Sister Almanza hopes to reverse results of 2014 when brother Renteria won by 20 points
What are the odds that Susana Renteria Almanza, a longtime grassroots director of PODER, People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, can unseat her older brother, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, to represent District 3 on the Austin City Council?
She was badly beaten in a runoff with him in 2016. She’s being vastly outspent by a margin of more than five-to-one. But she’s soldiering on and betting that older voters who are more likely to vote in low-turnout runoff elections will finally put her on the City Council dais.
History is not on her side. She was slightly ahead in the general election of 2014, when a total of 10,205 votes were cast in District 3. Yet he still defeated her by nearly 20 points in the runoff.
This year she doesn’t even have the illusion of being ahead.
In a District 3 field of six candidates Renteria got nearly 48 percent of the vote and she drew barely more than 21 percent.
In raw numbers, out of the 21,776 votes cast November 6, 2018, he got 10,390 votes to her 4,640.
While not just throw in the towel? She wouldn’t be the first to avoid slogging through a runoff with a slim chance for victory.
Precedents for conceding runoffs
As editor of the In Fact newsletter, in early May 1997 I was sitting in City Council chambers for a press conference. I would soon write:
“What was supposed to be a routine rubber-stamping of the May 3 general election results turned into a jaw-dropping experience unprecedented in Austin electoral politics when Ronney Reynolds conceded defeat in the mayoral election still 26 days away.”
His opponent, a somber looking Kirk Watson said of Reynolds’ concession, “It’s one of the classiest acts I think I’ve ever seen in politics.”
Watson had gotten 48 percent of the votes to Reynolds’ 40 percent, a margin of less than nine percent. Yet Reynolds waved the white flag and chose not to fight on.
That act of surrender set the tone for future runoff candidates as well.
After the May 4, 2002, general election, incumbent Beverly Griffith—who along with fellow Council Members Jackie Goodman and Daryl Slusher had successfully petitioned to get on the ballot again to overcome the restriction on term-limits—trailed challenger Betty Dunkerley 29 percent to 42 percent.
Griffith conceded and Dunkerley was declared the winner.
After the May 9, 2009, general election Brewster McCracken trailed Lee Leffingwell 27 percent to 47 percent. Both were incumbent council members vying to be elected mayor.
McCracken withdrew and Leffingwell got the job.
Almanza will concede nothing
Despite the precedents for going quietly and foregoing a runoff when significantly behind in the general election, Almanza will do no such thing.
Almanza would rather cite cases in which candidates successfully came from behind, including:
Jennifer Kim trailed Margot Clarke 27 percent to 40 percent in the general election of May 7, 2005.
Kim won the runoff 54 percent to Clarke’s 46 percent
And the trend in which the seeming underdog candidate turned the tables to win in the runoff continued right through the 2016 City Council election, a trend that Almanza hopes she can follow in 2018.
In 2016, Alison Alter challenged District 10 incumbent Sheri Gallo. Gallo pulled 48 percent in the November 8 general election while Alter got 36 percent.
But in the December 13 runoff Alter got 64 percent to Gallo’s 36 percent.
This year, Almanza noted, “We set a record for people coming out” to vote in the November 6 general election.
“We always have a lower turnout in the runoff. I don’t think we’re going to have that big a turnout and people who have been here for generations will be ones to go back to the polls.
“We’re out there talking to those people, people feeling the impact. They’ve seen it, felt it. They’re barely holding on, one step away from being displaced and they all know it.”
Renteria holds advantage with big bucks to spend
Going into the runoff the brother has a tremendous financial advantage.
For the entire campaign Renteria has raised more than five times as much money as Almanza, $194,256 to her $36,216.
He got considerable help from Mayor Steve Adler, who put his thumb on the scales by having his campaign treasurer and mega-fundraiser, Eugene Sepulveda, send out emails to encourage the mayor’s supporters to pour money into Renteria’s campaign coffers.
Almanza’s December 3 campaign finance report showed she had raised $22,559 in the latest reporting period, while Renteria pulled in $89,896—nearly four times as much. Each of those totals included $15,490 that the two candidates got from the City’s Fair Campaign Fund. Meaning Almanza got just $7,069 from individual donors while Renteria pulled $74,406 from individual donations.
Renteria also had nearly four times as much cash on hand to spend in the sprint to the December 11 runoff, according to their campaign finance reports filed December 3: $46,369 to $11,907.
Huge turnout in 2018
It’s interesting to note that more than twice as many people voted in the District 3 general election in 2018 as they did in 2014, the year in which there was massive interest because it was the first election to create a City Council that would have geographic representation.
Peck Young, who was a political consultant for nearly a half century and is no longer active, said the higher voting turnout this year in City Council races is just a reflection of what’s going on in higher-profile contests, such as Beto O’Rourke vs. Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate. He said the turnout in the gubernatorial election drew one of the biggest turnouts in decades.
More than that, in District 3, “We’ve got a family feud.” Families are a big deal for Hispanics. Having them running against other, he said, “creates a buzz in the community.”
David Butts is also a longtime political consultant and still quite active, but said he is not involved in the District 3 race.
Butts noted the phenomenal turnout in Travis County this year in which U.S presidential candidates are not on the ballot.
He calls his “Betomania” and the numbers are indeed impressive.
The Travis County Clerk’s website shows that there were more total votes cast in this year’s general election—in which the top contest was Beto O’Rourke v. incumbent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz—than when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump topped the ballot in 2016.
In 2016, 477,588 votes were cast in Travis County’s general election, compared with 483,050 this year.
“It’s phenomenal to outvote a presidential election year,” Butts said. “There was so much grassroots enthusiasm for Beto that brought out a lot of people to vote.”
Early voting for this year’s December 11 runoffs has been extremely low, adding up to 2.26 percent countywide, compared with 47.33 percent of Travis County residents who voted early in the November 6 general election.
That low voter turnout, if it carries through the December 11 election, will help Almanza, Butts said. “Her voters may be more motivated to vote in a runoff like this than Pio’s voters are,” Butts said. “That’s her chance.”
“Pio would clearly have a possibility of winning if he gets any kind of turnout at all,” Butts said.
2018 a replay of 2014 District 3
The 2014 City Council election was historic. It was the first time voters had the opportunity to elect a council member who would represent them directly by being a resident of their very own council district. The 10 districts on the ballot were established as a result of the 2012 City Charter change that voters approved to establish geographic representation.
Only District 9 had incumbents running.
That left the mayor’s job and nine districts wide open to newcomers. Politically speaking it was a gold rush. A record-breaking 78 candidates staked claims by getting on the ballot. The District 3 field draw an even dozen candidates, three more than any other.
The November 4, 2014, general election winnowed the District 3 field down to Almanza and Renteria, just like it did this year. She came out on top then with 2,142 votes, or 223 more than he got (20.99 percent to 18.8 percent).
But her seeming advantage going into the runoff proved to be illusory, for he turned the tables by getting 2,558 votes to her 1,724. He won with an overwhelming 59.74 percent to 40.26 percent.
Renteria’s Financial disclosures
As an incumbent council member Renteria filed his Personal Financial Statement (PFS) and Statement of Financial Interest (SFI) last April 27.
His disclosures show that in addition to his income as a council member he gets Category II income, at least $10,000 but less than $20,000 a year, from his IBM pension, and the same from Social Security
He owns 100-499 shares of stock in IBM, while his wife, Lori B. Renteria, owns fewer than 100 shares of the same stock.
Renteria lists his only real estate holding as his home and a garage apartment at 1511 Haskell in near East Austin, just a couple of blocks from I-35. The property has a homestead exemption. The Travis Central Appraisal District record indicates that his wife, Lori B. Cervenak-Renteria, bought the house June 25, 1979.
Marriage records indicate that Renteria and Cervenak were wed April 11, 1980 in Travis County.
Renteria has a 3.4 percent interest loan with Amplify Credit Union of at least $20,000 but less than $50,000.
His SFI appears to be incomplete, however, in that is does not list his interest in real property in addition to his home at 1511 Haskell.
Deed records located in The Austin Bulldog’s research shows he is listed as a co-signer, along with Solana Renteria and Christopher J. Gonzales, on a deed of trust that he signed October 26, 2016, for which the lender is A+ Federal Credit Union.
TCAD records indicate the property is located at 1601 E. 5th Street, in the Saltillo Lofts, and he is listed as a co-owner of the property valued at $220,272. The property has a homestead exemption.
Renteria’s Twitter page shows a photo of him and his daughter SolAna (different spelling than on the deed of trust). A transcript of a County Meeting indicates that he mentioned having a daughter that lives “on Saltillo.”
Travis County records show Renteria first registered to vote May 31, 1980. Computer records that show a person’s voting history go back only to 1990. These records show that he has voted in 68 elections, the first being March 13, 1990, including 24 Democratic primary elections and no Republican primaries.
Almanza Financial disclosures
Almanza timely filed her SFI and PFS, the former on August 3, 2018, the latter on September 10, 2018.
She reported having Social Security income Category II, meaning at least $10,000 but less than $20,000 a year.
She reported receiving occupational income from PODER in the same Category II amount.
The latter amount is consistent with PODER’s latest 990-EZ on file with Guidestar.org for the year 2016, which indicates her compensation was $11,700 that year, a decline from the $33,000 reported for 2014 and $28,300 reported for 2015.
Almanza’s SFI reflects a real estate interest in two homes for “family use,” both located in the far East Austin area of Montopolis. TCAD records indicate that she is 100 percent owner of both homes, one at 6103 Larch Terrace, and one at 1406 Vargas Road. She purchased the latter home January 3, 1997, and it has a homestead exemption. She purchased the Larch Terrace property July 23, 1996.
Her SFI indicates she incurred a Wells Fargo 6.5 percent loan of at least $20,000 but less than $50,000 in June 1995 and a 7.399 percent loan of at least $50,000 but less than $75,000 from SPS Select Portfolio Services in December 1996.
The Austin Bulldog reported January 26, 2015, that Almanza’s campaign finance report filed January 15, 2016, showed that the day after she lost the 2014 runoff she had donated $10,000 to PODER from campaign funds.
The Austin City Charter, Article III, Section 8(F)(3) requires that a candidate no later than 90 days after an election “shall distribute the balance of funds received from political contributions in excess of any remaining expenses for the election: (a) to the candidate’s or officeholder’s contributors on a reasonable basis, (b) to a charitable organization, or (c) to the Austin Fair Campaign Fund.”
She had received a City check from the Fair Campaign Fund that year for $27,988 to use in her runoff against Renteria.
While leftover campaign funds may be donated to a charitable organization, state law prohibits conversion of political contributions to the personal use of the candidate.
As director and board member of PODER, Almanza might exercise some control over how the $10,000 she donated to the organization with campaign funds will be spent.
For that report, Almanza told The Austin Bulldog PODER’s board of directors would decide how the money would be used and she would recommend it be used to pay students who participate in PODER’s Young Students for Justice Program.
But the day after our story broke, Almanza went to City Hall and turned in a check for $10,000 to be donated to the Fair Campaign Fund, an event widely reported.
Almanza registered to vote in Travis County August 23, 1989. Records show she first voted on March 13, 1990, in the Democratic primary, as did Renteria. In all she has voted in 61 elections, including 21 Democratic primaries and no Republican primaries.
Related Bulldog coverage:
Some Council Members’ Finances Change Significantly: Mayor carries campaign debt, Riley adds domestic partner, Martinez adds investments, Cole reports spouse separately, and Tovo pays off $528,000 in real estate loans, August 22, 2012
Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.
Email [email protected].
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