State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez announced Monday that he would back out of the special election runoff for Kirk Watson's former state Senate seat, giving the win to former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.
Eckhardt nearly won the seat outright in the July 14 election.
Final results from that contest showed Eckhardt with 49.74% of the vote—she needed 50% to avoid a runoff. Rodriguez had 33.86% of the vote, likely giving him long odds of winning the seat.
Rodriguez has served in the State House since 2002 and is currently nearing the end of his eighth term. He won the primary for the 2020 election with nearly 80% of the vote before filing to run for Watson's seat.
Eckhardt has been highly visible in recent months, serving as one of the leading voices of Travis County's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite announcing she would step down as Travis County judge in order to run for Watson's seat, she extended her time with the county to manage issues related to the pandemic. She officially left office May 12.
Rodriguez said in a statement that instead of fighting Eckhardt in a protracted runoff, the date for which had not yet been set, he wanted to focus on winning a Democratic majority in the Texas House this November.
Today I released the following statement on my plans for 2020. I have decided to forego the runoff for Senate and f… https://t.co/Nvjs0FUfEO— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (@Rep. Eddie Rodriguez) 1595862349.0
"This year, we have the first chance in a generation to forge a Democratic majority in a critical and historic session that will determine the future of Texas," he said. "I will be working hard for District 51 and the entire state, pushing a policy agenda that includes strong public schools, increased access to health care, gun violence prevention, meaningful criminal justice reform and policies that respect the dignity of every Texan."
Eckhardt responded on Twitter.Democrats are nine seats away from winning a majority in the Texas House for the first time since 2001.
Eckhardt will be the second Travis County leader in a row to hold the Texas Senate District 14 seat. Watson served as the mayor of Austin from 1997 until 2001 before joining the Senate in 2006.
District 14 covers most of Austin and all of Bastrop County.
Want to read more stories like this one? Start every day with a quick look at what's happening in Austin. Sign up for Austonia.com's free daily morning email.
- Rodriguez, Eckhardt lead state Senate fundraising - austonia ›
- The state Senate candidacy of Austin's Sarah Eckhardt - austonia ›
- Texas Rep. Eddie Rodriguez makes a run for state Senate - austonia ›
- Andy Brown is the Democratic nominee for Travis County judge - austonia ›
By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.