Austin voters stick with the old new way forward
The Met’s Unified Take on Election 2018
For neighborhood preservationists in Austin, Tuesday night brought something reminiscent of a shellacking.
From the mayor’s race down to the bottom-of-the-ballot referendums, the old guard of Austin’s once-dominant political cartel, save for one major exception, went down in ignominious flames.
Most conflagatory was former Council Member Laura Morrison’s bid to replace Mayor Steve Adler. The former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council who served two terms as the local champion of preservation before helping lead the highly successful effort to reject Uber and Lyft’s bid to buy favorable ride-hailing regulations managed to attract just shy of one in five voters to her campaign.
The loss itself was widely anticipated, but the severity struck us here at The Austin Metropolitan as more than mildly shocking. In a city of nearly 1 million residents, Morrison only scored the affirmed support of just over 57,000 voters, less than twice the total gained by third-place finisher Gus Pena, a City Hall gadfly who adopted the questionable campaign strategy of not raising a single dime.
Imminent defeat was palpable at Morrison’s watch-party just before early voting results came in Tuesday evening, and not just because the event was held at the soon-to-be shuttered Threadgill’s World Headquarters on Riverside Drive. The restaurant’s sprawling parking lot was largely empty and only a handful of supporters occupied a few tables inside. The only palpable excitement in the room was generated by several non-affiliated patrons watching a basketball game on two TVs behind the bar.
Morrison herself showed up around 7:45, well after the early vote totals indicated the landslide that had buried her. The crowd had grown enough by this point to greet her with an exuberant applause, but she wasted no time in replying to it with her concession speech.
That turn of events caught your Met team on the ground off-guard and our pens were too busy signing off on an overpriced Lone Star to record the details of her comments. However, the tone was gracious, and despite the walloping, Morrison sounded fairly serene.
When she made the rounds in the room and landed in a gaggle of reporters, she reflected on her run.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Morrison said. “Obviously it was a big money versus a small money campaign.”
Which is true! While falling short of his record-breaking million-dollar haul in 2014, Adler’s latest financial reports showed he had raked in more $750,000 a week before Election Day, or more than five times what Morrison managed to raise. Certainly a chunk of her fundraising came from in the form of smaller donations, but she told reporters that was no deliberate strategy.
“I would’ve taken more money had people offered it to me,” she said.
But of course, Morrison helped prove in the battle against Uber and Lyft that a shoestring campaign can overcome deep-pocketed rivals, especially if the electorate is highly provoked. Good news for Adler then that there is absolutely nothing about him a voter might find provocative.
The Morrison campaign tried to cast him as a backroom dealer who hands out corrupt favors and soccer stadiums to millionaire cronies, but the tactic never broke through. And if she was expecting anger over CodeNEXT to fill her sails (she was), that hope was proven faulty by the rejection of Proposition J, the convoluted scheme that would have made any changes to the city’s highly outdated and awful land development code essentially impossible.
So in that case, did the urbanistos on Tuesday hammer the final nail in the coffin of neighborhood preservationism and the city’s old guard anti-growthers as best embodied by the Austin Neighborhoods Council?
Maybe? But in the one race where the ideological difference was most clearly distinct, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo handily defeated her urbanist challenger, Danielle Skidmore, for a third term. At the same time, most of Tovo’s District 9 precincts (which she won unanimously) went against Prop J while all of them went for Adler.
This mixed bag seems to indicate that rather than a sweeping citywide victory for the principles of progressive urbanism, Tuesday’s election results were simply just another wacky episode of voters flitting about like a starling murmuration guided by familiar faces, notable names, and probably a few memorable ads. But definitely not the laughably inept Statesman editorial board.