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Election roundup for City Council Districts 1-5

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 by Austin Monitor

Though they handed a transportation package that included money for an urban rail system a resounding defeat Tuesday, Austinities left a lot more unsettled when it comes to City Council District races. In all, voters will return to decide as many as nine runoff elections on Dec. 16, including those in every District aside from 2 and 5.

Here is the Austin Monitor’s lengthy, two-part rundown of what transpired last night.

District 1 race pits Houston, Lofton in runoff

Though for a while, it looked as if Ora Houston would win the District 1 race outright, she will be in a runoff with DeWayne Lofton.

Late reports showed Houston with 49.12 percent of the vote, which meant she will meet Lofton, who earned 14.41 percent of the vote, on Dec. 16.

Houston was the presumed front-runner during the race, earning the most endorsements and raising $73,480 in contributions. Houston’s endorsements included AFSCME, the Austin American Statesman, ABoR, the Austin Chronicle, the Austin Neighborhoods Council, Austin Regional Sierra Club, Black Austin Democrats, Clean Water Action and Stonewall Democrats of Austin.

Houston is a longtime community activist who retired after working 27 years for the former Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. After retirement, Houston worked for State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. She also served on the Citizens Advisory Task Force for the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the collaborative Council of the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families, is vice chair of the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Planning Team, and part of the Disproportionality Committee of Family and Protective Services.

Lofton is president of the Pecan Springs-Springdale Hills Neighborhood Association, a risk manager for the Texas Association of School Boards, a reserve senior deputy with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office and president of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Officer Association. Lofton raised $23,155 and loaning his campaign $10,000. Lofton also earned endorsements from Bike Austin, Burnt Orange Report, and the Real Estate Council of Austin.

District One extends from past SH 130 in far East Austin to the center of the city. It includes Colony Park, portions of Windsor Park, and heads north to pick up regions along both sides of Dessau Road. Roughly 30 percent of its population is African-American. That’s enough to make it the city’s only African-American Opportunity District.

(This story was written by Elizabeth Pagano)

Garza takes District 2 Council seat in landslide

In a crazy, overstuffed City Council election, District 2 provided one of the only sure things this November. Almost everyone predicted that Delia Garza would be one the few candidates to win outright and not be subject to a runoff this December.

The predictions proved correct and Garza, who walked away with almost every major endorsement, had the biggest lead in early voting results at almost 66 percent. Garza was thankful that the single member district system allowed her to campaign without quitting her job in April to concentrate on a run.

“I think that’s the big difference. You are going to have normal, middle-class people representing other normal, middle-class people,” said Garza.

Garza said she was looking forward to tackling affordability, and creating an affordability committee as one of the first things she wanted to accomplish.

“If I could accomplish one thing in office it would be that not another single working family is forced out of Austin because they can’t afford to live here any more,” said Garza. “Obviously, we aren’t going to solve it, but we can start working on it.”

Garza will be the first Latina City Council member. She said she was humbled by that and excited that young Latinas will be able to see “leaders that look like them.”

Garza is an Assistant Attorney General and former Austin firefighter. In all, she raised $46,962 and loaned her campaign $5,025.

Though there was little trace of her opponents on the campaign trail, 42-year old John Sheppard attracted some attention late into the race when the Austin Board of Realtors spent about $10,000 on a mailer for his campaign. Sheppard is a real estate agent and owner of AustinHomeSource. He had just over 10 percent of the vote. Ed Reyes, the Dove Springs Neighborhood Association president, earned about 16 percent.

District Two picks up the far southeastern portions of the city. It covers Dove Springs, Onion Creek, and Franklin Park. Residents here have been plagued by chronic flooding associated with the Onion Creek floodplain. Sixty-two percent of the district is Hispanic.

(This story was written by Elizabeth Pagano)

Siblings headed for runoff election in District 3

At long last, the dozen candidates in District 3 have been winnowed down. At midnight Tuesday, it looked like siblings Susana Almanza and Sabino “Pio” Renteria were headed for a runoff.  With Almanza at 21 percent and Renteria at 19 percent, the two were just over 200 votes apart.

“One thing that we are really celebrating is that, having 11 men challenging me, I still came out in first place,” said Almanza. “I think that in itself is historic.”

Almanza attributes her win to her relationship with the community and being involved with the city’s boards and commissions

“I think all of that involvement, and community engagement, is really what kept me at number one,” said Almanza.

Renteria said being in the runoff was “one of the most exciting moments he’d ever had.”

“We decided that we were going to run a grassroots campaign, and we did it. We beat the big money,” said Renteria, who plans to continue the grassroots campaign in the runoff in the same manner, though he might reach out to some of his former opponents for support.

“I’ve always believed that walking and talking to people is the most important thing,” said Renteria.

Renteria raised $5,734 and loaned his campaign $1,000.

Renteria is a community activist, vice-chair of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Association and a retired computer tech. Renteria earned the most endorsements in District 3. His endorsements include AFSCME Local 1624, Austin Central Labor Council. Burnt Orange Report, Central Austin Democrats, Stonewall Democrats of Austin and Travis County Asian American Democrats.

In this election cycle, Almanza raised a total of $16,195 and earned endorsements from the Austin Regional Sierra Club and Better Austin Today PAC.

Almanza is a founding member and co-director of People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, better known as PODER. She has served on the Parks and Recreation Board, and was previously a member of the Environmental Board, the Planning Commission and the Charter Review Committee, among others. She is president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association and chair of the Montopolis Neighborhood Planning Contact Team.

Despite being a latecomer to the race, Jose Valera raised $22,879 and loaned his campaign $10,025. In the end, he came in third with 16.5 percent of the vote.

Valera is the third generation to own the Tamale House in Austin. Congressman Lloyd Doggett appointed him to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served in Iraq in 2003. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Vallera went on to practice intellectual property law.

Valera earned endorsements from ATCEMS PAC, ABoR, Austin Firefighters Association PAC, and split a Bike Austin endorsement with Renteria.

Mario Cantu, who was endorsed by the Austin Neighborhoods Council earned tkvote. Fred McGhee, who was endorsed by the Black Austin Democrats and the Network of Asian American Organizations PAC earned just under ten percent. Eric J. Rangel, who was endorsed by the Austin American Statesman, earned 6.4 percent.

District Three sits squarely between Districts One and Two in East Austin. It picks up the Montopolis and East Riverside neighborhoods before turning south to include a small portion of south-central Austin. Fifty-five percent of the district is Hispanic.

(This story was written by Elizabeth Pagano)

Casar to face Pressley in District 4 runoff vote

Greg Casar and Laura Pressley will vie in a runoff for the District 4 City Council seat. Casar won 38.6 percent of the votes while Pressley polled 21.5 percent. Six other candidates were in the race.

This election was the setting for one of the most contentious races for City Council. Though Casar and Pressley were seen as the front-runners for the majority of the election, things changed slightly for Pressley after her earlier Council run and unconventional beliefs were the topic of several news reports. The backlash was enough to cause the Austin-American Statesman to rescind its endorsement — after early voting had already concluded.

Though the dust has yet to settle on all of that. “I think that, at least the early voting results prove, that folks are ready for something fresh and new and energetic and idealistic,” Casar said.

Moving forward to the runoff, Casar said he would continue to personally meet with voters and discuss the importance of the election. He said in-person communication with voters is especially critical in District 4, which is traditionally the area of Austin with the lowest voter turnout.

“We knew in this district to not just talk about a policy message, but to also show that I care enough to communicate with you personally because we have lots of folks who don’t know what City Council does,” he said. “That was going to take more than a glossy mailer or radio ad. That was going to take someone having a real life conversation. And that’s what we plan on doing not just in the runoff, but hopefully after I’m elected.”

Pressley said while she hoped to win the election outright, she was satisfied with a runoff. She said she found the rail bond election to be the biggest concern among District 4 voters.

“People were scared of how it would impact property taxes,” she said. “City Hall needs to hear it that people are scared, and they won’t take it anymore.”

Pressley said she expected the runoff election to focus on experience, which she believe makes her the best candidate.

“I’ve been here (in Austin) 26 years. I have experience in technology, neighborhood zoning, cutting subsidies, all of it,” she said. “I think that’s what it’s all going to boil down to.”

Casar was the clear leader in fundraising and endorsements. In the end, Cesar raised $98,636.37 for his campaign and loaned it $5,025. In comparison, Pressley raised $55,752.26 and loaned her campaign $22,000. Katrina Daniel raised $67,571.02

Cesar previously worked as a community organizer with Workers Defense Project. He earned the most endorsements in District 4, including the Austin Chronicle, AFSCME Local 1624, ABoR, Austin Environmental Democrats, Austin Regional Sierra Club, Bike Austin, Capital Tejano Democrats, Clean Water Action, and Workers Defense Action Fund.

Pressley earned (and kept) endorsements from the Austin Neighborhoods Council and split an endorsement from the Better Austin Today PAC with Casar. Pressley, 51, holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and worked in the semiconductor industry before co-founding Pure Rain Purified Rain Water. The 26-year Austin resident is the current president of the Windsor Hills Neighborhood Association and an executive committee member of the Austin Neighborhoods Council. She ran for City Council in 2012, against Mike Martinez.

Katrina Daniel, who did not make the runoff, earned endorsements from ATCEMS PAC, the Austin Police Association PAC and split an endorsement from the Stonewall Democrats of Austin with Casar.

Daniel, 45, is a senior associate commissioner at the Texas Department of Insurance, vice-chair of the Central Health Board of Managers. She is also the former president of the Highland Neighborhood Association, and currently is on the Airport Boulevard Redesign Advisory Committee and the Highland Campus Advisory Committee for Austin Community College expansion.

District Four is the smallest of the 10 new districts. It includes a section of Windsor Park, the Crestview neighborhood, and extends north to pick up portions of the Parmer Lane region. Seventy-three percent of the population is white., Windsor Hills, and the Rundberg area. It is 59 percent hispanic.

(This original version of this story erroneously included demographic data from District 7. It has been updated to correct that issue.)
(This story was written by Elizabeth Pagano and Gene Davis)

Kitchen wins District 5 outright

In District 5, Ann Kitchen has a clear lead in late evening returns, with about 54 percent. Her nearest opponent is Mike Rodriguez, with about 23 percent.

At her election night party at Red’s Porch on South Lamar, Kitchen was careful not to jump to conclusions. “The final returns are not in yet, but we’re very optimistic that this will indicate that we’ve won without a runoff,” she said.

As far as issues that she would tackle if elected, Kitchen said that “affordability is front and center.”

“We have to make sure that people can live here,” Kitchen said. “That means their property taxes, their utility fees, all the things that it costs someone to live. We have a responsibility to people that live in Austin and to our city to make sure that it remains affordable.”

Kitchen added that traffic is another key issue that is associated with affordability. “The cost of transportation to people is a major part of what it costs them to live here.”

Kitchen said that she’s excited about the opportunity that she will likely have to specifically represent south Austin at City Council. “With the new 10-1 districts, this is an amazing change for the city,” she said. “It gives us the opportunity to bring all parts of the city together.”

According to Kitchen’s campaign finance reports, she has raised about $100,000 and loaned her campaign more than $38,000. She reported that she had a little more than $13,000 as of October 25.

Rodriguez reported raising less than less than $14,000 and had an outstanding loan of $10,000 to himself as of the last report.

Kitchen has lived in Austin since she came to the University of Texas in 1973 and in South Austin for the past 20 years. Although she is an attorney, most of her recent work has been as a health care consultant.

A Democrat, she represented southwest Austin from 2000 to 2002 as a member of the Texas House, where she helped pass legislation related to women’s health care and abortion as well as privacy of medical records.

Rodriguez has lived in Austin for the past 20 years, having moved here after retiring from the Air Force as a colonel. He reports that after moving to Austin he went on to become a financial adviser and stockbroker. He has twice served as the commander of the American Legion post in South Austin and is a former president of the South Austin Civic Club. He lives in Onion Creek in the southern part of District 5.

District 5 is built along South Lamar Boulevard, and includes neighborhoods like Zilker, Barton Hills and Westgate, then past Ben White Boulevard and along Westgate Boulevard. Even further south, it takes a right turn and picks up the South Park area on the far south edge of town and goes east across I-35 to the Onion Creek Country Club area.

(This story was written by Jo Clifton and Tyler Whitson)

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