As reported Friday, current Council Member Chris Riley announced that he’s withdrawing from the District 9 run-off against his colleague Kathie Tovo. Riley woke up after election day down 10 percentage points to Tovo, who missed a majority victory by 1% of the vote on Nov. 4.
The resulting victory makes Tovo the third member elected to the next City Council (along with Delia Garza in D2 and Ann Kitchen in D5). Should Steve Adler defeat Mike Martinez in the mayoral run-off, she’ll be most experienced member set to hold a chair along the Council dais.
Speaking Monday morning, Tovo told the Chronicle her victory showed Austinites that “District 9 does want to see good planning at City Council” and “decisions that are reflective of the different neighborhoods.” “District 9 is a pretty diverse place,” she said of the central Austin area, which runs from Oltorf Road to 51st Street with a few outlying neighborhoods (Mueller, Windsor Park) mixed in-between. “The pattern of development in a place like Mueller is different from the pattern of development in Hyde Park. As we move forward with land development code rewrite changes and other big policy changes, I believe it’s going to be very important for the Council to respect those differences.”
Moving forward, Tovo said that she hopes the time now available in lieu of more campaigning can be spent on further contesting the newly approved Austin Water usage rates via the Austin Water Utility Financial Plan as well as the issue of property taxes and incentives with regard to new companies moving into the city. “We had a resolution that was posted on the agenda, but the resolution really needed some more work,” she said. “I’m hopeful to get that on for the 16th, but it needed a little more of my time.” Longer term, Tovo said she hopes to focus a keener eye on renewing talks about a potential park in the Crestview neighborhood where Austin Energy used to hold property, and mentioned an increased interest in examining affordable housing and property taxes.
Tovo’s victory coincides with Riley’s departure, and thus, one less progressive voice at City Council. Via telephone Monday, Riley recounted his proudest accomplishments through five years in office, laying out four achievements that center around drastic changes to city infrastructure – transportation, housing, sustainability, and urban planning and design – and a focus on further developing the city’s standing as a progressive model (he pointed to his push for gender neutral bathrooms and improved health benefits for same sex couples).
“When I grew up in Austin, it was always very easy to drive anywhere you needed to go,” he said, alluding to his recent work to make Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft legal throughout the city. “You were 15 minutes away from everything in town. A lot of Austinites were accustomed to that. As we’ve grown so quickly in recent years, we’ve come to realize that, at a certain point, that doesn’t work so well … What I’ve been trying to do is help re-think the way we treat our streets, moving from a city that’s oriented towards cars to a city oriented towards people.”
In that respect, Riley championed a wildly new vision of the city where he grew up, one he believes will continue to take form as millennials develop an interest in voting.
“That’s something that’s been commented on nationally,” he said of his struggles to get young supporters out to the ballot box. “Millennials have been very supportive of transit, but unfortunately haven’t been getting out to vote in support of transit. [They] have very clear values of their own, but haven’t been good about making those preferences known.” Indeed, Riley’s campaign hinged heavily on support from younger demographics. With a run-off set to coincide with the beginning of UT’s winter break, it would have been difficult for him to have amassed enough voter support that day.
With the decision now behind him, Riley says immediate future plans involve a good amount of travel and just as much catching up on recently neglected reading before eventually settling into a position that will allow him to “create great places in Austin.
“I’m not sure what kind of form that will take, but I like the idea of creating nice places for Austinites to live and hang out – whether that’s residential, mixed-use, or parks and plazas,” he said.
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