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Leffingwell cruises into runoff with substantial lead over McCracken

Sunday, May 10, 2009 by Austin Monitor

With barely 13 percent of Austin voters participating, Council Member Lee Leffingwell grabbed 47 percent of the votes for Austin mayor Saturday, just a few points short of taking the election outright. Instead, he will face Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken in a June 13 runoff.


Leffingwell, who started his campaign late because of timing issues on a special election to replace him on the Council, polled 27,444 votes to lead all five candidates for Mayor. McCracken garnered 15,570 votes for almost 27 percent. Carol Keeton Strayhorn, former state comptroller and a two-term mayor in the 1980s, came in third with just 12,450 votes, six percent behind McCracken. 


Turnout in the early voting was light, with slightly more than six percent of Travis County’s 450,715 voters casting ballots. In the end, only 58,630 voters out of 446,588 cast ballots in the election.


Leffingwell seemed surprised by his margin of victory.


“I’m exhilarated,” he said. “This is way beyond what I frankly expected. We felt like we were ahead in this campaign going in. We thought we had maybe 8 or 10 points, but this is a 20-point lead. We certainly didn’t expect it and I can’t account for it.”


Asked what he thought was the most important issue in his margin, Leffingwell said, “What I’ve been talking about this campaign is dealing with the basics, the fundamentals and I’ve been ridiculed for that in some quarters. But I happen to think that you can focus on the fundamentals and have an eye on the future as well. And I’m all for trying to rebuild economy, including attracting new major employers but I also want to put a major focus on businesses that are here as well.


“I’ve made many proposals to address traffic congestion, with an interim bond election just on transportation,” Leffingwell said.  “I think that’s something that resonates with voters, because ever since I’ve been on the Council traffic congestion has been the number one thing on their minds. What do we do to keep from being the most congested mid-size city in the country?”


For his part, McCracken told cheering supporters that “I’m still running for mayor!”  He did his best to put a positive spin on Leffingwell’s 20-point lead.


“Our values haven’t changed. They’re Austin values,” he said. “Our opponents have even started taking our ideas . . . so our ideas are winning. Austin doesn’t need a caretaker who is going to hunker down. Austin is focused on the future, on green jobs and clean energy, but it’s not just going to fall in our lap.”?McCracken talked about other local campaigns that had come back from double-digit losses to win in the run-off. “Eddie Rodriguez, Bill Spelman and Jennifer Kim did it,” he said. “We’ve still got five weeks to go.”??McCracken told In Fact Daily that Leffingwell has “a political machine working for him, and it’s very effective.” He lamented the fact there’s really “only one set of political consultants in town, and it’s not good for the city.”?However, he said that a run-off could provide him with a chance to show the difference between himself and Leffingwell. “It’s hard for distinctions to come through in a five-person campaign,” he said. “I was surprised that Carole got the traction she did, because a lot of what she was saying wasn’t true. She proved to be a distraction. But there are different dynamics in a two-person runoff.”


Strayhorn supporters gathered at Jaime’s Spanish Village downtown to watch election returns. The crowd grew steadily throughout the evening, although Strayhorn’s standing in the polls did not. Early voting returns showed her in third place, and she remained there throughout the evening. She arrived shortly after 9:30pm and conceded the race.


“I first want to congratulate Council Member Leffingwell and Council Member McCracken on a race well run,” she said. “This city has given me nothing but a lifetime of sheer joy, and I will continue to give back my lifetime of experience in every possible positive way that I can.” Strayhorn did not offer any specifics on her plans, but did note that “my grandmothers lived healthy into their 90’s, so I’m just getting started.”


Also running in the Mayor’s race were David Buttross with 4 percent and Josiah Ingalls with less than 1 percent.

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