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Kirk Watson’s Return: The Baylor Grad Is Back In the Austin Mayor’s Chair

A little piece of Baylor took the Austin spotlight as alumnus Kirk Watson (’80, JD ’81) was elected mayor of the Lone Star State’s capital in a tight run-off election at the end of 2022 between two experienced Travis County Democrats. 


Watson, a former state senator and now Austin’s new mayor, was selected by voters in a run-off election on December 13, against Celia Israel. He was sworn in on January 2.


Watson previously held the mayorship from 1997-2001. During the 2022 contest, he used this previous experience to brand his campaign on a back-to-basics foundation. 


Polls closed at 7 p.m. on election day and Watson’s campaign received the welcome news that he had won by less than a 1% margin at 10:02 p.m.


“I’m so grateful for the confidence that you’ve placed in me, again. With a long, hard-fought campaign now behind us, let’s work together to change the direction of City Hall and build a better future for the city we all love,” said Watson following his victory


This close race came down to a runoff when neither candidate received more than 50% of the votes in the November 2022 election. The campaigns in this race focused mainly on Austin’s housing affordability crisis.  


Watson graduated from Baylor, ranking first in his law school class where he later went on to be named an outstanding young alumnus of Baylor, Young Baylor Lawyer of the Year, and the Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas.


“I’m as grateful today as I was 25 years ago to be entrusted with this job. It means a lot to me to know that Austinites in every part of this city still want the kind of leadership that I’ve tried to deliver both as mayor and as your state senator,” Watson said at a results watch party, according to the Texas Tribune.


During Watson’s previous term as mayor, Texas Monthly magazine described him as “a man with a vision of what the community wants—and the moxie to carry it out.”


Watson’s campaign raised over $1.8 million, giving Watson a nearly 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over Israel’s campaign. 


Although this victory is big, Watson has little time to celebrate as he will now need to seek reelection in 2024 due to Austin passing a ballot proposition to move mayoral elections from midterm years to presidential election years.


“Thank you to the voters for their trust and confidence in my positive vision and my ability to get things done to lead our great city forward. I look forward to serving our home as Mayor once again.Our city is facing tremendous challenges, which means we have tremendous opportunities. I’m excited to start working together in January to begin implementing needed long-term solutions,” said Watson in an email.

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