Natasha Harper-Madison’s Dec. 11 landslide victory over Mariana Salazar means a four-year Austin City Council term for the political newcomer and secures continued African-American representation on the 11-member dais.
With 72 percent of votes after the early voting totals came Tuesday night, the writing on the wall spelt victory for community activist Harper-Madison over her opponent Salazar, who has worked in various levels of government on homelessness and affordable housing. The two finalists for the District 1 job were neck-and-neck as the top vote-getters in the Nov. 6 general election, separated by less than a point; however, Harper-Madison got more people to the polls in the December runoff.
“I talk about [my dreams for District 1]all day, to actually be put in a position where I would get the opportunity to affect change, I’m emotional about it, frankly,” Harper-Madison said. “I try to keep my emotions to myself, but I feel like a million dollars.”
Although the general election touted a 56.3 percent turnout in District 1, the runoff expectedly produced substantially lower numbers, as only 9 percent of registered voters made it out to cast a vote between Nov. 29 and Dec. 7 and election day Dec. 11.
Harper-Madison, a black woman, and Salazar, a Venezuelan immigrant, campaigned on similar platforms— prioritizing policies that would produce more affordable housing and transit solutions for residents of the district. However, a major question in the runoff was not ideology but demographics in the majority-minority East Austin district.
Although Austin’s population has rapidly grown over the years, the city’s African-American population has declined. East side community leaders expressed concern over the possibility of a City Council with no African-American voice, especially after current District 1 Council Member Ora Houston, the lone African-American on the dais, chose to not seek reelection.
Harper-Madison said having African-American representation on council meant a lot to her.
“I very suddenly felt responsible after hearing people say, ‘There will be zero black representation on the city council for the eleventh largest city in the nation, you are our last hope,’” Harper-Madison said. “I’m not entitled to this seat because I’m an African-American woman. I deserve this position because I know Austin, and that was the highlight for me.”
Salazar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Harper-Madison will officially take her seat as District 1 City Council Member at the Jan. 7 inauguration.