Six-Card Stud

It's a wide-open Place 4 race

With Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley's retirement, her term-limited Place 4 has drawn six candidates – half seasoned hands, half jokers. The crowded game means a June run-off is probably on the table. Here's a breakdown of the players, the cards, and the handicapping.

Robin Cravey

Robin Cravey
Robin Cravey (Photo by John Anderson)

"What I am really representing is the grassroots of the city," says attorney and environmental activist Robin Cravey. A practicing attorney, poet, and small publisher, Cravey traces a lineage to the Save Our Springs-era council of the early 1990s, having worked for council members Max Nofziger and Daryl Slusher. "It's important we have a vision for where we want to take the city over the next 20 years," Cravey says, before naming three priorities: to "keep Austin green" by creating a "grand metropolitan parks and trails system," to "bring back affordability," and to "make the city walkable and bikeable with a good public transit system. ... If we do these things again, Austin will be a hometown again instead of a commuter town."

A fervent environmentalist and founder of the Friends of Barton Springs Pool, Cravey says that to protect green space and curtail sprawl, "we're going to have to build taller and closer together," both Downtown and along major arterials. Cravey's bullish on the amount of affordability that needs to be built in, calling for city-incentivized projects to reserve half the total units at affordable rates and half at market rate. He hopes to help spur this on by potentially relaxing compatibility standards on affordable projects. "We have a substantial amount of public property Downtown, which should have taken affordable housing or middle-class housing. We should not lease it out for high-end condos," Cravey says, so baristas and musicians working Downtown can live there, too. Cravey also calls garage apartments an easy way to increase density without "messing with the fabric of the neighborhood at all" – he calls the McMansion home-size rules "a step backwards, on that front."

Concerning transportation, Cravey has earned the endorsement of the League of Bicy­cling Voters for his proposal to expand Austin's bikeways and trails. He believes rail is important but argues that Capital Metro should prioritize improvement of its bus system; as a council member, he hopes to sit on the Capital Metro board of directors.

While Cravey hasn't garnered Laura Mo­rri­son's endorsements or Cid Galindo's cash, he's optimistic about his chances. "Cid's gonna run a high-dollar campaign, and Laura's gone negative already," he says. Cravey feels his grassroots support will carry him to victory. "There's probably gonna be a run-off – if I'm in the run-off, I think I win."

Cid Galindo

Cid Galindo
Cid Galindo (Photo by John Anderson)

"The most powerful tool the city has – that council controls 100 percent – is to control zoning," Cid Galindo says. For this self-described New Urbanist and green builder, how land use addresses Austin's growth in the coming decade is paramount.

Galindo traces traffic, affordability, and environmental woes all to sprawl. To direct future growth, Galindo has proposed a series of "town centers" along the State Highway 130 corridor. He's laid out several ambitious plans, all grounded in land use: a call for "the nation's greatest urban park" in the heart of Austin and an ordinance allowing transfer of development rights in the Barton Springs Zone.

While zoning and land use excite Galindo, he doesn't describe himself as an academically trained urban planner but as a "number-crunching" MBA. Under the umbrella of the family business, the Galindo Group, he worked with property-management groups, a bank, and a fitness club in Bryan, Texas, before moving to Austin around 2000 and getting involved with the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Assoc­i­ation and the Downtown Austin Alliance. He says he then became "self-educated" on development and land use through the Con­gress of the New Urbanism (his "2035 Sustain­able City Initiative" was published for the recent CNU meeting held here) and his time on the city Planning Commission.

Galindo pragmatically approaches other issues. "We don't have a goal-oriented affordability plan," he says. Believing the market produces housing in the 80% to 120% median family income range, he says the city should "trade entitlements for affordability" to get more housing in the 60% to 80% range. Below 60% MFI, he advocates "pure public subsidy" in the form of tax credits and community land trusts. With social-service orgs stretched thin, Galindo (who serves on the board of the social-service agency Caritas of Austin) wants a one-time, 10% increase in the city's social-service budget. But with the city looking to control spending, he acknowledges tough decisions: "It may be some of the things at the bottom of the list get dropped off until next May." Additionally, Galindo, who was endorsed by Austin's public safety unions, has called for 2.5 police per thousand citizens (we currently don't meet two per thousand). As for cost, Galindo calls the increase dependent on meeting certain benchmarks and says "we move incrementally to that goal." With tangible improvements, he believes, "It's an easy sell to the public."

A slightly harder sell has been Galindo's politics. He's been attacked (by Laura Morrison supporters) as having voted in the 2004 Republican primary and for contributing to Republican candidates; his father, Ramiro Galindo, is on the board of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. A self-described independent, Galindo says: "I don't think it's an issue the majority of Austin voters are concerned about. It's a nonpartisan race, and I'm the only nonpartisan in it."

Laura Morrison

Laura Morrison
Laura Morrison (Photo by John Anderson)

Laura Morrison jokes that she has two special skills quite handy for council members: her career in disaster management and her recent regimen of tap-dancing lessons. While it's a lighthearted wisecrack, the disparate fields exemplify the two sides of Morrison's work for Austin and city neighborhoods: her ability to ably approach contentious policy questions like the McMansion Ordinance and the agile song and dance that work requires.

Morrison is a disaster-management consultant, having drafted preparedness plans for pandemic flu outbreaks; prior to that, she spent 12 years with Lockheed Martin overseeing engineering for the Portuguese and U.S. air forces. (Asked about working with a defense contractor, she says, "I didn't intend to stay as long as I did.") Morrison is best known for her work with the Austin Neighborhoods Council, the consortium of neighborhood associations that grew in size and influence during her tenure. During that period, Morrison also served as co-chair of the McMansion task force, whose home-size restrictions were adopted by council.

A stout neighborhood advocate, Morrison is vexed that the city sometimes ignores neighborhood plans. "We have thousands of citizens going through this process, whether they're legally binding or not. It's bad policy to ignore it." A Morrison win would renew focus on the "neighborhood liaison" positions on city staff allocated under the last city budget, which haven't exactly materialized. She also supports drafting a comprehensive growth plan for the city.

Morrison's not a single-issue candidate. Noting that "growth's not paying for itself," on transportation issues, Morrison favors congestion-relief measures like traffic calming (which she considers currently underfunded) while developing longer-term responses. With the city looking for cost savings, Morrison suggests carefully monitoring the current round of public safety negotiations and "holding the line" on cost-drivers there. "Clearly, we need an effective police force," she says, but ultimately, she hopes for a greater buy-in to social-service support agencies "to break the cycles of poverty and [income] disparity. ... We start investing in that; we get a huge return on investment – both financially and in terms of improving our quality of life."

On affordability, Morrison (who serves on the HousingWorks policy committee) calls for "a fuller discussion with more information." "Where do we live? How do we get around? How are we going to ensure necessary affordability levels?" she asks. "There's no silver bullet," she says, but "the tools that we do have we need to use more aggressively." She wants implementation of the 25% affordability requirement for transit-oriented developments, a jump-start to the delayed Eastside homestead preservation district, and exploration of federal tax credits.

Moreover, Morrison thinks her consensus-building skills will be a welcome addition to the dais – where no doubt, she'll be dancing as fast as she can.

Bottom of the Deck

Six-Card Stud
Illustration by Craig Staggs

Of the remaining Place 4 candidates, perennial candidate Jennifer Gale has the most name recognition, having previously run (several times) for council – and mayor, senator, governor, and school board. Gale is known for her chipper, singsong moments at City Council meetings, if not her policy positions: banning buildings over four stories and swelling the council size to 30 members. Sam Osemene is a parole officer pursuing a graduate degree from UT-Austin. Fond of quoting the Federalists, the Ron Paul-supporting Osemene has called for very limited local taxation; lately he's taken to attacking his opponents as corrupt. Ken Vas­seau is an apartment locator who has acknowledged running for council in order to raise his business profile. His seven-point platform calls for "issuing municipal bonds at low rates" to pay for public safety services and finding "a solution to the panhandling epidemic."

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