District 5 Candidates Tout Public Safety Chops at AFA Forum

D5 candidates oppose DOJ consent decree

(Most of the) City Council District 5 candidates.
(Most of the) City Council District 5 candidates. (by Photo by Mary Tuma)

On Saturday morning, four of the seven candidates running for City Council District 5 propped up their public safety bona fides during a forum hosted by the Austin Firefighters Association.

Candidates Dave Floyd, Jason Denny, Dan Buda and Ann Kitchen fielded questions from AFA members during the hour-long, sparsely attended event (candidates Dave Senecal, Mike Rodriguez and CarolAnneRose Kennedy were not present).

What would make each candidate the choice for local fire, EMS, and police members? Floyd, an attorney with business law experience who has billed himself as a political “moderate,” championed worker safety during his time in insurance; Denny, a Marine veteran, serves as watch commander for his neighborhood and advocates for more 911 dispatchers; Buda, a Realtor, worked on public safety and emergency preparedness issues at the Lege while chief of staff to state Sen. Wendy Davis; and Kitchen, president of Health & Community Strategies and former state rep, delved into her legislative record, including policies that raised benefits for firefighters (which likely helped earn a previous endorsement by the AFA) and sponsorship of a sexual assault DNA testing bill, which garnered recognition from the local police.

As expected, the firefighters in attendance wanted to know how the Council candidates would address the consent decree controversy, which drew considerable contention from AFA members. The Fire Department and the AFA have for several years been feuding over cadet hiring standards -- more specifically, how to overcome a history of racial discrimination in hiring -- and recently, City Council voted 5-2 to accept a Department of Justice decree, placing the cadet hiring process in DOJ hands for the next four to eight years.

All four candidates said they would have voted against the decree and if elected, would try to reverse it. Kitchen said she drafted a letter of support while the issue was being considered, while Buda called the Council decision “extremely shortsighted” and a sign the city was just “giving up” on solving the problem. Both attorneys running - Floyd and Kitchen – said it’s rarely a good idea to allow the feds to oversee local departments.

And if elected, it appears every candidate plans to make changes when it comes to open dialogue with top municipal brass. When asked about the leadership of city management officials, all candidates voiced concern over lack of communication between City Manager Marc Ott and other departments. Buda said there was a “lack of accountability and transparency” at the city management level and if elected, he’d “rein in” the city manager. Kitchen, also said she was “very troubled” by the lack of communication.

While the race is still early (official ballot applications were filed last week), Kitchen is leading the pack in fundraising, and she made noted that during the forum. “I’ve raised more than all my opponents combined,” she said, describing herself as political veteran with a proven track record. Kitchen grossed more than $42,000 from donors during the initial filing period and attracted roughly 200 supporters to her campaign kick-off. Buda, who also has legislative chops, said he had raised $15,000 in only two weeks of campaigning, and has talked “directly to voters” since April.

District 5 runs in a fairly narrow pattern from Lady Bird Lake on the north side, through Barton Hills, and southward around Sunset Valley, incorporating Onion Creek to the east and reaching nearly to Buda (including a city-incorporated island to the east).

Candidate forums are just getting started. For a full list of upcoming events, check out the Chronicle's Elections Page. Profiles of D5 candidates here.

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