Monday’s fundraising reports show that neighborhood preservationist activists are serious about ousting City Council members they view as too friendly to development or density.
The one unambiguously bright spot for urbanists comes in the mayor’s race, where Mayor Steve Adler reported a whopping $574,000. His opponent, Laura Morrison, only raised $92,000. Adler is hardly an urbanist’s dream candidate, but he’s a helluva lot better than Morrison, one of the longtime leaders of Austin’s preservationist clique.
Urbanists can also be happy to see that their challenger in District 9, Danielle Skidmore, out-raised Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo ($47k vs $42k). However, the chances of taking down Tovo are very slim: she’s popular, hardworking and fabulously wealthy. Tovo could easily drop six figures on her campaign with the stroke of a pen if she needs to.
However, preservationists certainly have reasons to be optimistic when they look at other Council races.
DISTRICT 8: We’ll have to see if another conservative/Republican-type declares in the coming weeks now that Ellen Troxclair has dropped out of the race, but for now there are three libs.
Rich DePalma is a longtime Southwest Austin activist with support from urbanists and Bobby Levinski is new to District 8 and his preservationist bonafides are about as strong as they come: he was an aide to both Morrison and Kathie Tovo and he has been involved with his boss at Save Our Springs, Bill Bunch, in advocating for a vote on CodeNEXT (in contrast to some other enviro groups). The third candidate is Paige Ellis, who appears to lean urbanist.
There’s not much evidence that people in District 8 care a great deal about CodeNEXT. Not many of them have turned out for the CodeNEXT hearings and, ironically, a lot of the district is protected from new development by the Save Our Springs ordinance that Bunch helped pass 26 years ago.
However, the Central Austin folks who do care about CodeNEXT have helped Levinksi pull in more than $26k, nearly as much money as DePalma ($28k) and much more than Ellis, who has raised about $10k. (Those totals do not count the several grand they each loaned their own campaigns)
Levinski’s donor list features a lot of familiar preservationist folks: Austin Neighborhoods Council activist Joyce Basciano, Linda Bailey, William Burkhardt, Bill Bunch, ZAP Commissioners Ann Denkler, Jim Duncan and Betsy Greenberg; Mike Hebert of Community Not Commodity; Linda Guerrero; Kathie Tovo’s husband Tom Hurt; Carol Lee; Fred Lewis; Planning Commissioner Karen McGraw; County Commissioner Brigid Shea; Ed Wendler Jr; former Planning Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza…and I’m sure there are a bunch I missed.
Now, money ≠ votes. I’m not going to do the analysis but one excited DePalma supporter messaged me last night to tell me that he raised a third of his money from the district, suggesting strong support from those who will actually be voting in the election. We’ll see, but at the very least it shows that the preservationists are taking this race seriously.
It’s also too early to dismiss Paige Ellis. In a year when progressives will be showing up at the polls on Nov. 6 with national politics on their mind and many will be eager to support female candidates, there will likely to a constituency for Ellis’ message, which largely emphasizes national liberal priorities.
DISTRICT 3: Pio Renteria should be the favorite but his opponent, James Valadez, is putting up a serious fight. The candidates virtually tied in fundraising, with Pio bringing in $26.6k and Valadez raising $26.2k.
Valadez, who has criticized “excessive density,” has clearly attracted support from the preservationist crowd. Among those donating: Basciano, Burkhardt, Wendler, Mary Ingle (Austin Neighborhoods Council), Bryan King (South Lamar Neighborhood Association).
DISTRICT 1: Four candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by preservationist Council Member Ora Houston. I’m not sure about Lewis Conway Jr., but both Natasha Harper-Madison and Mariana Salazar have made their urbanist sympathies pretty clear. But the day that Houston announced she wouldn’t run, Vince Harding (former chair of Travis County Democratic Party) declared his candidacy, accompanied by warm words from Houston and NAACP President Nelson Linder, who is the lead plaintiff in the anti-CodeNEXT petition.
Only a couple weeks after declaring his candidacy, Harding has raised more than twice as much as the next-closest candidate. He brought in more than $25,000, compared to $11.2k for Harper-Madison, $7k for Salazar and $5.1k for Conway Jr.
Now, Harding thus far hasn’t made any strong statements about CodeNEXT or development. He alluded to CodeNEXT in his opening statement, without commenting on its merits. The support from Houston and Linder might make preservationists hopeful, but there’s a good chance that both of those people endorsed Harding for reasons other than his positions on development. Houston, after all, is nothing if not enigmatic. Looking over Harding’s donors, I’m not seeing the usual names from the preservationist crowd.
Conclusion: I’m not going to make predictions about what will happen in November because I really have no idea. But it’s not crazier than, say, Donald Trump winning the presidency, to imagine that the pendulum could swing hard in favor of anti-density political forces if preservationists play their cards right.
And I say that without even considering this whole CodeNEXT petition fiasco, which I still think (but don’t know) will end up being ruled invalid.