He defeated state Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) by a slim margin after finishing second in the general election. He’ll serve as mayor for the next two years before having to seek re-election in 2024 due to redistricting.
Watson lost Travis County, the city’s largest portion, by 17 votes while winning Williamson county by 881 and Hays County by 22. During the general and runoff races, he outspent Israel by a wide margin.
The two candidates sparred over housing and homeless policy during the general election and the runoff. About one-third of the voting population turned out to vote in the runoff versus the November 8 general.
Watson will take over for Mayor Steve Adler after his self-described “disruptive” tenure marked by a lingering homelessness problem, public fallout and a declining relationship with the police department, and a cumbersome and increasingly costly light rail transit project.
On top of that, Austin’s cost of living is among the highest in the state as its population booms, cementing affordable housing as the biggest obstacle for both candidates.
In addition to solving the to-date unbreakable stalemate on rezoning, Watson will face an ongoing labor fight between the police union and the city over pay and the role of the Office of Police Oversight that must be resolved before the clock runs out in March.
On Tuesday morning, third-place finisher Jennifer Virden said she voted for Watson. Save Austin Now, the group behind the successful camping ban reinstatement, didn’t endorse in the race but outwardly opposed Israel.
In the three council runoffs, José Velásquez in District 3 and Ryan Alter in District 5 won their respective races handily while Zohaib Qadri won a narrow race for District 9’s open seat. Both Velásquez and Qadri were endorsed by former councilman and Congressman-elect Greg Casar while Alter previously served as a staffer for Watson in the Texas Senate.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with the county breakdown.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.