad Meltzer and Marc Katz did do well.”

In contrast, Alvarez dominated the central city precincts where his campaign concentrated its efforts. “In areas we walked we didn’t go below 75 percent,” Lopez said.

Alvarez also took the predominantly Hispanic precincts in East Austin. In precinct 426, where Alvarez lives, the incumbent won by a 3-1 margin. And in precinct 439, where Fernandez lives, Alvarez won by a 2-1 margin.

Three years ago, Alvarez won a hard-fought runoff election with attorney Rafael Quintanilla. His margin of victory at that time was only about 200 votes.

Thomas wins easy victory

Over unknown Libertarian

Many voters knew neither name, says opponent

Incumbent Danny Thomas cruised to an easy victory for a second term on the Place 6 City Council seat Saturday, defeating Libertarian candidate Wes Benedict.

“I’m pleased that God has been good to me,” Thomas said after the final results were in. “It means a lot to me that the citizens of Austin have confidence in me.”

Thomas, who took 65 percent of the vote, was happy with the results, but nevertheless was well aware that an unknown candidate managed to win over 35 percent of the voters. “It lets us know that the next person who runs in Place 6 has their work cut out for them . . . Never take it for granted,” Thomas said.

The results somewhat mirrored the Place 2 race in which Libertarian Steven Adams took 35 percent of the vote in a losing battle to incumbent Raul Alvarez. Thomas, who is African-American, and Alvarez, who is Hispanic, hold seats on the Council reserved for minority representation as part of gentleman’s agreement in city politics.

The system is designed to counter the need for possible single-member districts that would seek to concentrate minority votes in one district to ensure minority representation. Benedict said he thinks the single-member district idea, which has failed to win Austinites’ support on six occasions, would actually help remedy what in his opinion helped him be so successful—lack of knowledge in the electorate about who the candidates are.

The candidate said he polled people informally on Election Day and found that most didn’t recognize his or the incumbent’s names. “Most people did not know who Danny Thomas or Wes Benedict were,” he said.

Benedict recounted how one person joked that they didn’t recognize either name but thought it would be unfair to vote for someone with a famous actor’s name—clearly referring to Danny Thomas.

Benedict said he didn’t put as much as he could have into the race because he knew it was a long shot. But following such favorable results, he said he’s thinking of running in the future. One potentially decisive issue was his continual stance against light rail, he said.

Neither candidate raised or spent a significant amount of money on the campaign, with Thomas spending $3223 and Benedict spending $3761, according to the last reports filed with the City Clerk’s Office.

Despite the clear victory, the large percentage of votes garnered by a conservative, white candidate will have politicos examining the precinct results carefully to determine whether the results have any significance beyond a natural spread between an unknown incumbent and an unknown challenger.

Thomas’s totals are similar to the high profile, hard fought battle that put him in office in 2000. In that race, he defeated incumbent Willie Lewis, the favorite of the environmental community, by a margin of 56.19 percent to 36.46 percent, with a third candidate, Nelson Elester taking 7.35 percent.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fight over Congressional districts goes on . . . According to an attendee, at 10pm last night the Texas House of Representatives Redistricting Committee recessed until 8am today, having apparently failed to produce a new map that had been promised . . . Design Commission meets tonight. . . This panel, which hears requests for Smart Growth points and reviews city-sponsored downtown projects, is the only one scheduled to meet tonight. The group will review The Pedernales, Urban Digs, the Mexican-American Cultural Center and the new City Hall. On Tuesday, the city will hold a forum on recruitment and retention of traditional industries as part of the ongoing work to spruce up Austin’s economy. The hearing, scheduled for 6-8pm at Town Lake Center, will provide any citizen who wishes to participate the usual three minutes to address the Mayor’s Task Force subcommittee on that issue. Free parking is available at One Texas Center . . . Parking rates go up today . . . Rates for downtown parking have increased from 75 cents to one dollar per hour. However, parking before 8:30am and after 5:30pm weekdays and all day on the weekends is still free . . . Bridge and street closing . . . A parade to honor peace officers killed in the line of duty will be held on Congress Avenue this afternoon. Streets crossing Congress will begin to close at approximately 11:15am and the Congress Avenue Bridge will close at approximately 10:30am. All traffic is expected to return to normal by 12:30pm.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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