Voters Decide Final Three Austin City Council Members

It was a history-making win for Zo Qadri, who will become the first South Asian and Muslim Austin City Council Member (photo by Jana Birchum)

The Council candidates who won their run-off elections Tuesday, Dec. 13, will solidify a majority that has promised to act on increasing Austin’s housing supply with an urgency that has not existed in the 10-1 era of City Council — or perhaps in all of Austin’s political history.

D9: Pulling in the Urbanist Vote

Austin’s District 9, which encompasses Downtown and several of the city’s most beloved central city neighborhoods, will have a new Council Member in 2023 for the first time in 8 years – and one who will bring a new perspective on housing policy to the dais. Zo Qadri fended off Linda Guerrero, incumbent Kathie Tovo’s pick for her successor, in a tight race. He won by 352 votes, according to unofficial results posted by the Travis County Clerk.

Qadri, who will become the first South Asian and first Muslim candidate elected to Austin’s City Council, faced seven opponents in November. He emerged from that fray with the most votes in the field, but his path to victory in December was not guaranteed. Much of the young progressive’s support came from the University of Texas area, where Qadri’s campaign focused on outreach to the city’s college students, but that’s an electorate that does not reliably turnout for run-off elections. Still, Qadri persuaded enough of his base to come back to cast one more vote that he would have a fighting chance against Guerrero, who appealed to the older, more conservative D9 voter more likely to return for the run-off. Qadri also moved quickly to corral the support of his former urbanist opponents, which appears to have helped push him over the edge. Unofficial results show Qadri performing well in the Cherrywood and Mueller neighborhoods, which were previously won by D9’s third place finisher, Ben Leffler.

Now, urbanists will hold the D9 seat for the first time in the 10-1 Council era. Qadri made rapidly increasing the city’s housing supply a centerpiece of his campaign.“From the beginning, we empowered all kinds of voices across the district,” Qadri said in a statement following his victory. “Austin has now spoken and the call for action on our affordability crisis could not be more clear. It is now on all of the Council to listen and to act with the urgency that the moment demands.” – Austin Sanders

D5: South Austin Gets a YIMBY

In a switcheroo from Stephanie Bazan’s sizable lead in the general election, Watson’s former Senate aide Ryan Alter won the run-off in District 5 with 59.6% of the vote. Alter will replace outgoing Council Member Ann Kitchen, joining Zo Qadri and José Velásquez in a pro-housing wave for the three Council races that went to a run-off.

Alter ran a campaign laser-focused on expanding affordable housing supply, coining the plan Housing Now. “We were very focused on the long game, it wasn’t about winning the general,” said Alter. “It’s about getting into the run-off.” Tuesday, Bazan won the far south precincts, and Alter won those closer to Downtown and east of I-35, per the Travis County Clerk’s map. “Stephanie was an incredible candidate. I always knew that we had to be at our best to win. I think it’s very validating that people are willing to say, ‘Yes, I put my faith in you to go do it.’”

Bazan and Alter agreed on most issues, though in statements to Rethink35, Bazan opposed TxDOT’s proposed expansion of I-35 and Alter did not (he does support the study of alternatives, in contrast to Watson).

The new CMs, Alter, Qadri, and Velásquez “have a lot of things in common… If you look at who we are replacing, it is a generational shift,” said Alter. “It’s time to get real serious about making Austin a place people can afford everywhere. I am ready to not just nibble at the edges anymore – it’s time to tackle this as the systemic, comprehensive problem that it is.” – Lina Fisher

D3: Eastside Picks Homegrown Candidate

José Velásquez (center) surrounded by supporters (from left) CM Chito Vela, CAN Executive Director Raul Alvarez, outgoing CM Pio Renteria, and Congressman-elect Greg Casar (photo by Brant Bingamon)

Sixty of José Velásquez’s supporters stood talking on Tuesday night at La Perla, the last Tejano bar on East Sixth Street, waiting for the candidate to officially win the District 3 run-off. Velásquez’s opponent, Daniela Silva, a young community organizer, had exceeded expectations in the general campaign, nearly matching Velásquez’s vote total. But the carefree chatter and bursts of laughter showed the crowd was not worried about an upset.

Velásquez circulated among them, talking effusively, posing for pictures with Greg Casar, Israel, Raul Alvarez, and others. At 8:30, Velásquez’s friend, City Council member Chito Vela, arrived and told him the ballots had been counted. He had won 53% of them, getting 4,165 votes to Silva’s 3,646. Velásquez climbed onto the concrete steps to La Perla’s back door and faced his supporters. “From now on you can’t call me José, you got to put some respect on my name,” he shouted, drawing a roar of approval.

The new D3 council member spoke of his love for his hometown and the Eastside neighborhood he grew up in. Further east, at her own watch party, Silva thanked supporters and congratulated Velásquez on his win. “I look forward to continuing to organize for affordable housing, equitable health care, and environmental justice,” she said. “See you in the community.”

Though they were from different generations and backgrounds, the two candidates had found little to disagree about during the campaign and Velásquez had kind words for Silva: “I think she ran a phenomenal campaign. She’s a leader and she’s gonna be around awhile.” – Brant Bingamon

Read more from the campaign trail, including about Kirk Watson’s mayoral victory, at the Chronicle‘s Elections hub.

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