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Morrison’s win reflects broad appeal in low turnout battle

Monday, June 16, 2008 by Austin Monitor

At first glance, neighborhood activist Laura Morrison’s wide margin of victory in Saturday’s runoff election against developer Cid Galindo could be interpreted as neighborhood activism triumphing over new urbanism in the race to lead Austin’s future.

That, however, is neither the candidates nor their consultants read the results. Galindo, at his election night party Saturday, said the runoff was not a referendum on Austin’s new urbanist initiatives – transit-oriented development, higher density neighborhoods, vertical mixed-use development on major corridors – but it was clear that Morrison drew a significant amount of her base from neighborhood support.

Drive up and down streets like Burnet and Lamar and you still can see a slew of handwritten “Vote today” signs, some of them followed by a scribbled “Vote for Laura” sign. Voting results showed that Morrison scored well in neighborhoods where homeowners are the most active: Zilker, Bouldin, Hyde Park and Brentwood.

Central city neighborhoods likeliest to vote

Overall, Morrison garnered 60.19 percent of the early vote and nearly 70 percent on Election Day. More than 47 percent of those who voted took the early vote route.

Morrison did well in the Central and Central West precincts. She got 55 percent of the vote in Precinct 256, which votes at Casis Elementary in Tarrytown. That precinct had the highest voter turnout of any in the city in which a significant number of voters cast ballots. Voter turnout was 18 percent. (There was one precinct with 26 percent voter turnout, but there were only 15 registered voters in that precinct).

Likewise, there was heavy turnout in the Zilker neighborhood (14 percent) of which a vast majority (84 percent) went for Morrision. She won handily in Bouldin (10 percent voter turnout, 87 percent for Morrision), Hyde Park (7 percent turnout, 87 percent for Morrison) and Brentwood (10 percent turnout, 76 percent for Morrison).

Turnout was lower in East and Northeast Austin (between 3 percent and 5 percent in active precincts, but below 2 percent in several), but Morrison still did well in districts in which voters actually showed up (60 percent in near-East Austin and 53 percent in Northeast Austin). In Southeast Austin, voter turnout was almost non-existent. At the Dove Springs Recreation Center, Precinct 450, just 1.3 percent of registered voters cast their ballots (Morrison won with 57 percent).

Galindo did win several precincts, some of which had substantial turnout, but he did not win enough or by a large enough margin to offset Morrison’s overwhelming advantage in the city’s traditional voting strongholds. Galindo won Precinct 262 at Anderson High School in Northwest Austin, which had a turnout of 8 percent. He also won Precincts 335 and 336 at Canyon Vista Middle School on Spicewood Springs in Northwest Austin and several other nearby precincts. In Southwest Austin, Galindo won precincts 304 and 367, which voted at Kiker Elementary.

Do the results mean Morrison, immediate past president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, needs to mend fences with the developer community? Among Morrison’s 40-plus forums, those attending the Real Estate Council of Austin’s meeting probably viewed Morrison with the most skepticism.

Asked whether she intended to reach out to the developer community at her election night party – where it was already apparent from early voting she was going to win – Morrison said it would be a priority to reach out to everyone.

“We’re responsible to the taxpayers, to neighborhoods, to developers, to small business,” Morrison said at her party at the Waterloo Icehouse on Lamar. “Definitely, I expect there’s going to be a need for compromises, but I’m really eager to develop very strong and productive relationships with everyone.”

By the time the first of Saturday’s Election Day returns came in, Morrison already had a clear lead. Early in the evening a parade of Council members – Brewster McCracken, Mike Martinez, Lee Leffingwell and Sheryl Cole – were in attendance at Morrison’s party, which was already crowded with neighborhood leaders and commission members.

At his own party at Scholz’s Garden, Galindo said he disappointed that the campaign had turned negative over his ties to the Republican Party. In the end, though, Galindo said it did not have a substantial impact on his campaign, any more than accusations from the Morrison campaign about his election finances.

“I’m disappointed because this is a non-partisan race, and I am a non-partisan candidate. I’ve made that clear from the very beginning,” said Galindo. When questioned about the campaign tactics, he said, “I think there were a lot of tactics used in this race, in my opinion, they were simply unsubstantiated.”

Barbara Rush, Morrison’s campaign manager, said there was a reason why so few people were at Galindo’s party and so many at Morrison’s. Galindo’s base was much smaller, and he spent more of his own money.

“I think that might be a little indicative of the people who were supporting him. His base was much smaller. I think that well wasn’t as deep,” Rush said. “He had a relatively small number of supporters. With Laura, it was much more broad-based. We got a $2 check the other day, which is thrilling, because if somebody’s giving you $2, it means that’s what they have. Her support was broad-based.”

In the end, Galindo outspent Morrison 3-to-1 in the first election on television alone, and by the same margin on mail pieces during the runoff election.

Although voter turnout was just under 5 percent, Morrison’s consultant David Butts said it was the intensity of the attack, close to the runoff date, that increased focus on the campaign.

In the May election, Robin Cravey got 20 percent and Laura Morrison got 39, compared to Galindo’s 29 percent. Even though Cravey declined to endorse either Morrison or Galindo, the majority of his supporters—those who bothered to vote—picked Morrison in the runoff.

Butts said, “I think there’s a great deal of voter fatigue in this election. People have just voted and voted and voted and asked to come back…the absolutely dedicated voters came back anyway. But even some of them didn’t make it, but a lot of them did and frankly, they’re going to be responsive to someone like Laura Morrison and where she comes from politically…he wasn’t exactly plowing fertile ground, to try to get some of those people to swing around against Laura.”

When asked to compare the blows in his race against Morrison to other prior races, Galindo said it wasn’t so different from the Randi Shade-Jennifer Kim race, although the Shade-Kim fisticuffs often occurred in person at forums, rather than in television ads placed in the campaign’s last days.

Galindo said the race came down to two different issues during the campaign and runoff. During the campaign, a plan for responsible growth was the focus. Galindo always has been a big believer that Austin’s congestion problems have resonated with voters. In the runoff election, Galindo said the focus shifted to the appropriate role of municipal government. Obviously that came down to the so-called point of sale ordinance, which Galindo made an issue during the campaign.

And was Galindo the candidate who was more inclined toward the (somewhat Republican) less intervention and fewer strings on the homeowners? Yes, he said.

“Without any question, I think I am the candidate who was most reluctant to expand the role of government in such a way as to further limit property and privacy rights,” Galindo said. 

Even without the win, however, Galindo’s ideas are interwoven into some of the city’s planning initiatives, including the review of the city’s comprehensive plan. Morrison said she would not dismiss those ideas out of hand after she is sworn into office.

“He has done work, and the Council has started to move forward on some of that work. I accept that,” Morrison agreed. “For me, the update of the city’s comprehensive plan, however, was all about integrating the various aspects of city services and planning into one document.”

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