Austin Has Shot at Reform

RECEIVED Mon., Jan. 30, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Thanks for Josh Rosenblatt's report on Laura Pressley's decision to run for City Council Place 2 [“Pressley Settles on Martinez,” News, Jan. 27].
    Historically, it's fitting that Eastside activists and anyone who supports geographic representation in Austin should focus on places 5 and 2. The last attempt to defy the gentlemen's agreement was in 1997, when incumbent Gus Garcia switched from Place 5 to Place 2, opening up a seat for more minority candidates. In Place 5, Manuel Zuniga was the top candidate, with 43% (25,309 votes). Bill Spelman, a white academic running for the traditionally Hispanic seat, was a distant second with only 28%. Far from a public-relations disaster, Spelman won the run-off, with 2,000 votes fewer than Zuniga's first-round total. Garcia won Place 2, but his effort to reform the City Council election system failed.
    So the incumbents in 2 and 5 owe their positions to the reprehensible gentlemen's agreement, although they have long professed support for single-member districts. In fall 2009, they had the opportunity to take the lead and put an independent districting body in place before the release of the census data in 2011, so that mapping of single-member districts could be taken directly to the people. Martinez and Spelman both indicated to reform advocates that the time was right, but instead, they did nothing. Now we are stuck in the same old, befuddling Charter revision process, dithering over who should or should not decide on district boundaries.
    Austin has a real shot at reform this year if East Austin and all supporters of geographic representation can rally behind strong East Austin candidates in both Place 2 and Place 5.
    Thanks again for your coverage of Austin city politics.
Lorraine Atherton
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