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Kim beats Clarke in light voting

Monday, June 13, 2005 by

Winner credits firefighters, Asian-American community

First-time candidate Jennifer Kim pulled past Margot Clarke Saturday to win the Place 3 runoff race and become the next member of the Austin City Council. Kim had 54 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent for Clarke, who was making her second run at city office. Only 9 percent of Austin’s registered voters voiced opinions in the race, compared to 14 percent who voted on the May 7 ballot. The earlier election drew voters primarily interesting in the smoking referendum.

Early returns showed Kim with 53 percent of the vote, and that fluctuated very little as individual ballot boxes from election day were tallied by the Travis County Clerk's office. Kim, surrounded by supporters at the South Congress Cafe, was enthusiastic when final returns were released after 9pm Saturday night. "It's been a wonderful experience; I've learned so much," she said, adding that she was looking forward to joining the Council next week to begin work on her priorities for the city. "Making sure we protect our environment, making sure that we grow our economy…we're still having to do a lot of things to make sure people have good jobs, good wages, and support our city employees as well, and make sure that we are inviting and embracing our diversity." Kim is the first Asian-American elected to the Council.

During the general election, Kim received only 27 percent of the vote compared to Clarke’s 40 percent. "I think May 7th was a turning point," Kim said. "I think we surprised a lot of people, and I think throughout this whole race I've been underestimated. Maybe that was a good thing."

At La Zona Rosa, which served as headquarters for Clarke's supporters watching the election returns, Clarke said it was too early to think about her plans for the future. "I'll worry about that tomorrow, just like Scarlet O'Hara," she said. "I certainly am disappointed but I also am very grateful to the voters and to my supporters, my campaign staff, my army of volunteers." She did not directly attribute her defeat to the outside interests which had sent out negative letters and e-mails in the final days of the campaign, but did note that "there was a lot of stuff going on, a lot of people working very hard and not very ethically against getting me elected."

For Kim, Saturday night's election party at South Congress Cafe was an opportunity to thank her friends and supporters. "In the beginning, when I decided to run, I got some mixed reactions," she said. "But it was mostly positive. Life isn't worth living unless you take risks, and this has been an incredible experience." She specifically thanked her mother, who made phone calls to supporters in Chinese, her brother, and the Asian-American business community. "You were with me in the beginning and helped me raise money very quickly, which really helped make me a more competitive candidate…and just put all your resources into making this happen, making calls in Vietnamese, in Thai, all different languages," she said. "We're just such a diverse community. I want this to be an inspiration to other Asian-American candidates in the state and in Austin."

Kim said that former candidate Mandy Dealey had also made some calls in the days leading up to the runoff to people previously identified as Dealey supporters. "She didn't have to do that, but she did and it helped to turn the tide in some ways," Kim said. She also thanked the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters (AAPF) for their endorsement. "It was just overwhelming to get their support. They have an incredible track record of picking people, and they took an incredible risk backing me because it was at a time when most people didn't know who I was or if I even had a chance of winning," she said.

Kim’s campaign manager Amy Everhart said getting out the vote was key to their effort. "Turnout was a lot higher than we thought it would be,” she said. ”I had predicted about 30,000 people, and it was about 36,000. We know that the precincts we were focusing on did pretty well, and that was just the surrounding area outside the central city (northwest and south)." She added that Kim had been focusing on issues that mattered to the voters. “I don't think that the toll road issue…had much to do with Jennifer's win. I do think the voters realized that toll roads were not the dominant issue. I think that Jennifer was focusing on issues that were important to the city, I think voters saw that toll roads were not necessarily most relevant to the City Council, and they made up their minds based on ideas."

AAPF President Mike Martinez was at Kim's victory party. "We felt like Jennifer was the best candidate all along, and we stuck to our commitment, and obviously the citizens felt the same way," he said. "I think Jennifer is going to do a great job on the Council," he told In Fact Daily . The firefighters' support went beyond a campaign donation and endorsement. "We had firefighters that walked precincts for the last week, we sent out a mail piece, we did phone banking, we really had the firefighters step up and get behind the candidate we endorsed," Martinez said. That included a "get out the vote" effort targeting the union's members. "We knew that this election would be close. We targeted every single firefighter that lived in the city of Austin, and we phone banked and we e-mailed and we made sure that they got out and voted, and it turned out to be successful," he said. "We're really proud of Jennifer and we're really happy for the future of Austin."

Martinez was just one of the Austin notables at Kim's party. South Austin neighborhood leaders Tim Mahoney and Clarke Hammond, conservative activist Marc Levin, State Representative Mark Strama, and LiveableCity members Bill Spelman, Niyanta Spelman and Robin Rather all attended her victory party. Several Council members also dropped by to offer their congratulations, including Raul Alvarez, Danny Thomas, Council Member-elect Lee Leffingwell, and outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. "Now comes the nitty-gritty," said Goodman, who also paid a visit to Clarke's election watch party. "Now is when the winner is going to find out about the minutiae and the other issues that are very high profile and very important, and they just don't show up in the newspaper or in a candidates' forum. I did put together an 'issue book', and of course Jennifer knows it's there for her, and she did say she wanted to meet with me."

Kim, along with Lee Leffingwell and returning Council Member Betty Dunkerley, will be sworn in next Monday, June 20. The votes will officially be canvassed that morning at 10am, and the swearing-in ceremony will take place that evening at 6pm at City Hall.

Notes from the campaign trail

Suburban voters overwhelm central city

In January, when this year’s City Council races started in earnest—however quietly from the public’s perspective—conventional wisdom pitted the only man in the Place 3 race, Gregg Knaupe, as the favorite to enter a June runoff with the environmental activist Margot Clarke. Conventional wisdom failed in May, with Jennifer Kim taking the No. 2 spot. Conventional wisdom for Saturday’s election put Clarke in the driver’s seat, since she had $91,000 from the city’s Fair Campaign Fund and 40 percent of the vote in the initial election. But conventional wisdom failed again and the reasons will be discussed not just for days—but for the entire coming year, as those interested in City Council politics try to map a strategy for next year’s races.

Kim’s campaign consultants, Peck Young and David Butts, worked hard to turn out Kim’s supporters, who generally live away from the central city. As Young pointed out Sunday, Clarke " was buried in Northwest Austin, " and lost ground in the far south and Southwest Austin also.

To Young, “The Clarke race ought to be a poster child for single-member districts because Central and Near South voted heavily for Margot (and) she carried Chicano East Austin.” Young sees Clarke as a candidate with a strong regional constituency, a constituency not used to losing.

However, Young said the central city has now lost its grip on City Council elections and can expect to be on the losing end of future at large elections. The growth of the city into Williamson and Hays Counties coupled with the differences between voters who live on the edge of the city and those who live in the older central neighborhoods will serve to disenfranchise the central city voters, he said. The old formula, which involved turning out central and near south neighborhoods to beat Northwest Hills " just doesn't work anymore," to Young’s way of thinking. "( Central Austin) won't be represented. There's just too much Austin. "

Glenn Maxey, a consultant in the Clarke campaign, disagreed. “I don’t think it’s over at all for the central city; I don’t think you can put the Jennifer Kim persona into a (former conservative Council Member) Ronnie Reynolds.” Maxey said, “To the people outside of the historical battle of City Council races, these candidates looked very much alike…I'm not sure that there wasn’t a whole bunch of folks making decisions based on the impression of who they liked.”

As for single-member districts, Maxey said, “With the size of the city, single-member districts probably would put not only central city but ethnic minorities …into a couple of seats.”

He added, “I think the biggest hit Margot Clarke took in this election was public money,” the controversy surrounding funding Clarke got from the city’s Fair Campaign Fund.

Here’s a look at some of the numbers based on a quick analysis of various precincts:

At Canyon Vista Middle School on Spicewood Springs Rd., where voters from Precinct 335 and several other precincts cast their ballots, turnout was slightly better than average at 10 percent. Kim had a commanding lead in those neighborhoods, garnering 75 percent of the vote. At Precinct 257, 4410 Duval Road, 62 percent of the vote went for Kim. In Precinct 230, voting at The Children's Courtyard on Spicewood Springs Road, Kim had 80 percent of the vote, and turnout again was above average at 15 percent.

Kim also did well at Brykerwoods Elementary in West Austin, Precinct 214, where she pulled in 56 percent of the vote. Turnout there was strong, with 22 percent of registered voters taking part in the election. And at Casis Elementary on Exposition Blvd., 64 percent of voters went with Kim. Turnout there was especially strong, with 24 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

As expected, Clarke picked up support in Precinct 250 at Matthews Elementary on West Lynn, where she won 72 percent of the vote. Turnout there was 16 percent. And at O. Henry Middle School, 2610 W. 10th Street, Precinct 251, Clarke was the clear favorite, garnering 68 percent of the vote to Kim’s 32 percent. The battle was hard-fought in Precinct 212, which is further west. Clarke took 52 percent of the vote.

The traditionally liberal Hyde Park Precincts 275 and 276, gave Clarke 80 percent and 72 percent of the vote, respectively, but did not have the kind of spectacular turnout that would have been needed to overcome Kim’s lopsided victories in Northwest, West and Southwest Austin.

Voters just south of the river supported Clarke. She won Precinct 342, Barton Hills Elementary, with 61 percent, where more than 17 percent of voters cast ballots and in Precinct 422, Travis Heights Elementary, with 71 percent. About 13.5 percent of voters participated there. Clarke also pulled in 56 percent of the vote in Precinct 442, Dawson Elementary School, with a little more than 10 percent of voters participating. But farther south, voters backed Kim. In Precinct 354, the Travis Country Office, 63 percent of those voting picked Kim. Turnout there was 20 percent. In Precinct 360, Bowie High School on Slaughter Lane, Kim won with 74 percent of the vote. Participation there was about average—9.1 percent of those registered.

In the northeast precincts, where Kim was expected to win based on her May 7 performance, turnout was generally low, ranging between 3 and 6 percent. The newcomer got 60 percent of the vote in Precinct 141, Reagan High School, but only received 40 percent in Precinct 143, Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. In both of those precincts, voter turnout was about 6 percent.

SOS, water plan differences explained

Transfer of development rights included in plan

Council Members got a look last week at the final draft of the Regional Water Quality Protection Plan, developed by representatives of governmental entities and other stakeholders in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The plan is a comprehensive document designed to preserve the present and future quality of water resources in the region.

The City of Austin was a major player in the effort, and outgoing Council Member Daryl Slusher sat on the planning board. The final draft of the plan was approved by the regional group, made up of representatives from the cities of Dripping Springs, Austin, Buda, Kyle, Rollingwood, Sunset Valley, the Village of Bee Cave, Blanco, Hays and Travis Counties, the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, and the Blanco-Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District.

Terry Tull, executive director of the Regional Water Quality Planning Project, told Council members that developing the plan took a lot of consensus building. “Just getting all these jurisdictions sitting at the same table was an historic event,” he said. “We also had a lengthy stakeholder input process. But we can be very proud of what we accomplished.”

The plan, while similar in both substance and scope to Austin SOS Ordinance, does have some significant differences, Tull said. Many elements are compromises from the various entities and stakeholders in the process, but the overall plan meets the criteria set out at the beginning.

“Our goals were to protect the surface and ground water in the region; address water quality in all areas, maintain or improve water quality; show no net increase in pollutant levels, and apply the plan to all future water developments,” Tull said. “The plan is a consensus-based effort.”

He said the plan would be voluntarily implemented throughout the region. “It’s important to note that we believe that local jurisdictions should have the final authority to implement water quality regulations,” Tull said. “This process is science-based, and that was important to everyone involved.”

Slusher said the plan is critical for water quality protection in the Barton Springs region of the aquifer. “It’s important that there be some protection in counties and smaller cities,” he said. “Local entities working together as a region will now be able to protect water quality on the same level as larger cities.”

Nancy McClintock with city staff briefed Council Members on some of the differences between the Regional Plan and the SOS Ordinance, which were mostly in the areas of water quality buffers, impervious cover and stormwater management. Most of the differences were minor and city staff will study them for possible adjustments to bring the two plans in line.

However, one major difference between the Regional Plan and SOS Ordinance in the inclusion of the use of Transfers of Development Rights (TDR) in the Regional Plan. This concept would allow development rights to be transferred from one property to another, while ensuring that the net effect complied with the water quality protection measures presented in the Plan. Tull said the intended outcome of this concept is to direct higher intensity development either outside the Planning Region or into preferred growth areas.

Austin’s SOS Ordinance does not currently allow the use of TDRs. McClintock said staff will assess the pros and cons of using a TDR mitigation approach, and report back to Council in a few weeks.

The Regional Plan board will meet at 7pm tonight at the Dripping Springs City Hall for final approval of the plan. Details of the plan can be viewed online at http://www.waterqualityplan.org.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Williamson runoff results . . . There were two runoff elections Saturday in Williamson County. In the race for Place 1 on the Round Rock City Council, retired IBM engineer Rufus Honeycutt defeated business manager Ted Williamson by 178 votes. Honeycutt will take the seat vacated by Tom Neilson, who declined to run for a third term. In Leander, two City Council seats were decided by a runoff. In Place 1, Vic Villareal beat Mark Kronkosky, and in Place 5, Andrea Navarrette beat Iris Davis. And in Hutto, in a runoff for one at-large seat on the school board, Wes Sawyer defeated Mahlon Arnett by a 2-to-1 margin, 102-54. . . . Meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment and Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. The board has a lengthy agenda with several public hearings. . . . The Resource Management Commission meets at noon today in Waller Creek Plaza, room 105.. . . The Community Development Commission meets at 5:30pm in the Street Jones Building, 1000 East 11th Street, Room 400A… and the Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities meets at noon in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. . . . Keeping Austin Wired. . . The Houston Chronicle reports that Austin is the third “ Most Un-wired” city in the country. Intel Corp. recently released a survey showing that Austin ranked third, behind Seattle and San Francisco, for the greatest amount of wireless Internet accessibility. The survey was based on the number of commercial and free wireless access points, or hotspots, as well as airports, hotels and other community places that are wireless. . . . Save the plants . . . Local environmental volunteers, shovels in hand, will take to the State Highway 130 construction site in northeast Travis County to dig up native wetland plants that will be transferred to many of the city’s nature preserves. SH130 developer Lone Star Infrastructure and the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreations Department have joined together to preserve native Central Texas wetlands that would otherwise be filled through the course of construction activities. For more information, contact Jennifer Jackson at jennifer.jackson@edelman.com; 334-6323 (direct).

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