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Renteria bests sister Almanza again

Wednesday, December 12, 2018 by Jack Craver

Council Member Pio Renteria held on to his seat the same way he won it four years ago: by beating his sister.

The incumbent representative of District 3, which covers much of Central East and Southeast Austin, easily won re-election in a runoff against sibling Susana Almanza, earning roughly 65 percent of the vote.

Talking to reporters at his election party at Cisco’s on East Sixth Street, Renteria expressed great optimism about the direction of city politics. The victories of Natasha Harper-Madison in District 1 and Paige Ellis in District 8 means that there will be two more members of Council whose positions on housing, transportation and other major political issues likely align with Renteria’s.

“I think we’re going to have a very progressive Council,” he said.

Similar to their race four years ago, the contest between Renteria and Almanza largely centered on their different approaches to development. Renteria has been an outspoken supporter of allowing more housing of all types. In addition to enthusiastically backing the $250 million housing bond to fund subsidized housing for low-income residents, Renteria says the city needs to encourage more market-rate housing.

Almanza, on the other hand, views new development in East Austin as a problem that drives gentrification and displacement. She accused Renteria of serving the interests of developers at the expense of East Austin residents who are increasingly being priced out of their neighborhoods.

Renteria’s campaign far outraised Almanza’s. As of a week before the runoff, Renteria had raised roughly $195,000, compared to about $36,000 for Almanza.

The Austin Board of Realtors and the Center for Austin’s Future, a consortium of business and political leaders aimed at promoting business-friendly policies and denser development, also spent significantly on behalf of Renteria.

Meanwhile, a new political action committee funded by a handful of anti-CodeNEXT activists sent out a mailer depicting Renteria as a puppet of real estate interests.

Renteria’s campaign also went negative, sending out a mailer attacking Almanza for her ties to Southwest Key, the nonprofit that runs shelters for immigrant youth and has been criticized for accepting children separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

Almanza’s election gathering was a low-key affair with fewer than a dozen supporters at the headquarters of her longtime nonprofit, PODER. Almanza took the bleak early vote results in stride, telling the Monitor that she didn’t view the results as a loss. Rather, she said, pointing to a bulletin board with the names of people who had volunteered to canvass for the campaign, the support she received from different members of the community “who want to see a change” was a “huge victory.”

Almanza also pointed to the huge fundraising advantage Renteria enjoyed, along with his support from the mayor and other Council members. She, in contrast, had a lot of “people power.”

“Now I got new people who have never been involved … who I now can count on to move forward and make sure that we set Council Member Renteria on a direction that represents people interests and not developer interests,” she said. “Because that was the main message – that Council Member Renteria was catering to developer interests. And I think he heard that loud and clear.”

Yet, in his comments at Cisco’s, Renteria was adamant about pursuing a new code that will allow greater density, particularly along transit corridors.

“We need to put more density there in order to make our transit system work,” he said. “And also to get more affordable units.”

Renteria said he didn’t expect to receive a concession call from Almanza. “I was hoping she wouldn’t run,” he said, later adding: “It’s very hard to run against your sister.”

Photo by Jack Craver.

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