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District 1 runoff: Mariana Salazar and Natasha Harper-Madison

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 by Jack Craver

With less than a percentage point separating them, Natasha Harper-Madison and Mariana Salazar will advance to a December runoff election for East Austin’s District 1 seat.

In the end, Salazar had 5,673 votes (or 26.01 percent), with Harper-Madison behind at 5,469 (25.07 percent).

“I’m feeling grateful and empowered,” said Salazar at her election watch party. “I was the underdog in the race. The Austin Chronicle endorsed other people, and not only did they endorse other people, they forgot to even mention me.”

Salazar raised significantly less money than the other two top contenders, Harper-Madison and Vincent Harding, who finished a close third with 5,057 votes (23.18 percent). As of a week before the election, Harding had raised roughly $80,000, Harper-Madison had raised $31,000 and Salazar raised just under $17,000.

Salazar said the campaign succeeded due to dedicated volunteers and hard work. “We don’t have any paid staff. These are my block-walking shoes,” she added, displaying the worn-down soles of her sneakers.

Harper-Madison was thrilled with the results. “I am so pumped,” she said. “I stand right here ready and willing to do this work, and if I get so fortunate to have the city of Austin and District 1 choose me, I cannot wait to engage in doing this work. And I want to do this collective work to make this district the best it can be and the city the best it can be.”

The success of the campaign, she said, served as a reminder “to never slow down and to never not be my full self, to never not be my exuberant, ridiculous self.”

Harding was considered an early front-runner because of his strong fundraising and support from influential leaders in the community, notably current District 1 Council Member Ora Houston, who chose not to run for re-election.

Speaking to the Monitor early in the evening, Harding said that he felt good about the effort regardless of the outcome. “I feel pretty good. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and made phone calls, and now it’s up to the city of Austin to decide. The only campaign promise I made was to do the right thing,” he said.

In distant fourth place was Lewis Conway Jr., at 11.45 percent. Conway ran on an avowedly socialist platform and received the backing of the Austin Democratic Socialists of America. Conway, who has long been involved in criminal justice reform advocacy and emphasized the issue in his Council campaign, spent eight years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

Conway said that the campaign connected with people who had traditionally felt excluded from the process. “We’re giving folks a voice,” he said.

Mitrah Avini and Reedy Spigner finished in fifth and sixth place, respectively. Avini got 9.4 percent of the vote and Spigner got 4.9 percent. Neither could be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Harper-Madison and Salazar hold very similar positions on the issues. Both are progressives who emphasize the need for increased housing and believe that greater urban density is an important strategy to increase affordability and facilitate public transit. In this they contrast strongly with the Council member they are vying to replace.

Photo of Harper-Madison’s election party by Alyx Wilson. Additional reporting by Alyx Wilson.

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