Dec 14, 2022 - Politics

Kirk Watson narrowly defeats Celia Israel in Austin mayoral race

Kirk Watson will lead the city again after narrowly defeating state Rep. Celia Israel. Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage

Kirk Watson defeated state Rep. Celia Israel by fewer than 900 votes among 113,000 votes cast in the runoff for Austin mayor.

The big picture: Unofficial election night tallies show that Israel managed to top fellow Democrat Watson in Travis County — where most Austin voters live — by just 17 votes, but Austin voters in Williamson County powered the former mayor's return to City Hall.

Why it matters: As Austin's next mayor, Watson must decide how best to lead a city grappling with affordability issues, a housing crisis, and questions surrounding how to handle homelessness.

  • In other words, Austin is a very different city from the sleepy college town Watson, a former state senator, presided over from 1997 to 2001.

What they're saying: "It means a lot to me to know that Austinites in every part of this city still want the leadership I have tried to deliver," Watson told supporters Tuesday evening.

Flashback: Despite a fundraising advantage, Watson had stumbled in the initial November election, losing to Israel by five percentage points and sending the race into the runoff.

  • This time around, without Austin voters turning out to cast ballots in the governor's race, the mayoral candidates faced a more narrow electorate.

What to watch: The runoff has become a test case of how the state's housing crisis could shape the political landscape in major Texas cities, the Texas Tribune reported.

  • Watson has said the city's land development code, which makes it difficult to build more than a single-family home, needs a rewrite, but he proposed allowing each city district to control the pace and location of new developments.
  • On homelessness issues, Watson has said the state's camping ban should be enforced along with expanded intermediate housing options and mental health services.

What's next: Watson will be sworn-in Jan. 6 and serve a two-year term after voters decided to line up the city's mayoral election with U.S. presidential elections.

City Council results

Austin voters in three districts also decided who will represent them in City Hall.

According to final but unofficial election night tallies:

  • District 3: José Velásquez defeated Daniela Silva, 53.3% to 46.7%, in the district that encompasses East Austin and part of South Austin.
  • District 5: Ryan Alter will replace council member Ann Kitchen after maintaining 59.6% of votes over Stephanie Bazan in the South Austin district that stretches down Menchaca Road.
  • District 9: Zohaib “Zo” Qadri narrowly defeated Linda Guerrero — 51% to 49% — and will replace Council Member Kathie Tovo in the Central Austin district that stretches from Mueller to Travis Heights and includes downtown. Only about 300 votes separated the two candidates.

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