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Natasha Harper-Madison easily prevails in District 1

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 by Jack Craver

After finishing in a virtual tie in the general election, Natasha Harper-Madison easily defeated Mariana Salazar to become the next Council member for District 1 in East and Northeast Austin.

Harper-Madison carried the low-turnout runoff election 72 percent to 28 percent, with 3,404 votes to Salazar’s 1,341.

In a barroom packed with supporters at the Skylark Lounge on Airport Boulevard, Harper-Madison said she was excited to get to work engaging more of the community in City Hall affairs.

“It’s a pretty exclusive party right now,” she said, referring to city politics.

Another top priority will be spending the $250 million housing bond voters approved last month as “effectively and efficiently” as possible. Producing an impact quickly is also important: “People need to see results.”

Harper-Madison also plans to be active in guiding Project Connect, Capital Metro’s initiative to develop high-capacity public transit.

Shortly after the early vote results made clear the result of the election, an emotional Salazar addressed supporters at her election party at Batch on Manor Road, calling the nine-month campaign an “amazing journey.”

Although she was not ready to formally concede at that moment, Salazar said, “regardless of what happens, I’m here to stay” active in the community.

The two candidates did not differ significantly on any major issues. Both emphasized support for increasing affordable housing, public transit, social services and environmental protection. Both also believe that allowing more market-rate housing to be built – particularly multifamily housing – is key to making the city more affordable, a sharp departure from the anti-growth politics championed by retiring District 1 Council Member Ora Houston.

Both candidates also began the race as underdogs. Vincent Harding, who was backed by Houston and raised substantially more money, finished in third place in the general election.

However, there was one key distinction between the candidates that mattered in the eyes of many observers: Harper-Madison is black and Salazar is Latina.

Although Latinos are the largest demographic group in District 1, no other district has nearly as many African-Americans. If Harper-Madison didn’t win, Council for the first time in decades wouldn’t have a black member, a prospect many in city politics deemed unacceptable.

In a statement endorsing Harper-Madison last month, Council Member Delia Garza, the first Latina ever elected to Council, said that the district “was specifically created to give our African-American community the opportunity to choose who represented them.”

The candidates also come from very different backgrounds. Harper-Madison grew up in East Austin and has been involved in advocacy for local small businesses, most recently as president of the East 12th Street Merchants Association. Salazar immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela as a teenager, attended college and has worked in a variety of positions related to housing and social services in the nonprofit and public sector, most recently for the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.

Despite her deep roots in East Austin, Harper-Madison had to fend off questions about whether she lived in the district she was seeking to represent. Her campaign finance reports repeatedly listed an address in Northwest Austin, far outside the district. Harper-Madison later corrected the reports and explained it was the address where her husband and children live, but that she had been living in the district since 2016.

In the last week of the campaign, Austin Equity, a political action committee linked to AFSCME 1624, a union that represents city and county employees, sent out a mailer attacking Harper-Madison, accusing her of being “backed by downtown real estate interests who want to redevelop East Austin.” Oddly, the mailer also touted Salazar, whose development positions largely mirror Harper-Madison’s. The group making the attacks received two substantial contributions from developers in the days before sending the mailer.

A week before the runoff, Harper-Madison had raised about $72,000 compared to Salazar’s $39,000.

Photo courtesy of Natasha for District 1.

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