By Charlotte Aguilar
There were only two runoff races Saturday (Dec. 11) on Bellaire ballots and just one on West University’s — but they were hard-fought and sometimes polarizing and resulted in a surprisingly large turnout that created waiting times of up to a half-hour to vote at the single polling place in each city.
In the end, Brian Witt — the third member of a slate backed by Mayor Andrew Friedberg — beat independent Andréa Ehlers 1,867-1,677, to give Friedberg a majority on the seven-member Bellaire City Council.
BELLAIRE CITY COUNCIL POSITION 5 RUNOFF
Ehlers 1,677 47.32%
Witt 1,867 52.68%
And in the contest to see who would represent West University, Bellaire and southwest Houston on the Houston ISD board, incumbent Sue Deigaard had no trouble fending off challenger Caroline Walter, 8,519-4,834.
HOUSTON ISD DISTRICT V TRUSTEE RUNOFF
Deigaard 8,519 63.80%
Walter 4,834 36.20%
The vote total of 3,544 in Bellaire’s council runoff wasn’t far off the general election total of 3,764 in that same race for Council Position 5. Then, Ehlers edged Witt by 12 votes, falling short of the required 50 percent-plus-one-vote, 1,837 to 1,825, with a third candidate, David Montalvo, pulling in 102 votes. He endorsed Ehlers in the runoff.
The runoff featured dueling endorsements, in fact, with Witt boasting support from Friedberg, the two winning members of his slate, Councilmembers-elect Win Frazier and Ross Gordon, and former Police Chief Byron Holloway. For her part, Ehlers claimed endorsements from former Mayor (and current Harris County GOP chair) Cindy Siegel, and former Councilmembers Pat McLaughlan, Jim Avioli, John Monday and Pat Hughes.
With three new councilmembers elected two years ago who have consistently questioned council and staff leadership and three seats open this year, Friedberg was potentially facing complete loss of control of council. For the first time since his election as mayor in 2015, he endorsed a slate of council candidates.
The three council “independents” all endorsed Ehlers in the runoff.
The election was one of the most high-profile and high stakes Bellaire contests in decades. With nearly 2,200 early ballots cast in Bellaire, there was anticipation over what runoff day turnout would be, and it didn’t disappoint: 1,347 turned up to vote in person at City Hall and the HCC West Loop campus, with both candidates spending hours at the polling place at the legally required distance.
Deigaard breezed her way to a second term on the HISD board against Walter, who had been backed by the county Republican party and conservative factions. But Deigaard’s fellow incumbents didn’t have it as easy.
Anne Sung and Holly Flynn Vilaseca both lost their bids for re-election to GOP-supported challengers Bridget Wade and Kendall Baker, respectively. Elizabeth Santos very narrowly won re-election over Janette Garza Lindner.
In investigating board actions and chronically low-performing schools in HISD, Sung and Vilaseca, along with Santos, were identified by the Texas Education Agency as having violated state open meetings laws and of overreaching in their dealings with district staff. That led to a potential takeover of HISD by the state and replacement of the board — a matter that is still pending. Whether new trustees replacing Sung and Vilaseca will impact that situation remains to be seen.