Kelly overtakes Flannigan in District 6 runoff

Mackenzie Kelly was elected on Dec. 15 as the first Republican to serve on City Council since 2018.

By RYAN THORNTON, Austin Monitor

After a close runoff election Tuesday, residents of District 6 in far Northwest Austin including Four Points will be represented for the next four years by Mackenzie Kelly, the first Republican to serve on City Council since 2018.

“This is a tough night for all of us … but it doesn’t mean that any of this work ends,” District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said in a Zoom call with supporters Tuesday night, Dec 15. “And I am excited for the rest of my colleagues, who I know will continue this work, and the future Council member, who I hope does her best to represent this district with honor.”

Besides the race for District 10, the District 6 City Council race was one of the tightest and most contentious in this year’s local election. In November, Kelly ended up just 2,412 votes behind Flannigan, but candidates Jennifer Mushtaler and Dee Harrison shared a further 23 percent of the vote. With Mushtaler and Harrison off the ballot this time, Kelly took a majority of the total vote, earning 54.33 percent of the vote in Travis County and 49.41 percent of the vote in Williamson County, a total of 7,875 votes to Flannigan’s 7,198.

Over the course of her term, Kelly will likely seek to cut property taxes, allocate more public resources to the Austin Police Department and revisit Council’s decision to decriminalize homelessness by lifting its ban on camping.

“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 has been heard,” Kelly said Tuesday night. “Considering the stark differences between my campaign’s priorities and the platform of the incumbent, their united voice is resoundingly clear this evening!”

Like Kelly, Mushtaler ran a campaign in opposition to the “reimagining public safety” initiative, the repeal of the city’s camping ban ordinance and the draft Land Development Code rewrite, allowing Kelly to draw from Mushtaler’s nearly 17 percent of the vote. Mushtaler also expressed concerns about the costs of Project Connect, a plan that Kelly strongly opposed, arguing that the city should avoid “antiquated rail lines” in favor of “innovative” transportation solutions.

In clear contrast with Flannigan, who has led the effort to reimagine policing with Council’s Public Safety Committee, Kelly has argued that police reform should be achieved through “additional training” or other efforts without reducing or reallocating resources from the police department. Kelly, a graduate of APD’s Citizen Police Academy, a 14-week program that educates the public about police operations, was endorsed by the Austin Police Association, a local political action committee.

Kelly is also president of Take Back Austin, a group united in opposition to Council’s repeal of the city’s ban on public camping. The group’s website cites Council’s decision as evidence that Austin is “following in the footsteps” of cities on the West Coast that are “now unrecognizable” after taking similar steps to end the criminalization and concealing of people experiencing homelessness.

In unseating Flannigan, Kelly will be shifting Council’s dynamic on land use issues, which typically fall along a 7-4 split, with Flannigan among the majority in favor of increased zoning entitlements for Central Austin neighborhoods. Kelly has been a vocal critic of the Land Development Code rewrite that is now tied up in an appeal to a legal ruling over the right to protest zoning changes. In a Sept. 28 forum, Kelly criticized the effort’s preference for density over single-family neighborhoods, and said homeownership is often “the only path for generational wealth” for working families.

Instead of comprehensive zoning changes, Kelly said a better way to ensure affordable housing would be to launch an external audit of the city to identify “wasteful spending” and attempt to lower the city’s portion of property taxes. Kelly added, “Neighborhoods are important. Families are important.”

Kelly’s campaign was endorsed by the Travis County Republican Party. Following Tuesday’s election, the conservative PAC Fight for Austin released a statement of support:

“We are thrilled that (Kelly) has unseated (Flannigan), who has chaired the Public Safety Committee and has been the architect of the city’s efforts to defund the police and pass the camping ordinance, both of which have manifestly harmed public safety. (Kelly) ran on restoring public safety for our city, while (Flannigan) defended the homeless camping disaster and the reckless $150 million police budget cut.”

In a tweet Tuesday night, Mayor Steve Adler thanked Flannigan for his “steadfast service” on Council: “District 6 and our entire city is better for your dedicated service and your leadership on tough issues the last four years.”

Reminding his supporters of his first unsuccessful bid for election in 2014, Flannigan assured residents of his intention to continue working for positive change.

“None of us are going away,” Flannigan said. “We didn’t go away when we lost in (2014) and we’re not going away now. The work will continue and we are making this city a better place for all Austinites.”

The Austin Monitor is an online, nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit publication that covers local government and politics in and around Austin.