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New Council set; Gallo, Troxclair, Zimmerman all in

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 by Austin Monitor

All the players in the new 10-1 Austin City Council are finally in place after Tuesday’s runoff elections. There is a lot that is remarkable about the city’s first Council elected from single-member districts.

For starters, 10 of the 11 members are holding a city office for the first time, with only one returning member from the previous Council.  There are three Republicans elected to the new Council. There are three Hispanics and one African-American elected from districts drawn to provide opportunities for minority candidates. There was even a brother winning out over his sister for a Council seat.

The Austin Monitor staff has coverage of Tuesday’s runoff elections for Council seats below. You can find coverage of the mayor’s race here.

District 1: Houston wins by large margin

In one of the least-surprising outcomes Tuesday night, Ora Houston won the District 1 City Council seat in a landslide.

Houston nearly avoided a runoff on Nov. 5, when she collected just over 49 percent of the vote. Still, opponent DeWayne Lofton pushed his case. He was not successful.

Instead, Houston won with more than 73 percent of the vote.

Though Houston has been officially campaigning since May, this morning she will be on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Chestnut Avenue, holding a sign that says “Thank You.”

And, after some well-earned sleep, Houston says the first thing she is going to do is develop relationships with her fellow Council members and the mayor.

“I think that sets the tone for how we work together, and how we work with the community,” said Houston. “I would also like to take a bus tour of everybody’s district and have them point out what their three challenges are and what their three opportunities are so we know what those things are going in.”

On a more practical note, Houston is also looking forward to orientation and learning the ins and outs of what goes on at City Hall behind the scenes, how it works and how to “interrupt that so it doesn’t always work the same way it (has).”

“We cannot do business as usual. We have to start doing things differently,” said Houston, who hopes one of the first things the new Council will do is roll back the last salary increase that Council members approved for themselves.

Lofton told the Monitor that he was glad he went into the runoff, though he said he “was expecting much different results.”

“Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way that we had hoped,” said Lofton.

Lofton said that when he spoke with Houston on Tuesday evening, and, although they have different ideas, they also have a lot in common.

“We agreed to meet sometime next month and talk about those issues, talk about our differences, and see how we can work together to make sure District 1 is represented very well,” said Lofton.

District 1 was etched out as the only African-American opportunity district in Austin when the maps were drawn for the new 10-1 system. Just under 30 percent of the district is African-American.

It stretches from beyond SH130 to the far east, through the Colony Park neighborhood, portions of Windsor Park, and eventually west past the State Capitol. Its northern boundary reaches up IH-35 to roughly Yager Lane. It extends south, in some parts, to the Colorado River.

Elizabeth Pagano

District 3: Renteria over Almanza

More people ran for City Council there, fewer people voted there, and last night it was decided: Sabino “Pio” Renteria will be the new District 3 Council member. He defeated his sister, Susana Almanza, with 59.8 percent of the vote.

Renteria told the Montior that he would continue reaching out to the community and his fellow candidates, who provide input that he values. He said that, during the campaign, he learned a lot about his district.

“We’re all facing the same issues,” said Renteria. “It’s just that the areas closer to the inner city are facing it sooner.”

Renteria said that he wants to focus on healing the wounds in his neighborhood and helping residents who feel they have to move because they can’t afford to live there any longer.

As for Almanza, she assured the Monitor that she would be just fine.

“I’m pretty much a winner no matter what,” said Almanza. “It doesn’t matter one way or the other because I will continue doing the work that I’ve always done, and that’s work for justice, freedom and human rights … It will be no different whether I do it behind the dais or in front of the dais.”

“This was not about an election. This was about seeking justice for the community. That’s what this whole struggle was about,” said Almanza.

Almanza said the 10-1 election was a new beginning that allowed District 3 to engage in a way that never could have happened without it, bringing in grass roots participation and candidates who were singers, writers and community activists.

Before the runoff, District 3 had 12 candidates vying for a Council seat — the most of any district in Austin. It also had some of the lowest turnout with just 10,205 voters showing up to cast ballots in the November election. Last night, only 4,279 ballots were cast in the district.

District 3 holds a large section of what some consider to be the gentrifying portions of East Austin. It stretches from past US 183 in the east, across Airport Boulevard and Springdale Road, through the southern portion of the East Austin entertainment region. It ends at IH35. Its northern boundary runs along East 7th Street before it cuts north along Webberville Road and then east again along portions of Oak Springs Drive and Ledesma Road. Its southern boundary stretches to East Ben White Boulevard.

Much has been made, including by the national media, about the fact that Renteria and Almanza are siblings. During the campaign, Almanza took effort to insist that her brother ran against her, rather than she against her brother.

Demographically, the district is 55 percent Hispanic.

Elizabeth Pagano

District 4: Casar in over Pressley

The youngest candidate in the City Council race will represent residents of District 4. Greg Casar, 25, a community organizer, led the election on Nov. 4 with 39 percent of the vote. Casar scored a safe lead in the runoff race in early voting totals, and went on to win the majority vote for the North Austin district.

Dozens of supporters and campaign workers greeted Casar with applause as he entered a packed Taquerias Arandinas on Reinli Street. Casar said even before early voting totals were announced, “I felt like we had won no matter what.”

He said he’d just come from dinner with his mother and father, who traveled from Houston to be with him when the results were announced. He thanked his family and his supporters, saying he could not have won the race without their help.

“This is the first time this district has ever actually had a choice and a voice,” Casar said. “No matter what, we did something really incredible.”

He went on to say, “This campaign isn’t about me, it’s about an idea.” Elaborating after his speech, Casar said his campaign is based around the notion that every resident’s voice matters, regardless of income, influence or political experience.

He said his goal in office is to bring people together at the grass roots level and use community engagement to set policy for the city. That will allow the city to make progress on issues that have not been at the front lines of city politics, he said, such as creating housing for a broad range of incomes, keeping utilities affordable for the working class and creating work and education opportunities for all residents, including immigrants.

Casar said his first task in office will be to connect with stakeholders, community leaders and other Council members to set his ideas in motion.

Casar’s opponent, Laura Pressley, 51, opted for a more intimate gathering at Burger Tex on Airport Boulevard. Looking at early voting results, Pressley, who owns bottled-water company Pure Rain LLC, said she was still optimistic about the race.

Of her opponent, Pressley said, “Bottom line: Greg sold District 4 to special interests.” She said one needs only to look at Casar’s financial statements to see deals with developers and lobbyists.

“It’s on our website,” she said. Pressley nabbed 22 percent of the vote on Nov. 4.

Kara Nuzback

District 6: Staunch anti-tax crusader Zimmerman over Flannigan

In District 6, anti-tax activist Don Zimmerman defeated Jimmy Flannigan by a slim margin in a particularly heated Council race.

The final totals put Zimmerman with 4,010 votes and Flannigan with 3,821 votes, about a 2 percent margin.

After declaring victory, Zimmerman thanked friends and supporters for their help on the campaign. When the Monitor asked Zimmerman about his future priorities as a Council member, he said he planned to take the night to visit with his friends and supporters and answer the question at a future date.

Meanwhile, Flannigan said that, regardless of the election result’s outcome, campaigning for the Council seat turned out to be “the time of my life.”

“I’m thankful to know that there is more community out here than even we thought, that we have so much in common, and so much good work yet to be done,” he said. “I don’t look forward to a universe where that work tries to get done by my opponent.”

Zimmerman ran for Texas state representative in 2006 and tax assessor collector in 2008, and was a vocal participant in an illegal taxation lawsuit against the City of Austin during his tenure as Northwest Austin MUD #1 president. During his campaign for Austin City Council he promised to eliminate the Austin Economic Development Department, fire the city manager and overhaul city departments to make the government more accountable to voters.

District 6 consists of the bulk of far northwest Austin. It stretches as far east as the MoPac/SH45 interchange, back west along SH45 and RM620, and all the way out to precincts in Williamson County. It extends as far west as Lake Travis and south to pick up regions around the River Place subdivisions. The district is 76 percent Anglo.

Gene Davis

District 7: Pool beats Boyt

In a relatively short runoff election night — compared to November’s election, which burned the late-night oil — Jeb Boyt conceded the District 7 City Council seat to Leslie Pool just before 9 p.m. after the second round of unofficial returns. In the final tally Pool had 66.23 percent; Boyt had 33.77 percent.

Pool’s campaign team members and volunteers celebrated at the La Mancha Tex-Mex restaurant with margaritas, strawberry daiquiris and a chocolate iced cake proclaiming, “Yea, Leslie! District 7 Champion!” Earlier in the night, Sheryl Cole, Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison stopped by to show their support, as did a group of firefighters.

“I’m feeling really good about it. I’m so thankful to my team and to the voters and to my opponents who brought really good stuff to the campaign,” said Pool, who clarified that by “stuff” she meant policy, and “things that mattered to the voters.”

Pool has some immediate plans — she said she was texting with her daughter in New York earlier right after the early returns came in, and noted that her daughter planned to fly in for the inauguration. Last night, she was still enjoying her victory.

“I know over time in the next couple of days, things will kind of settle in, and I’ll have a better sense of everything,” said Pool. “I’m just enjoying this right now.”

Boyt said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

“I wish the new Council luck. It’s going to be a challenging Council it looks like, and the city’s got a lot of tough challenges ahead of them,” said Boyt.

He says he’s going to figure out what’s next. “I’m looking for work,” he said with a chuckle.

In November, Pool pulled in just over 32 percent of the vote, and Boyt earned just under 17 percent for the north-central district.

District 7 is a white-majority district, at 57.6 percent. The district includes Crestview, Allandale and Brentwood neighborhoods in the south, and the Gracywoods, Milwood and Preston Oaks neighborhoods in the north, and also includes the Domain and Gateway commercial developments.

Beth Cortez-Neavel

District 8: Troxclair narrowly beats Scruggs

In what turned out to be the closest Council race, Ellen Troxclair won District 8 with 50.23 percent of the vote, coming out less than half of a percentage point ahead of Ed Scruggs, who had 49.77 percent.

At her election party at Santa Rita on Slaughter Lane, Troxclair was optimistic, yet cautious. “I’m looking forward to hopefully being the new City Council person for southwest Austin,” she said.

Troxclair said she would pursue her campaign platform of “bringing a voice to taxpayers.  My priorities are going to be immediately reducing property taxes, taking a hard look at the budget and making sure that we’re getting a great return on the investment that we’re spending.” She added that she plans to build relationships with other Council members.

As for District 8, Troxclair said the area faces “some unique challenges.” She said that the district has the highest rate of homeownership and thus pays a large portion of the city’s property taxes. She added that it is one of the fastest-growing districts and also one of the biggest commuter districts, a combination that has contributed to serious transportation needs that should be addressed with improved infrastructure.

Affordability, Troxclair added, is another major issue. “People want to be able to afford to live in Austin — they’ve built great lives with their families down here,” she said. “They’re lucky to have great schools and wonderful parks and all of those things, but at some point it’s getting unaffordable, and our quality of life is being threatened because of that.”

Scruggs, at his election party at Chuy’s on West William Cannon Drive, said he was not surprised about the closeness of the voting results, but remained optimistic.

“This campaign has had a lot of partisan noise back and forth, but the issues we face are not really that partisan,” Scruggs said. “My objective would be to bring neighborhood representation throughout the district to recognize the differences between individual neighborhoods.”

As far as citywide issues, Scruggs cited reforming the system of government and the way that Council runs meetings as well as focusing on budgeting and affordability. He said that he supports phasing in a 20 percent homestead tax exemption, and that Council needs to “start talking about that right away.”

In District 8, Scruggs said that “affordability and property taxes are a huge issue, and of course transportation as well.” He said that MoPac traffic is spilling into neighborhood streets and causing safety issues for residents, and that certain neighborhoods are facing risks of possible flooding and increased runoff from development upstream.

“Things are moving and changing too fast and I think there’s a risk, unless we’re prepared for that and ready to handle it,” Scruggs concluded.

Tyler Whitson

District 10: Gallo over Dealey amid relatively strong turnout

Sheri Gallo, Council member-elect for District 10, won her race against Mandy Dealey with close to 55 percent of the vote. District 10, which includes much of central West Austin and far West Austin, generated 16,296 votes. The next highest voting district, District 8, generated 12,401 votes in this runoff election.

Gallo, who was celebrating Tuesday night, told the Monitor she was very excited about her new role and her new colleagues.

“I think the fact that we have diverse districts, diverse geographically, diverse economics and … really intelligent, really bright people to try to figure out all the issues,” she said. “I think we’re going to go back to paying attention to the neighborhoods, to spending money to make things better.”

Among the list of neighborhood items she wants to see improved, Gallo listed parks, libraries, sidewalks and infrastructure. “I think all of us are going to be very focused on making our neighborhoods as good as possible,” she concluded.

The race between Dealey and Gallo was remarkable for its civility, with each candidate referring to the other as “nice.” Gallo is a Republican and Dealey a Democrat.

Gallo  is a real estate agent who touted her business background as an asset for the Council. She also had the support of former Mayors Bruce Todd, Lee Cooke and Ron Mullen, as well as her father, Edgar Perry, a former Austin mayor pro tem.

Dealey, on the other hand, who has served on six different city boards and commissions over a period of 19 years, believed that her experience would be an asset and might sway voters to vote for her.

Early voting was significantly higher in District 10 than in other runoff districts. The total early votes in this district was 10,464. That is 2,000 votes higher than the numbers in District 8, where 8,478 people voted early.

Gallo styled her opponent as a City Hall insider, even though Dealey has never held public office. In so doing, Gallo emphasized her opposition to the recent badly beaten proposition for urban rail, which Dealey supported. While pointing at Dealey, however, Gallo then showed herself with three former mayors — Cooke, Mullen and Todd.

Gallo will be one of three Republicans to serve on the new 10-1 Council, along with Don Zimmerman in District 6 and Ellen Troxclair in District 8.

Jo Clifton

This post was updated at 7:01 to address minor grammatical issues.

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