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Shade takes West Austin but Tovo victorious throughout city

Monday, June 20, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Change is coming to City Hall. 


After five weeks of heated, sometimes bitter, campaigning, former Planning Commission member Kathie Tovo defeated Place 3 Council incumbent Randi Shade in Saturday’s runoff election. Tovo raked in just under 24,000 votes while Shade could muster only 18,594.


The result represents a turning point in Austin politics. Before Saturday’s election, Mayor Lee Leffingwell could count on a solid voting block for many hard decisions, including action to move forward with the city’s third active water treatment plant (known as Water Treatment Plant 4) and the Council’s rejection of the settlement in the Nathaniel Sanders shooting incident. Shade’s defeat removes a major cog in that alliance.


More than 42,000 Austinites — close to 10 percent of the city’s registered voters — cast ballots in the runoff. That figure reflects an increase of roughly 25 percent over the May election.


Travis County officials released the early voting results just after 7pm. Shade needed a convincing win here if she was to hold on to any hope for the rest of the evening. She didn’t get it. Instead, Tovo took the evening’s first tally by around 2500 votes.


The keys to Tovo’s victory were strong majorities in Central Austin neighborhoods as well as throughout South Austin and East Austin. Shade carried most of her base in West Austin but was unable to pile up enough votes in those boxes to offset Tovo’s victories throughout the rest of the city.


With Tovo’s organization turning out 26 percent of the vote at Zilker Elementary School and 20 percent of voters in Barton Hills, Shade’s team was simply unable to compete. Seventy-two percent of voters at Zilker and 65 percent of those in Barton Hills cast ballots for Tovo. 


In Travis Heights, Pct. 421, which votes at the Congress Avenue Baptist Church, Tovo took nearly 68 percent of the vote, with 17 percent of those voters registering opinions. Pct. 422 was even more lopsided, giving Tovo 74 percent


In the Bouldin neighborhood’s Pct. 437, the heart of Tovo territory, 70 percent of those voting chose Tovo. The turnout was 17 percent.


At the South Austin Recreation Center on Cumberland, Pct. 424, with 12 percent of voters casting ballots, Tovo took 63 percent of the vote; in the traditionally low turnout Hispanic neighborhood of Dove Springs, about 4 percent of voters cast ballots, with Tovo taking 57 percent of the vote. A little more than 2 percent of voters in Pct. 423 — which was combined to vote with several others at Baty Elementary School in southeast Austin — went 60 percent for Tovo.


Pct. 336, in far Northwest Austin, showed 19.82 percent turnout. Considered a strong anti-Water Treatment Plant 4 district, voters in 336 gave Tovo 76.69 percent of the vote.


Hays County voters also cast more ballots for Tovo than for Shade.


Shade’s biggest win was probably in Pct. 256, which votes at Casis Elementary School. There, more than 32 percent of those registered to vote either voted early or came out for election day. They gave Shade almost 68 percent of their votes.


Shade also won 57 percent of the vote at the First Presbyterian Church on Mesa, with 25 percent of voters turning out. Voters in Pct. 347 on Walsh Tarlton in West Austin gave Shade 60 percent of their votes.


In the box on West Lynn (Pct. 278), more than 23 percent of voters turned out. Shade took 59 percent of that vote but lost nearby Pct. 250, Clarksville, her own precinct.


Shade also won Pct. 220, which votes at a fire station on FM 2222 in Northwest Austin, with about 55 percent of the vote. Turnout at that precinct was more than 22 percent, but there are not many registered voters in that precinct.


Shade also won southwest Austin Precinct 304 in Circle C with 56 percent. But only 13 percent of that precinct’s voters turned out.


Shade supporters, including Council Member Chris Riley and lobbyist David Armbrust and real estate attorney Nikelle Meade, gathered at El Arroyo on West 5th Street Saturday night. Shade’s colleagues Leffingwell and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez — both of whom had endorsed the incumbent — and campaign advisor Mark Nathan were not present early in the evening.


Shade addressed the crowd in philosophical, if somewhat defeated, tones. “We’ve gotten a lot of people involved who were not interested earlier, so I’m really proud of that,” she said. “I can’t thank my supporters; friends; my wonderful partner, Kayla; my family (enough) – I’m thrilled.


Lynda Rife, who took charge of Shade’s campaign for the runoff, was more direct. “This was a hard one,” she said. “I came on the campaign five weeks ago. We were at 33 percent; we’re at, you know, much higher than that now … it’s a hard-fought race.” Mark Nathan, who serves as Leffingwell’s chief of staff, worked as a consultant during his off hours during the May campaign but seemed to withdraw from the runoff.


Rife dished out kudos to Shade and her campaign staff and turned to the result. “It’s up to Austin what they want for their city government and we need to honor that,” she said.


The Shade campaign put a lot of effort into turning out voters who did not participate in the May 14 election. And Tovo political consultant David Butts said that motivated his side. “We saw they were doing something. . . and we started trying to make sure we produced some new voters,” he said. The end result was an increase in turnout from 7.27 percent in May to 9.58 percent in June.


Tovo’s celebration took place at Scholz Garten. Council Members Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole joined an excited crowd that included Save Our Springs Executive Director Bill Bunch, activist Brian Rogers, and a host of familiar faces from the Hyde Park neighborhood. Aides from Council Member Laura Morrison’s office were also present. Morrison herself was in Cleveland to attend a memorial service for her late father.


Tovo’s campaign team included campaign manager Mark Yznaga, deputy manager Jim Wick and veteran consultant David Butts, who has helped elect every current Council Member except Shade.


“We were probably outspent about three-to-one,” Butts told In Fact Daily. “The Real Estate Council poured a lot of money into a get-out-the-vote effort that did produce some results for them and made (Shade) more competitive in this runoff than she was going to be.”


Butts gave credit to the campaign’s message, particularly Tovo’s opposition to the proposed Austin Formula 1 track. “(It) was a very powerful, resonating message throughout the community,” he said. “(It) represents the general resistance to the idea of subsidizing private efforts of very wealthy interests who somehow think they’re entitled to public money.”


Butts said that Tovo’s campaign had a hand in pushing a deal with Formula 1 supporters toward provisions that would keep city money out of any agreement. “I think, first of all, the City Council members began to sense, not just because of the campaign but from people’s communications to them that there’s a general restiveness to the idea of spending that kind of money when we’re having to cut services,” he said.


Spelman pushed hard behind the scenes to get F1 investors to commit—as they did on Thursday—to funding the city’s portion of investment in the project.


When Tovo took the podium just after 9pm Saturday, she thanked Shade and her own supporters, staff, and family, and continued on to hit the key notes from her campaign.


“This is a very powerful message and a very powerful coalition that we’ve built, and I hope you’ll stick by my side and really help me make the changes that we need here at City Hall,” she said to cheers.


Tovo is set to formally take her seat on June 28. However, Council appears ready to act on the Formula 1 project this Thursday.

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