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Central city margins helped push Leffingwell close to 50 percent

Monday, May 11, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Although he missed the mark that would have put him into the Mayor’s office without a runoff, Council Member Lee Leffingwell got 47.4 percent of the vote, taking a majority in a number of important central city precincts and coming in first in all but a handful of polling places Saturday.

 

While most Austinites chose not to participate, the 13 percent voter turnout was higher than some experts had predicted. And although central city precincts played an important role in the election, they did not tell the whole story.

 

Matthews Elementary in Clarksville near downtown, Precinct 250, routinely has one of the higher percentages of active voters. In this case, 23.7 percent of registered voters went to the polls, and they overwhelmingly supported Leffingwell. Leffingwell got 61 percent of the vote in that precinct, compared to 27 percent for Council Member Brewster McCracken and just 9.5 percent for former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

 

The tale was similar in Precinct 210, O Henry Middle School in Tarrytown, which had 31.5 percent voter turnout. There, Leffingwell pulled 53 percent of the vote compared to McCracken’s 24 percent and Strayhorn’s 20 percent.

 

David Butts, a consultant to Leffingwell, noted that Leffingwell got just under 60 percent at Barton Hills School. McCracken got 24 percent and Strayhorn about 13 percent. The precinct had the highest number of votes cast of any precinct in the city, Butts said.

 

While McCracken fared better in the north and northwest part of the city, he did not motivate the large numbers of voters there he would have needed to even come close to the numbers Leffingwell’s campaign generated elsewhere.

 

For example, McCracken won nearly 38 percent of the vote at Pct. 333, Canyon Creek Elementary School, with Strayhorn second at 32 percent and Leffingwell at 25 percent. However, the turnout was only 12.37 percent, below the citywide average.

 

Strayhorn’s strategy of courting voters outside the central city who were displeased with the two incumbent members of the Council also failed to pay off. Strayhorn had run as an outsider, frequently blasting decisions made by the current Council and attempting to paint Leffingwell and McCracken as city hall insiders while promising that she would speak directly “to the people.”

 

But in almost all neighborhoods, Strayhorn placed third, finishing well behind Leffingwell and slightly behind McCracken. Strayhorn did edge into second place in some outlying precincts, such as Precinct 349 at the ACC Pinnacle Campus. There, she pulled 23 percent of the vote compared to McCracken’s 22.6 percent. And in Oak Hill, Precinct 339, Strayhorn garnered 25 percent of the vote, less than two points behind McCracken’s 27 percent. The former Republican may have expected to do better in those areas, which have voted for Republican candidates for Travis County Commissioner and State Representative during the past decade. However, voter turnout was only slightly above average in those neighborhoods, while the voters in the central city precincts continued to turn out in well above-average numbers.

 

At Kiker Elementary School in Circle C, Leffingwell was 10 points below his citywide average at 37 percent, while both Strayhorn and McCracken fared better, at 25.6 percent and 31 percent respectively. But he still won the precinct.

 

Leffingwell’s support held on the city’s east side, where voter turnout was much lower. In Precinct 124 at the Carver Library, turnout was 9 percent. Leffingwell scored 57 percent of the vote there. At Reagan High School, Precinct 141, turnout was 10 percent, and Leffingwell again placed first with 43 percent of the vote.

 

Turnout was just 5.5 percent at LBJ High School, where Leffingwell had 44.5 percent of the vote. In that precinct, Strayhorn fared particularly well, also nabbing 44.5 percent of the vote. Strayhorn is popular with many African Americans and Hispanics for her strong stance on civil rights in the 70s and 80s. “She’s got name recognition in those neighborhoods,” said Butts. 

 

Strayhorn also had a decent showing in the southeast portion of the city, but voter turnout there was even lower than in the near east and northeast precincts.

 

Overall, Strayhorn generated just 12,450 votes citywide, the smallest number she has received in more than 30 years. When she was last elected Mayor in 1981, she received a total of 36,451 votes. That was in a run-off election, and voter turnout in that runoff was 36 percent.

 

In the runoff on June 13, Austin is likely to see the percentage of voters fall even lower than the 13 percent that voted the first time around.

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