Austinites Bid Adieu to Adler with New Candidates


STRIKING A POSE: Mayorial Candidate Kirk Watson poses outside of Austin City Hall downtown. Watson runs as a Democrat against Phil Brual. Photo courtesy Kirk Watson via Instagram.

Lily Wilkerson, Staffer

Local elections in Austin have seen low voter turnout for decades, according to the Austin Community College Center for Public Study and Political Studies. One local election this year is the mayoral race, which will determine incumbent mayor Steve Adler’s successor. Adler, who has served for two terms, is ineligible to run again. Six candidates will appear on the ballot this November, ranging from local business owners to state representatives to college students.

One of the candidates in the race is Kirk Watson, a democrat and former Texas state senator and mayor of Austin from 1997 to 2001. His campaign manager, Max Lars, said that this previous political experience is a major reason why people should support Watson’s campaign.

“There are a lot of things that we enjoy in the City of Austin that are attributed to the work that Kirk Watson was able to do,” Lars said. “One of the things that made me want to be his campaign manager, and one of the ways that we’re wanting people to know about this campaign, is showing Kirk’s record in getting things done.”

Lars said that Watson’s prior experience in Austin politics gives him an advantage when it comes to tackling the city’s biggest issues. Lars listed transportation, homelessness, and particularly housing costs as some of Austin’s largest problems in recent years.

“One reason we talk about housing as being a housing emergency is it means that we have to take quick action in order to solve it,” Lars said. “There are so many ways in which we can provide more housing into this city, and I think that we have an opportunity to really address them. We have to definitely find ways to reform our current land development code.”

Mayoral candidate and UT student Phil Campero Brual also agrees on the need to reform Austin’s land development code, or LDC. Brual said that the housing crisis is one of Austin’s most pressing issues, and that, if elected, he would make immediate efforts to end it.

“The first thing I would do is basically force our city council to rezone and redraw the development codes that we have in the city,” Brual said. “These codes have been in our system since 1984, and they supported the growth spurt of suburban life. And we just can’t keep growing that way because we’re pushing a lot of our people out, out, out, and since we can’t do new development, prices continue to rise.”

Brual criticized other mayoral candidates’ housing plans as not going far enough. He said that simply increasing the supply of market-rate housing in Austin would not do enough to keep up with demand.

“The problem that people like Celia and Kirk Watson would face is that rezoning is just very much a temporary solution,” Brual said. “The next step that the city would have to do is to use the property that we own as a city… Using this land we could make housing affordable and keep them at prices that serve to keep everything in competition, forcing everything to go low without having to worry about big companies screwing over the common people.”

Both Brual and Lars said that homelessness was one of the top issues in the mayoral election. Brual said that his first action as mayor would be to use $11 million of funds from the American Rescue Plan to help fund homeless shelters in Travis County, while Lars detailed a plan to provide housing for the homeless population.

“The biggest thing is what we already talked about earlier, and that is access to housing,” Lars said. “In regards to homelessness, there has been a very large support for permanent supportive housing, which has been… one of the biggest benefactors in supporting our homeless, unhoused population.”

Lars said that Watson also supported many steps between supportive housing and doing nothing. He said that some of Austin’s current ways of helping the homeless come from Watson’s first term as mayor.

“When Kirk was mayor before, he was actually the first one to establish a homeless center for women and children in the City of Austin,” Lars said. “When he was mayor before, a lot of these issues that we’re facing today, he also had some play in it… he has that ability to look at what’s happening now and say ‘well maybe we could do it this way.'”

Lars and Brual also agreed on the importance of public transportation for Austin’s future. Lars mentioned Watson’s history of supporting transit initiatives in the Austin area.

“Kirk has worked both as senator and even when he was mayor, he worked hard for pushing public transportation, and typically rail,” Lars said. “There was a bond proposal to create a rail line back when he was mayor that he supported and promoted, unfortunately it was denied, but he was thinking about this nearly 30 years ago.”

Both candidates support CapMetro’s Project Connect, a multimodal public transit construction project in the Austin area. Brual said that while the project is necessary, he would like to re-evaluate its scope before construction begins.

“The problem is that Project Connect sacrifices way too many small businesses, and way too many areas of our city that make Austin Austin,” Brual said. “And that’s not even the only issue, the problem costs way more than the original estimate, something around seven billion, but now it’s up to ten billion… as a city, we need to take that project, re-evaluate, re-develop, and then get it going, because we’ve been sitting on our butts for way too long.”

While this is Brual’s first time running for office, he said that that shouldn’t count against him. He said that as a political science student, he has plenty of experience with the political process.

“I’ve attended way too many city hall meetings,” Brual said. “I’ve studied this kind of local politics in my classes, outside of my classes. There’s nothing that holds me back. I’ve noted sometimes that I’m able to answer questions that Celia, Kirk, or even Gary Spellman or Jennifer Virden can’t answer because they don’t understand, or they don’t know the answer. Just because this is my first time on a ballot, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing.”

While the candidates may be the ones on the ballot, it’s the voters of Austin who will ultimately decide the city’s next mayor. Senior Oscar Thompson, who has worked as a poll clerk in Travis County, stressed the importance of voting in every election on the ballot this November.

“One thing I can say for certain is that it’s very important for people to cast every vote that they can,” Thompson said. “A lot of the smaller elections tend to get ignored… the big ones are flashy, sure, but they don’t affect you the same on a daily basis.”

Thompson emphasized that many LASA students can still register to vote for this year’s election by Oct. 11, as long as they will be 18 by election day. He said that everyone should vote if they are able to, and that this year’s mayoral election is highly important.

“I would say that voting is one of the most important things you can do in a democracy, because that’s how democracy functions,” Thompson said. “Without voters, without people who are willing to use their vote, the whole system breaks down… the mayoral election is pretty important for Austin. That one is probably going to be for the heart and soul of Austin.”

The other four mayoral candidates are member of the Texas House of Representatives Celia Israel, real estate broker Jennifer Virden, local businessman Gary S. Spellman, and Anthony Bradshaw, Southeast Austin resident. Election day is November 8.