Laura Morrison is def running for Austin mayor. Can she beat Adler?

It’s an open secret at City Hall that former City Council Member Laura Morrison is looking to take down Mayor Steve Adler next fall. She hasn’t publicly confirmed the whispers yet, but given the certainty expressed by City Hall insiders, my back-of-the-napkin calculation is that she’s a 90% chance to run.

As for her chances of winning? No clue. I can’t even give you a back-of-the-napkin calculation because I don’t know what factors to plug into the equation.

It’s hard to know what the average Austinite thinks about Morrison, but among City Hall folks she is a polarizing figure, at least for anybody who pays attention to development politics. Skeptics of growth and density regard her as a valiant defender of Austin’s neighborhoods, standing up for the city’s character against rapacious development interests, while urbanists revile her as a reactionary NIMBY whose chief contribution to city politics is protecting affluent, Central Austin homeowners from the indignity of living near apartment buildings.

Here are a few things that will shape the race.

CodeNEXT: Morrison’s main case against Adler will likely be his (likely) support of CodeNEXT, the controversial overhaul of the city’s land development code. Council is supposed to vote on it this spring.

It’s hard to describe CodeNEXT because it’s not yet a defined product. The consultants that the city is paying out the wazoo to write the thing are now working on their third draft, and there’s no telling how much Council members will change it further when they get a hold of it. However, the general idea is that it will facilitate additional density in certain parts of the city. So urbanists are generally supportive and the “neighborhood” crowd is generally against it.

Adler has been playing it down the middle when it comes to development, describing his position as the “Austin Bargain.” We’ll get density on the major corridors but protect the (single-family home) neighborhoods, he says.

The traditional view Austin politics would be that CodeNEXT is a clusterfuck and anybody who gets near it will get burned. If that holds true, then Morrison will be in a good position.

But…

Elections are no longer in May: In addition to switching from an at-large Council to single-member districts in 2014, Austin also began holding its elections in November, rather than May. As a result, the turnout is much, much higher.

When turnout is higher, that means that those who are most intimately involved in City Hall politics don’t have as much sway. If 5,000 people in Austin are furious about CodeNEXT, their fury would likely be the greatest factor in a May election. On a November ballot, however, the greatest political dynamic will be the masses turning out to vote against Trump and the GOP. If Adler, who has dutifully expressed his allegiance to national progressive causes, communicates with those voters, CodeNEXT might not matter so much. Indeed, it is not a coincidence that it is neighborhood association allies who have expressed the greatest frustration with city elections coinciding with national elections and it is development-friendly progressives who have snarled in return.