A few weeks ago, I wrote an article (accompanied by a data visualization from my wife!) about the 316 people who showed up to tell City Council how they felt about CodeNEXT. Of those, 170 were opposed, 99 were in favor and 47 were “neutral.”
While the point of the article was to demonstrate the incredible disparity in engagement between different areas of the city, I think the main takeaway is that only 316 people showed up over two days, one of which took place on a Saturday. I’m def not saying there weren’t plenty of people with strong feelings about CodeNEXT who either couldn’t show up to voice their opinions on the matter or who prudently deemed it a waste of their limited time on earth, but that level of turnout does not suggest it is going to be an election-defining issue.
For a bit of context, I think nearly as many people showed up at a Council hearing last year about setting higher renewable energy standards. Just a few weeks ago a ton of people (can’t remember the number, but well over 100) showed up to support bringing a Major League Soccer team to town.
Yes, 32,000 people signed a petition that was largely geared towards stopping CodeNEXT. But a) even that is a mere sliver of the electorate and b) I think that was more of a demonstration of how good Linda Curtis and her crew is at gathering signatures than it is of the general public’s passion on the issue. I witnessed a few people with no knowledge of the issue sign the petition at a coffee shop after hearing what sounded like a relatively innocuous pitch from a signature-gatherer and another friend told me she signed just to be polite/it sounded harmless.
Indeed, just the other week another petition easily gathered 30,000 signatures. It too offered an idea that seemed harmless enough (subjecting city government to an audit) that most people were happy to sign in order to bring a peaceful end to an awkward interaction.
For better or worse, the issues that will have the greatest impact on local elections will be national issues, or rather national feelings. The number one feeling: Fuck Trump, followed closely by Fuck Republicans.
If Council/mayoral elections still took place in May, things would be completely different. The turnout would be dramatically lower, almost all of the voters would have opinions about municipal issues and a huge percentage of those would be older homeowners who care deeply about property taxes/preventing big changes in their neighborhoods.
Amidst a much larger November electorate, that traditionally influential bloc’s power is significantly diminished. It will still have an impact, but it will only be a game-changer in a very close race.
That is definitely the case in the mayoral election. While Laura Morrison’s only real policy contrast with Adler is over CodeNEXT/growth, I think the more significant contrast in her favor is her gender. Many progressives are eager to support women candidates.
I think the dynamics will be similar in Council races. For instance, while attitude towards growth is the key distinction between Kathie Tovo and Danielle Skidmore, I don’t think that most people casting ballots in the District 9 race will be doing so based on that issue. Lots of people know and like Tovo for issues besides neighborhood preservation and will vote based on that. And there may likely be a large contingent of younger voters (if Skidmore plays her cards right) who will be excited to elect Texas’ first transgender officeholder.
Of course, in races that go to runoffs, everything changes. In a low turnout December election, all bets are off, as so aptly demonstrated by the shellacking that Sheri Gallo took in December ’16, despite finishing far ahead of the field in the November election.
The one race that I see very likely going to a run-off is District 8. Just as I think that could bode well for the Republican candidate if he gets through, it might also ramp up the focus on CodeNEXT if Bobby Levinski, an anti-CodeNEXT candidate, makes it through.
The crowded field in District 1 also presents a strong run-off opportunity, although there is less ideological divergence between the candidates. So far Vincent Harding, who has by far the most money, is holding his cards close to his chest on most issues, including CodeNEXT. If he gets into a run-off with Natasha Harper-Madison or Mariana Salazar, both of whom have been frank about their urbanist leanings, then CodeNEXT could become a defining issue in the low turnout December election. It’s still not clear whether Lewis Conway Jr. can be on the ballot due to his felony conviction. Oh, and another candidate just declared: Reedy M. Spigner III. No idea what his positions are on the issues, but he clashed with Ora Houston over his attempts to demolish his home.
This post was updated after Jeb Boyt aptly pointed out that I had neglected to consider the run-off potential in District 1. Thanks Jeb!