Austin City Council hopeful Jimmy Flannigan declared victory before the counting was finished on Election Day votes. That came after District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman indicated to reporters he did not expect to overcome Flannigan’s strong lead in early voting results.
“Don has pretty much said there’s no way to overcome the early voting,” said Tim Kelly, Zimmerman’s campaign manager.
Flannigan, who built support as a softer alternative to Zimmerman’s often-fiery conservatism, ultimately won with 56 percent of the vote — a margin was bigger than he expected.
“It’s definitely a mandate,” he said. “They wanted to see leadership and they wanted to see someone work across the city.”
Three other incumbent Austin City Council members won easily over their opponents and one is headed to a runoff.
District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo lodged a comfortable 48 percent to 36 percent lead over challenger Alison Alter, with Rob Walker and Nicholas Virden, making up the rest. But she fell short of the 50 percent threshold she needed to avoid a runoff. It will be held Dec. 13.
Council members Delia Garza and Greg Casar in District 2 and District 4 both scored wins high above what they needed to avoid a runoff, despite each having two opponents. Garza won 65 percent of votes against social media manager Wesley Faulkner and boxer Casey Ramos. Casar received 61 percent against Louis Herrin, an environmental engineer who ran for the seat in 2014, and Gonzalo Camacho, a transportation engineer.
Council Member Leslie Pool had the widest margin of victory — 72 percent to 28 percent, against challenger Natalie Gauldin in District 7.
Both districts 7 and 10 were divided over proposed subdivision The Grove at Shoal Creek, which sits within Gallo’s district, but is bitterly opposed by neighborhoods just to the north in Pool’s. Pool is a critic of the development as proposed and Gauldin a fierce supporter. Gallo supports it and Alter opposes it.
Pool attributed her wide margin to the district’s interest in “protecting neighborhoods” and mirroring the views of her constituents on the dais. She praised Gauldin for her community passion.
Gallo released a statement thanking Walker and Virden, but not her runoff opponent Alter, for running positive campaigns.
“Facing three challengers and tens of thousands of dollars in negative attacks for the past three months, tonight I am honored to be the clear leader in the race for District 10,” she said. “We have a strong and commanding position in this field and tomorrow we being working twice as hard to win the runoff election.”
The election was the first time members of Austin’s district-based City Council have had to face the voters since they were first elected in 2014.
Much of the media attention focused on Zimmerman’s rematch with Flannigan. The race centered around Zimmerman’s penchant for antagonizing city staff and his fellow council members with controversial statements and attention grabbing stunts, as well as questionable claims Flannigan made about his role in getting a key road project added to Mayor Steve Adler’s proposed $270 million bond.
Zimmerman gained support during his tenure from residents who believed he was the only conservative fighter on an otherwise fairly liberal council. But Flannigan expanded his base of support in the growing district among people turned off by Zimmerman’s rhetoric.
Some said they were offended by comments he made to Hispanic school children, urging them to “do something useful.” Others registered offense at his run-ins with other council members and battles against the city.
“If Zimmerman were building agreements with other council members and looking to make change, I’d probably vote for him,” said Flannigan supporter Allen Jensen in a Facebook message. “In reality, he seems happy to have a platform to share his ideas and ensure nothing gets done. Abstentions on votes and suing the city aren’t a good way to change things.”
Flannigan did his best to fire up a despondent crowd of Travis County Democrats Tuesday night, telling them his victory helps show how the state can become competitive again someday and comparing Zimmerman to Donald Trump.
“I know things are a little awkward at the moment” — Flannigan said, referencing Hillary Clinton’s apparently dimming hopes of taking The White House — “but I think we’ve proven that in Austin, we know how to get rid of The Donald.”