The 29th Ward run-off race remains too close to call as of April 10, this issue’s print deadline – though incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s small lead continued to grow and, with most mail-in ballots accounted for, the race could well be decided by the time this issue hits the stands.

Taliaferro faced off against community activist C.B. Johnson in a runoff after mail-in ballots and write-in votes lowered his vote share in the Feb. 28 election below the 50% plus one minimum required for outright victory. On Election Night, Taliaferro was 186 votes ahead Johnson with 5,008 votes, or 50.95% of the vote, to the challenger’s 4,822 votes, or 49.05% of the vote.

The most recent totals, which include mail-in votes received by April 10 and votes from the 6th Precinct that weren’t originally counted due to a technical issue, Taliaferro’s lead grew to 318 votes, with 5,505 (51.49%) to Johnson’s 5,187 votes (48.51%). There were 547 mail-in ballots still unaccounted for which could theoretically swing the vote in Johnson’s favor. Both campaigns indicated that they were optimistic about their chances.

Taliaferro was first elected in 2015, defeating then-incumbent Deborah Graham in a run-off. He became the first and thus far the only West Side alderman to use participatory budgeting, allowing residents to vote on how he’d use infrastructure funding. After unsuccessfully running for Cook County Circuit Court judge in the 11th Subcircuit, he decided to run for a third term on the platform of using city funds to support businesses, working with block clubs and the newly created police district councils to improve public safety, and setting up a youth community council to help him figure out ways to improve mental health access and educational opportunities for ward youth.

Johnson heads the Campaign for a Drug-Free West Side. While he supported Taliaferro during the last two elections, he told Austin Weekly News that he ran at the urging of residents, who felt that the incumbent wasn’t responsive to their needs. He said that, if elected, he would increase the number of community meetings and empower local clubs. His approach to increasing public safety was similar to what Taliaferro proposed.

The Feb. 28 election results, which weren’t officially announced until March 15,  revealed a distinct pattern, with Taliaferro leading in precincts in northwestern portion of the ward and Johnson leading in the south portion of the ward, with much of North Austin, parts of central Austin and the Island community showing neither candidate getting more than 50%.

The runoff results available at press time showed 16th Precinct, the area between Austin Boulevard, Chicago Avenue, Central Avenue and Metra/CTA railroad embankment, swinging toward Taliaferro, while the rest of the swing precincts shifted toward Johnson.

The April 4 results showed no votes from the 6th precinct, which encompasses the northeast corner of Galewood and a small section of Montclare. Board of Elections spokesperson Max Bever said it was simply a reporting issue – the SD card used to transmit results was damaged, forcing the election workers to report the results the old-fashioned way. Those numbers were incorporated in the totals on April 5 at 3 p.m. This boosted the number of Johnson votes, 66.73% of the precinct vote went to Taliaferro.

Bever said the board generally expects about half of the mail-in ballots not to be returned or be returned too late to be counted by the April 18 deadline.

Both 29th Ward candidates supported mayor-elect Brandon Johnson. According to the most recent results, 202 29th Ward voters who voted for mayor didn’t vote for alderman.

Austin Weekly News visited Taliaferro’s and Johnson’s campaign offices shortly after the polls closed on April 4. Most of Johnson’s volunteers were decked out in candidate T-shirts and even hats, while Taliaferro’s volunteers were more casual. Taliaferro’s election party had catered food from Austin’s Big Shrimpin [sic] restaurant, 5963 W. Madison St.

While Johnson was out of the office, and the volunteers declined to say when he would be back, Taliaferro was doing some work at his office before stepping out to mingle with volunteers.

The results remained close throughout the night – at one point, the candidates were  tied, and there were several points when they were separated by just double digits. 

When reached by phone shortly after 10 p.m., Taliaferro said the election night party was wrapping up.

“I feel optimistic that I’ll win the election,” he said.

When reached on April 10, Johnson campaign spokesperson Tumia Romero said her candidate is optimistic as well.

“There are still over 500 mail-in ballots, and most of them are from his base, so we’re waiting,” she said.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...