In Kirk Watson's New Austin, where few things seem permanent except for change, it's easy to be tempted not to vote at all. With Watson's re-election a certainty, and another green, Smart Growth-friendly council a virtual inevitability, the Watson Way -- for better and worse -- will probably be Austin's way for some time to come. And with runoffs likely in at least two council races, Austin voters can rest assured that it ain't over yet.

But don't give in to the temptation to sit this one out. Vote. Not only is it your responsibility, it could make a real difference. For the first time in at least the past three years, little is predetermined in most of the key races. Several City Council seats, including those for Places 2 and 5, could be decided -- or be forced into a runoff -- by just a handful of voters. And however you vote (or whether you vote at all), your decision will affect how -- and by whom -- Austin is governed in the future.

And City Council hopefuls aren't the only candidates we'll be voting on. Austin Independent School Board and Austin Community College races also come into play, along with one very important referendum to determine how AISD sends its tax dollars away to "property-poor" school districts.

Early voting has already begun, and continues through May 2. For early voting locations, call the city's election office, 499-2220, or see the city's Web site: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us.

Austin City Council

Mayor: No Endorsement

Do we think Leslie would be a better mayor than Kirk Watson? Not really. But nor do we think that Austin is devoid of better mayoral possibilities. We understand perfectly that the general progressivism and typical unity of our current City Council has been a good thing for Austin. We differ, however, from the reigning gospel that Watson is responsible for everything good that's happened over the last three years.

We do think, however, that Watson is responsible for a lot of not-so-good political trends -- the zeal for the deal that elevates expediency over principle and directs policymakers to get ready, fire, and then aim. We are happy to live in a town whose leaders are committed to solving our long-term problems. But we do not think that resolving disagreements is an end in itself. So we offer a reluctant no-endorsement in this race: While the last three years have been, on balance, very good ones for Austin, we don't think Kirk Watson deserves so much of the credit that he should win a second term by acclamation.

Place 2: Raul Alvarez

Let's face it: You can't outrun the past. Rafael Quintanilla wants Austin voters to forgive and forget his long reputation as a staunch SOS opponent and lobbyist for big-business interests and vote him into the City Council on his record of civic involvement -- but voters shouldn't be so quick to take the bait. Raul Alvarez, a longtime community organizer with groups like the Sierra Club (where he is environmental justice director), the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood planning team, and PODER, is a cleaner -- not to mention greener -- candidate. At 33, he has the kind of fire in the belly and on-the-ground experience you expect of an activist, not an administrator; he could even be (dare we say it?) his generation's answer to Gus Garcia. Despite Quintanilla's undeniable dedication to East Austin, he fails to stand out in this five-candidate field; our endorsement goes to Alvarez.

Place 5: Clare Barry

Clare Barry is an activist's activist. Long before neighborhoods and the environment had cachet among Austin's power elite, Barry was fighting hard on both fronts, both as president of the Brentwood Neighborhood Association and as a vocal member of a long list of city boards and commissions. She's a symbol, in many ways, of what Austin activism used to be -- a forceful, yet not strident, voice against growth run rampant and top-down, closed-door city government.

Actually, this race is packed with appealing candidates -- campaign finance reform advocate Linda Curtis is running on a platform of open government, as is neighborhood advocate and affordable housing supporter Chip Howe. Another contender, Amy Babich, is running to increase the city's awareness of walking and biking as transportation options.

Barry's most promising opponent -- architect and historical preservationist Will Wynn -- supports Smart Growth and has gotten dual endorsements, along with Barry, of many in Austin's environmental community. Still, he has been tagged by some opponents as the "establishment" candidate. That may be hyperbole, but rest assured -- Wynn isn't going to rock this council's boat. Barry just might.

Place 6: Willie Lewis

We don't always agree with Willie Lewis, but we believe this council member has all of Austin's best interests at heart, despite what his detractors may say. Lewis deserves credit on a number of fronts, particularly on such initiatives as the Traditional Neighborhood District -- a planned community of affordable homes in Northeast Austin -- and his willingness to meet with business owners along the East 11th and 12th street corridor to hear their concerns about East Austin redevelopment issues. Lewis is a strong neighborhoods advocate, as demonstrated by his votes that consistently come down on the side of residents instead of the well-heeled City Hall lobbyists. And finally, we like Lewis because he is not beholden to special interests, unless, of course, one considers our neighborhoods, our community, a special interest. That's okay by us.

Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees

District 2: Rudy Montoya

Rudy Montoya is by no means the most dynamic or probing force on the current school board, but he is trusted and stays close to his roots in Southeast Austin. His challenger, Wanda Rogers, has herself logged some serious hours in Eastside schools as a committee volunteer, but isn't yet as articulate on the issues. That's not to say Rogers' views aren't thoughtful and discerning, just perhaps not ready for prime time. Montoya, active in both charities that support schoolchildren and the Texas Association of School Boards, has both heart and competence and should serve another term.

District 3: No Endorsement

On one side, you have businessman Tom Arbuckle vowing to end school tax increases. On the other, there's PTA mom Johna Edwards, who isn't promising anything at all. Neither, unfortunately, demonstrates enough credibility to be a satisfactory candidate. Arbuckle is not without support within AISD and is reportedly a straight shooter. But we can't endorse a school board candidate whose criticism of whole language instruction, bilingual learning, and other tenets of modern education seem suspiciously informed by the Christian right.

On the other hand, Edwards seems to have but a shaky grasp on issues crucial to AISD right now, and her one term as president of the Austin City Council of PTAs was marred by the passage of a no-confidence resolution against district administration that lacked widespread support in the PTA ranks.

District 5: Ingrid Taylor

Ingrid Taylor couldn't have volunteered for school board duty at a better time. An educational consultant and former employee of the Texas Performance Review, the state comptroller's auditing team, Taylor's primary experience is in school finance, and that will be needed as AISD heads into a contentious era of possible school closures and program trimming. Taylor is fiscally hard-nosed but has also shown teachers and other educators a more sophisticated understanding of the educational ABCs than opponent Albert Stowell, a commercial developer. Austin parents and taxpayers should not miss this chance to put someone with Taylor's talent on the school board.

AISD Referendum

Chapter 41, Options 1 and 2: Yes

This ought to be a no-brainer, but in case it's not, here's why you should vote "yes" on both Chapter 41 ballot items: If you don't, AISD will -- not could, not might, but will -- lose a substantial portion of its taxable property forever.

The option isn't, as the ballot language suggests, whether or not to send tax dollars away from AISD to property-poor districts; under Chapter 41, the 1993 state law that requires richer school districts to send tax dollars to poorer districts, we don't have a choice. Our only choice is in how our dollars get distributed: We can choose to send them to the state for redistribution, to send them directly to other school districts, or both.

If we vote down both options, the state will take about $2.3 billion worth of taxable property away from AISD and attach it to another district forever. That means no more Motorola, no more IBM, no more Southwestern Bell -- among numerous other large properties that generate tax revenue for our schools -- ever again. The choice for Austin is a resounding "yes" on both options.

Austin Community College Board of Trustees

Place 7: Barbara Mink

Outgoing ACC Trustee Hunter Ellinger was a valuable asset to the community college during his tenure on the board, and we believe educator Barbara Mink would be equally beneficial. Of the four candidates running for this open post, Mink, a former ACC administrator, possesses prized higher-ed experience that would enable her to hit the ground running as a trustee. We believe Mink is not only capable but fully committed to meeting her goals, which include broadening participation in ACC's planning process, providing competitive salaries to ACC employees, bringing more diversity to the faculty, and using citizen advisory committees for program planning and evaluation. As an aside, we also like the fact that Mink has earned her stripes on the neighborhoods front. She is secretary of the North Acres Homeowners Assn. and a former vice president of the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association. All things considered, Mink is our choice.      end story
Editorial board members voting in this endorsement process were Nick Barbaro, Amy Smith, Erica Barnett, Mike Clark-Madison, Robert Bryce, and Jenny Staff Johnson.

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