Zimmerman and Flannigan Face-Off in Candidate Forum

Zimmerman doubles down on opposing climate change, living wage

District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman (right) and challenger Jimmy Flannigan address roughly 100 constituents during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters. (Photo by Mary Tuma)

In a tense forum hosted by the League of Women Voters - Austin on Thursday, Sept. 15, District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman and challenger Jimmy Flannigan threw a few punches amid questions about traffic congestion, community policing, climate change, lobbying, and the Mobility Bond.

At the start of the hourlong forum hosted at Hope Presbyterian Church in far Northwest Austin, League representatives scolded Zimmerman for bringing campaign materials to the event and for directly attacking his opponent (both violations of their rules). Zimmerman put up a fight about the former, but eventually relented, perhaps realizing this wasn’t the Council dais.

While the event served as an expected forum for both candidates to champion their respective platforms, evident frustrations over their competitor crept up. Flannigan used the opportunity to reiterate the importance of coming to compromise on the dais and told the audience “abstention is not leadership” – a not so subtle jab at his opponent’s record of abstaining from Council votes. “The only way we’re going to get these problems solved is if we work together. We cannot grandstand, we cannot attack, we cannot accuse,” said Flannigan. “ … There are serious needs in our district and it’s not going to be enough to just yell and scream about city staff and pretend they’re going to get fixed,” he continued later.

Zimmerman, touting his usual anti-government motto (it’s either “freedom and liberty” or bureaucracy, he stressed), doubled down on his climate change denialism and aversion to equitable labor practices.

When asked about climate change (which garnered audible chuckles from the audience), Zimmerman – who once chased a respected climate scientist from Council chambers – slammed Austin Energy’s East Texas biomass power plant as akin to an “Enron scam” and a “boondoggle.” He described climate change as a mere “propaganda” tactic to scare voters. “The sun warms the Earth, not carbon dioxide. You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth grader to know if the sun were to instantly turn off, this entire planet would turn into an ice ball and everybody would be dead.” (On that note, Zimmerman called the city’s Zero Waste goals “utopian, unaffordable, and unsustainable.”)

Zimmerman also criticized Council’s vote last year to increase the minimum wage for employees from $11.39 to $13.03 an hour, saying he doesn’t support a living wage because the term “doesn’t make sense” and it shouldn’t be the government’s job to define it. Flannigan, on the other hand, said the wage increase vote was an “important” move by Council and that he supports unionization.

The controversial council member took the liberty to direct praise his own way for mounting an effort to push embattled City Manager Marc Ott out. (After ongoing criticism of his performance, Ott will start a new post as the executive director at the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C., by Oct. 31.)

“I campaigned hard against the city manager. I deserve a little bit of credit for his departure,” said Zimmerman, reveling in applause. Flannigan quickly countered Zimmerman, saying Ott actually stayed in his position longer to “defend his reputation.”

However, Zimmerman did express one point of likely accord between the two candidates: “We have very different ideologies,” he said. “You really have a choice here. It’s amazing, you don’t really get that choice very much.”

The two men competed for a shot at D6 in a tight 2014 run-off. They go head-to-head again this November. For more on their race, read here.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Election 2016, City Council, November 2016 Election, Don Zimmerman, Jimmy Flannigan

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