Early voting in local runoff elections starts today. One of the seven Austin City Council races that will be decided in this election is in District 1, also known as Austin’s African-American Opportunity District.
Originally, nine people ran for this seat, but now the field’s been whittled down two contenders: Dwayne Lofton and Ora Houston.
Today, KUT will begin a series examining each Austin City Council runoff campaign as candidates try to get their supporters back to the polls.
When District 1 voters head to the polls – either during early voting or on runoff Election Day on Dec. 16 – their ballots will have the names of DeWayne Lofton and Ora Houston, in that order.
Ballot order is believed to have some influence in how people vote so, to avoid the perception of favoring one candidate over another, the city clerk held a drawing of the names.
"Both Ora and I are both African-American. Obviously, that part of the community is going to be paying more attention to this race,” Lofton said.
Lofton also knows the African-American vote may not be enough to carry one candidate to victory, unless African-Americans come out to vote in force. African-Americans account for less than 30 percent of the population in District 1.
Lofton wants to focus his message on the district’s diversity because being African-American may not be the only thing some people have in common. He says the old rhetoric that only focused on race needs to be shelved.
"I think we all realize that a lot of things that happened in Austin – starting with the 1928 Master Plan – were wrong,” Lofton says. “We are in 2014. At a certain point there has to be a changing of the guard."
He hopes to be that change.
But so does Ora Houston. She is part of the generation that fought to desegregate Austin; an experience she believes is a plus.
"I have a history in this town and I think that history will help me bridge from the past to the future,” Houston says.
The new Austin city council will be sworn in this coming January. The people already elected and those still running see an opportunity to change the status quo. But each district comes to the table with its own set of priorities. Houston says that's where her skills would come in.
"I'm also a connector because of my relationships across the city,” she says. “Trust comes only when you have relationships and we have to do a lot of relationship building."
One thing both DeWayne Lofton and Ora Houston agree on is the huge need to create jobs in their district.
District 1 is still underpopulated. It has huge swaths of land that are undeveloped.
The hope is to lure employers to that part of town who can bring with them not only jobs, but also better transportation options for the area.
Both candidates say that will be a priority at the top of their lists.
Below you can listen to both candidates in one-on-one interviews with KUT's Joy Diaz in which they discuss their vision for the future of District 1, which district-specific issues they plan on pushing on the new council and what they've learned on the campaign trail.