City Council Districts 3 and 4
By Mary Tuma and Michael King, Fri., Sept. 12, 2014
This week we continue our 10-1 City Council forum series, Ballot Boxing, produced and sponsored by the Chronicle, the Austin Monitor, KUT-FM, Univision, and KXAN-TV. For more info, including how to RSVP to attend, plus listings of other forums, see the Elections pages at austinchronicle.com/elections. You can watch all the forums, live-streaming (or archived) at KXAN-TV or Univision, or listen at KUT-FM.
District 37pm Monday, Sept. 15
North Door, 502 Brushy
District 3 has drawn an even dozen candidates, making it the most crowded of the 10-1 races – and arguably the most contentious. Designed as a Hispanic voter opportunity district (60.8% Hispanic/Latino), the area incorporates some of South Austin below Oltorf (to Stassney) as well as Montopolis, and the Cesar Chavez area eastward.
Longtime East Austin activist and co-founder of People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources, Susana Almanza remains the aggressive, determined, and de facto frontrunner. President of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association, and a former Parks and Recreation board member, Almanza promotes "social justice, environmental protection, and affordability." But to win a Council seat, she'll need to defeat her brother, Sabino "Pio" Renteria, a retired computer technician and also a longtime community activist (endorsed by the Austin Central Labor Council), who is championing affordable housing and cultural preservation, and fighting Eastside resident displacement (i.e., "gentrification"). Another serious contender is the vocal and confident Fred McGhee, author and adjunct professor of anthropology at Austin Community College. McGhee is a historic preservation/public housing advocate, and previously ran for ACC trustee.
Shaun Ireland, finance director at his family firm, DTI Resources, ran for Place 6 in 2012, and is emphasizing better transportation and emergency management. Kent Phillips, a Libertarian/GOP candidate for state office in 2010 and 2012, wants to end "protectionism" and reinforce police accountability. Paramedic and neighborhood activist Mario Cantu is advocating better health care and affordability, while Eric J. Rangel, a special projects coordinator at TxDOT and also a former Council candidate, is focusing on economic development and crime. Tejano band leader Julian Limon Fernandez, wants to bring tax relief to citizens and improve parks – and was recently engaged in defending Eastside urban farms opposed by Almanza. Also in the running: high school science teacher and e-book author Ricardo Turullols-Bonilla, and former Place 2 Council candidate Jose Quintero.
Jumping in late in the game, Jose Valera, Tamale House East owner, intellectual property attorney, and Iraq War veteran, says he hopes to increase public safety and quality education. Christopher Hoerster, a full-time graduate student who was previously Pete Salazar Jr.'s campaign manager (in District 7), aims to boost municipal transparency.
With a race this full and competitive, the mudslinging commenced early – it's not yet clear if any of it will stick. Controversy first erupted over competing campaign yard signs at McGhee's treasurer's home; then activist and Cantu supporter Stefan Wray lodged an ethics complaint against Almanza (see below); and most recently, another ethics complaint was filed by Ireland against McGhee, for failing to include a legally required campaign disclaimer in a postcard promoting his new book on Montopolis. (The accumulating complaints have at least temporarily moved the Almanza/Renteria sibling rivalry into the campaign background.)
The political melodrama is likely to persist, at least until November – and then into a probable run-off. – Mary Tuma
District 47pm Wednesday, Sept. 17
Marchesa Hall and Theatre, 6226 Middle Fiskville
District 4 runs from Koenig to Braker Lane along I-35, incorporating a wide range of neighborhoods, with a majority of renters and a high percentage of immigrants, both of which help account for its relatively low number of registered voters and thin electoral turnout. The eight candidates are hoping that grassroots legwork will be sufficient to carry the district, and most observers expect a run-off.
Greg Casar and Katrina Daniel tout their experience in the workings of city government; Casar through his advocacy role on workers' rights issues (and city construction contracts) at the Workers Defense Project, and Daniel on health care issues (she's a Central Health board member) and as a neighborhood advocate (Highland NA). Casar's youth and background should help in an Hispanic opportunity district, though his opponents have noted that he moved into the district (from nearby) recently, as have several others on the list. Casar led in early fundraising and has garnered some important endorsements. Daniel's campaign circulated a letter from her one-time legislative boss and mentor, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who described her as the "real Democrat" in the race.
Businesswoman Laura Pressley was just about even with Daniel in early fundraising, and has been rebranding herself from Council gadfly (anti-fluoride, anti-smart-meters, etc.) into a fiscal conservative and Austin Neighborhoods Council activist (president of the Windsor Hills NA). Public relations consultant Marco Mancillas has been active in local Democratic politics, has been looking for a race for some time, and has raised a smaller campaign kitty.
The other four candidates, having raised virtually no money among them, will be running largely on shoe leather, which they hope will be enough to get into a run-off in this new 10-1 universe. Marketing consultant and Realtor Sharon Mays has deep district roots, and like most of the candidates has emphasized "affordability." Monica Guzmán, a community organizer who worked as an enrollment specialist during the first Affordable Care Act enrollment period, has presented herself as the most populist of the candidates, steadily engaged in grassroots work. Roberto Perez Jr., a projects coordinator for Goodwill Industries, has noted his years of work on neighborhood safety, especially through the Rundberg Revitalization team. And civil engineer Louis Herrin III (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) is running on his technical expertise and fiscal conservatism, with a focus on public safety and reducing city costs. – Michael King
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.