The Austin Chronicle

The Road to 10-1: Meet District 1

By Michael King, September 8, 2014, 3:30pm, Newsdesk

No doubt you’ve already signed up for tonight’s first Chronicle 10-1 forum, featuring the District 1 candidates, at 7pm. Wesley United Methodist Church, 1164 San Bernard. The Chronicle has teamed up with KUT-FM, KXAN-TV, Univision, and the Austin Monitor to bring you a series of 10-1 City Council candidate forums. Tonight, we begin.

Who’s on first? The District 1 candidates: Andrew Bucknall, Michael Cargill, George Hindman, Ora Houston, Chris Hutchins, Norman Jacobson, DeWayne Lofton, Valerie Menard, Sam Osemene. (All are expected to attend.)

District 1 is the sole “African-American opportunity” district, with a African-American population of 28% - not a plurality, but based on historic voting patterns, perhaps enough for those voters to be decisive, at least with coalition voting (the Hispanic population, by contrast, is 43%, but Latino voting percentage is historically lower).

The city’s Ethics Review Commission and the Austin League of Women Voters held a District 1 forum last week, Sept. 4, and all but Jacobson took part. The most experienced candidates appear to be Bucknall, Houston, and Lofton – each of whom has been quite active in neighborhood and city politics and policy (Lofton described himself more than once as the “most experienced” candidate).

By way of introduction to tonight’s proceedings, here are a few distinctions offered by the candidates in last week’s forum.

Most spoke against the city’s economic incentive programs, at least to attract larger corporations, although there was considerable sentiment to target smaller, local businesses. (Might call the answers, “No, but …”). A couple of questions touched directly or indirectly on incentives, but asked “what they would do differently on incentives,” the responses provided a range of opinion. Cargill questioned why he’s paying annual city fees for alarm systems at his home and office, when he hasn’t yet had an alarm in either place. Houston said all benefits from incentives accrue to Downtown, and that the city could better “redistribute that income” by lowering utility rates. Bucknall said, “It depends” – noting that, for example, the Urban Renewal Board (on which he serves) recommends useful incentives to encourage development in struggling neighborhoods, and the best approach is to maintain metrics that assure the city is getting a good return on investment.

Hindman rejected incentives altogether and instead recommended a plan for homeowners’ property tax exemptions, particularly favoring new homeowners and the elderly. Osemene suggested targeting local businesses for incentives, and Hutchins suggested finding ways to incentivize lower rents. Lofton enthusiastically supported the city’s current programs, saying they are in fact reasonable, judiciously-monitored, and provide the city a good financial and workforce return on the investments. Menard recommended a closer audit on the deals, and targeting smaller businesses.

A few other highlights:

Osemene blamed “too much regulation” for inhibiting business growth and driving up housing costs. Hindman, as an engineer, said he is a “problem solver” who will apply technical solutions to issues like traffic congestion. Lofton advocated recruiting manufacturers to District 1, partnering with ACC to provide the necessary training for living wage jobs. Although most of the candidates were critical of the current relationship between the Austin Police Department and the minority community, Houston said it had improved under Chief Art Acevedo, and all advocated “community-based policing.”

Asked about working with Austin ISD, most candidates noted the limited role of city government, but offered a few suggestions. Lofton proposed higher district priority for Eastside schools; Menard suggested “partnerships” to promote student needs like health care and libraries. Cargill said the city should spend more money on neighborhood libraries rather than Downtown Central, where “only the homeless will benefit.” Houston mentioned working through the Legislature to reform the recapture system and return more tax money to Austin. Bucknall agreed, but noted neighborhood programs he’s supported that have provided food for schoolchildren in the summertime. Hindman promoted “school choice,” and specifically tax exemptions for home schoolers and private schools to “provide competition.” Osemene said, “It’s the family’s responsibility to raise a child, not the government,” and said there is no point in “throwing money at it.” Finally, Hutchins recommended that Austin schools “go on strike” against standardized testing, and simply “not do it.”

For more from the District 1 candidates, consult the Election page, and please join us at the forum tonight.

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