AUSTIN (KXAN) — Conservative challenger Mackenzie Kelly beat incumbent Jimmy Flannigan in the Austin City Council runoff election Tuesday, earning 677 more votes in District 6. Meanwhile, voters re-elected incumbent Alison Alter in District 10. She beat challenger Jennifer Virden by 587 votes.
Kelly’s election will change the solidly progressive makeup the council has had the past two years. The positions she campaigned on are significantly more conservative than those of her fellow council members and she is the only council member to have an endorsement from the Travis County Republican Party.
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While Alter’s challenger Jennifer Virden used a similar strategy and campaigned as a conservative alternative to the current council, Alter was able to appeal just enough to voters to secure re-election.
For the past two years, all eleven members of the Austin City Council — while they may have differed intensely on certain policy issues — have been generally progressive and unified in their ideals.
This council approved a repeal of Austin’s ban on public camping in 2019 in an effort to decriminalize homelessness, an action that spurred heated debate in the community over how best to address homelessness. It has drawn statewide attention and criticism from the state’s Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott.
This council also unanimously approved the city’s budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which will ultimately move around $150 million dollars from the Austin Police Department to other areas of public health and safety over the course of the next year. These budget decisions came as movements nationwide—and within Austin—pressed for racial justice and transformation in policing.
Kelly and Virden both positioned themselves as more conservative alternatives, criticizing the council’s actions with both the camping ban repeal and the police budget.
It remains to be seen whether as a lone vote Kelly can move the council in a meaningful way more to the center.
Kelly says voters were ‘resoundingly clear’ choosing her vision for homelessness, public safety
“From standing courageously behind our law enforcement community to demanding safer conditions for our homeless population to fighting for transparency at City Hall, the voice of Northwest Austin is has been heard,” Kelly’s campaign said in a statement. “Considering the stark differences between my campaign’s priorities and the platform of the incumbent, their united voice is resoundingly clear this evening!
“I am honored to be the next representative for District 6 on the Austin City Council and will work immediately to begin healing the divisions in our community. Congratulations to Council Member Jimmy Flannigan on a hard-fought campaign. I, along with my staff, will look forward to working with Austinites from all backgrounds and political persuasions to build a better future for the greatest city in Texas.”
Flannigan concedes after ‘tough night’
Flannigan, who has served on the council since 2017, conceded the election on a Zoom call as he acknowledged, “this is a tough night, this is a tough night for all of us.”
But he noted the election result, “doesn’t mean that any of this work ends.”
Flannigan said over the past four years, his team has, “made the city more empathetic, we have made the city a better place.”
He expressed his pride to be the first openly gay man to serve on Austin’s City Council.
Flannigan described his time chairing the council’s Public Safety Committee this past year as “one of the great honors of my life” and work that he believes helped Austin stand out as an innovation leader on a national level.
“And yes, it might be uncomfortable to see the changes while they’re being made and ultimately, they are the right changes and this work will continue,” he continued
Flannigan said he hopes Kelly “does her best to represent the council district with honor and being these amazing powerful voices [to light] that I have come to know and love and appreciate in this district.”
Alter says she’s excited and ready for difficult challenges ahead
After her win Tuesday night, Alter said she’s ready to return.
“I’m really excited that District 10 voted for my integrity, politics, experience, and my leadership, and against the politics of fear,” she told KXAN.
Outside of her council experience, Alter campaigned on her experience as a mother, small business owner, educator and community advocate.
“I believe that people saw in me the kind of leader that can navigate the city through the challenging times where we are,” Alter said. “We have difficult challenges with respect to homelessness and how we move best with our public safety so that we can root out racism and ensure public safety.”
Virden’s campaign sent KXAN a statement saying, “this was a hard-fought campaign and I’m disappointed that in the end District 10 voters chose party over policy.”
Fraction of people voted in runoff election
During the Nov. 3 general election, no candidate in the District 6 or District 10 races received more than 50% of the vote, so the two candidates who received the most votes moved on to the runoff election.
Both Flannigan and Alter received more votes than their respective challengers in the higher-turnout November election.
In the November election 45,433 people voted in the District 10 race but only 24,109 voted in the runoff.
In November, 35,254 people voted in the District 6 race, but less than half that amount turned out for the runoff which saw a total of 15,073 votes between Travis and Williamson counties.
But as we’ve reported, runoff elections tend to have significantly lower turnout than the general elections in Travis County.
According to Travis County’s numbers alone, the rate of voter turnout for this council runoff election was especially low. Travis County reports that only 9.62% of eligible voters cast their ballot in this council runoff election. For comparison, in December council runoffs in Travis County, 16% of eligible voters participated in 2014, 22.4% in 2016, and 11% in 2018.