Austinites will pick their next mayor and City Council members in three open districts in December runoff elections, while two council incumbents won their re-election bids Nov. 8.
With hefty fundraising totals and one term at City Hall under their belts, District 1’s Natasha Harper-Madison and District 8’s Paige Ellis each fended off three challengers to secure their re-elections. Harper-Madison won 12,731 votes, more than 53% of her district’s total, and Ellis earned 20,433 votes for a 57.77% share.
Austin’s remaining contests will be decided in runoffs Dec. 13, and all winners will be sworn in Jan. 6. A runoff election is called when no candidate passes 50% of the vote in the general election.
Austinites who missed casting a ballot in the general election have until Nov. 14 to register to vote in the runoff. Early voting for the remaining races will run Dec. 1-9.
Mayoral finalists face off
In the mayor’s race, Austinites will make a final choice between two established Democrats with state legislative experience. State Rep. Celia Israel secured her place in the runoff after leading the general election with 121,862 votes, just under 40% of the total across Travis, Hays and Williamson counties. Former Mayor and state Sen. Kirk Watson placed second with 106,508 votes, or 34.95%.
Israel was joined by supporters and local politicians on election night for a rainy campaign party at Lustre Pearl East, called out Austin’s “good ol' boys” and appealed to Austin’s working class in a speech after early results showed her in the lead. Israel said she was excited about the outcome and that she plans to change "absolutely nothing" about the campaign she ran this year in the five weeks ahead of the runoff.
"We have the bold and the visionary policies that will resonate with this electorate one more time. And I wish we could have won outright, but we will take our winning message that has resonated tonight and take it back out to the electorate and bring this election home," Israel told Community Impact.
At his downtown watch party at Speakeasy on Nov. 8, Watson also drew a crowd of allies and elected officials to celebrate his campaign moving forward. The former mayor said he was not surprised to see the contest head to a one-on-one matchup and that he welcomes the opportunity to continue his campaign to get things done at City Hall.
“I’m excited about the level of enthusiasm that I see from my supporters,” Watson told Community Impact. “I always anticipated there was a good likelihood of being in a runoff, so there’s nothing surprising. Candidly, it’s an exciting opportunity to have another five weeks to communicate with voters.”
With 18.44% of the vote, Jennifer Virden finished in third place and fell short of the runoff. While Virden ran as a conservative alternative to the two liberal frontrunners and Austin’s current council, a key element of the runoff could be how many of Austin's more than 56,000 Virden votes Israel and Watson can draw.
Mayoral candidates Phil Campero Brual, Anthony Bradshaw and Gary S. Spellman all finished below 3% on election night with between 5,781-7,295 votes each.
In Travis County, where most Austin voters reside, county clerk data showed support for Watson and Israel was clearly split along geographic lines. Watson largely carried voting precincts west of MoPac, while Israel’s wins came throughout Central and East Austin.
Open-seat races undecided
City Council districts 3, 5 and 9 will all see their term-limited council members depart next year, and voters did not select new representatives outright Nov. 8 Runoffs are now needed to decide all three contests with the districts’ six- and eight-person general election fields narrowed down to two finalists.
In District 3 on the east side, Council Member Pio Renteria will be succeeded by either José Velásquez or Daniela Silva. The pair finished well ahead of their competition on election night and were separated by 422 votes, or 2% of the total.
Velásquez, a marketing consultant with experience in community organizing and housing advocacy, earned more than 36% of the district’s vote. He did not return requests for comment following the election.
Silva finished with more than 34% of the general election vote, reaching the runoff after a campaign centered on issues including housing and equity.
“We’re grateful to everyone who participated in democracy by voting and volunteering in this election and are feeling strong and optimistic about the future. This outcome was expected, and we’re prepared to turn out the vote and earn more support in the runoff for our grassroots, people-powered campaign,” Silva said in a statement.
South Austin’s District 5 will choose between attorney Ryan Alter and crisis adviser Stephanie Bazan in the local runoff after finishing 1,666 votes apart on election night.
The winner will mark a new direction in the district's representation with two-term Council Member Ann Kitchen leaving office in January. Her policy adviser Ken Craig placed third in the contest.
Bazan and Alter both prioritized housing affordability and zoning issues in their campaigns alongside homelessness and the environment. Bazan finished with 29.3% of the general election vote, and Alter won 24.2%.
"With early votes reported, I'm really thrilled to see our hustle [paid] off, and the people in South Austin are seeing what we are trying to build," Bazan told Community Impact. “I really have a fire in my belly to fight for my kiddos. ... I want them to see themselves in the future of Austin, and I want that for others.”
Alter said he was honored at the support he has received so far leading into the runoff.
"Voters want someone who has the experience to deliver real results on the issues they face every day. Whether it’s being able to afford their home; get to work or school without wasting hours in traffic; or making our communities a clean, healthy, and safe place to live for everyone, they know that I’m ready to be their champion who will do more than talk about our issues, but actually achieve real results," he said in a statement.
This cycle’s most expensive and crowded race in City Council District 9 ended with organizer Zohaib “Zo” Qadri and educator Linda Guerrero moving to a runoff with 29.94% and 22.34% of the general election vote, respectively. Guerrero advanced after beating out CivicAction design director Ben Leffler by fewer than 400 votes.
One of the two finalists will fill the seat of longtime Council Member Kathie Tovo, who has served for more than 11 on the council dais, including one at-large term and two terms as District 9's representative.
After slotting into the runoff, Qadri told Community Impact he was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome and that he plans to continue reaching out to a broad range of Central Austin voters in the coming weeks.
“I think we’re going to continue to stay on message. We’re going to talk about the issues that the voters care about, whether housing or transit or the environment. We’re going to continue to do the proper outreach by working the field and knocking on doors and making sure we do right by everyone,” Qadri said.
In an email, Guerrero said she was thankful for her support so far and grateful to be one of District 9's finalists.
"I will continue to talk with voters about addressing the immediate needs of Austin residents, such as housing affordability and the rising costs of living," she said. "As evidenced by my years chairing the Austin Environmental Commission and Parks Board, I am a consensus builder. I believe, by working together, we can find a win-win solution for whatever challenges our city faces."
Watson, Israel and Virden were the only mayoral candidates to post significant fundraising and spending totals this year. Watson outraised and outspent his competition, drawing $1.36 million and spending $1.2 million on his campaign through October. Israel followed with a $409,000 fundraising total and more than $377,000 in spending, while Virden earned $183,000 and spent $229,000.
As of Oct. 29, Watson’s campaign reported more than $113,000 on hand, while Israel had nearly $38,200 remaining.
Fundraising gains did not necessarily translate to wins in the council races for open seats. While Harper-Madison and Ellis easily outraised their competition ahead of their victories, Velásquez was the only top earner in a contested district to make their runoff.
Aaron Velazquez Webman brought in the most money in District 5 by far—boosted by a $50,000 donation to himself in the spring—but finished fifth in the six-person race. Alter brought in the second-highest total, while Bazan ended up fourth in fundraising.
In District 9, top earner and spender Ben Leffler was narrowly edged out of the runoff by Guerrero, who ended up fifth in those same categories. Qadri brought in the third-highest fundraising total and spent the fourth most in the race. Greg Smith led Qadri and Guerrero in donations and spending but finished in fourth place and well behind the top three.
Velásquez reported having more than $54,000 on hand as of late October against Silva’s $8,300. Bazan ended October with more than $26,000 while Alter reported around $6,100. And Qadri maintained nearly $16,000 against Guerrero’s $18,575 on hand.
All results are unofficial until canvassed. Visit communityimpact.com/voter-guide to see results from all local elections in your community.
Darcy Sprague and Katy McAfee contributed to this report.