City Council Districts 7 and 8
We're over halfway through our City Council media 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 our Elections page at austinchronicle.com/elections. You can watch all the forums livestreamed on KXAN-TV and Univision (or watch the video archive at www.kxan.com); you can also listen live at KUT-FM (or hear the audio archive at www.kut.org).
District 87pm Monday, Sept. 29
Alamo Slaughter, 5701 Slaughter Ln.
Two subjects are inescapable in District 8: traffic and taxes.
Traffic woes simmer in every area of Austin's most southwest district, where many Oak Hill and Circle C Ranch commuters wonder if the project to connect SH 45 SW (and effectively MoPac) to 1626 via a toll road – planned decades ago – will ever come to fruition. The Y at Oak Hill remains constantly congested, and much of the district is a virtual Capital Metro dead zone. (Whether SH 45 will do much to resolve either problem remains an open question.) Voters trumpeting these issues are nothing new, but under the 10-1 system, with a fresh Council seat, there's renewed optimism that the winner among the five candidates will be able to make those concerns a priority in the new year.
Meanwhile, property tax increases have hit this district (63.3% homeowners, highest in the city) particularly hard. The general preference appears to be a 20% homestead exemption (proposed by various candidates), which has offered some relief from Travis County and AISD. All five candidates – progressive to Tea Party conservative – support such a measure.
Ed Scruggs, a pharmaceutical researcher and a founder of the Circle C Democrats, emphasizes his work as a neighborhood advocate, and vocally opposes the SH 45 project, arguing the increase in traffic will "destroy MoPac." He has garnered several endorsements, including the Central Labor Council, University Democrats, Education Austin, and Environmental Democrats; his candidacy will test whether those groups have much influence in District 8.
Professional engineer and land planner Becky Bray touts her years in the industry, saying the current Council hasn't made enough effort to relieve traffic. The Republican disagrees with Scruggs' dismissal of SH 45, but adds she prefers a more holistic take on the district's transportation issues, addressing the need for park-and-ride options and continued work at the vexed juncture of 290 and 71. On taxes, Bray falls within party lines, insisting on additional tax relief.
Running on his considerable charm and an extensive city-volunteer past (including the Mayor's Transportation Working Group and the Planning Commission), Darrell Pierce is occupying the middle ground, proposing a Council "report card" to gauge productivity. He's run before (2006, for Place 6), and he's sufficiently well-known and liked in D8 that he's a fair bet to make a run-off.
Eliza May has worked in Austin politics for decades. An active member of the Hispanic political scene, she was an early champion of single-member districts, worked on the 10-1 campaign, and before that, worked with the Save Our Springs Alliance. She's been aggressive on taxes, proposing a property tax freeze for residents over 65 (the city has an exemption, but unlike AISD, no freeze). Her campaign treasurer is Austin Affordability blogger and tax hawk Bill Oakey, and she's endorsed by the Network of Asian American Organizations PAC.
The most conservative voice by far is Realtor Ellen Troxclair, aide to GOP state Rep. Jason Isaacs; she's making a name for herself as a suburban pit bull determined to combat City Hall's spending excesses. Railing against Council's mishandling of an Aug. 28 vote on Austin Energy policy in both email blasts and forums – though she hasn't bothered to get the details right – Troxclair's anti-Downtown, anti-liberal message rings loud and clear. – Nina Hernandez
District 77pm Thursday, Oct. 2
Alamo Village, 2700 W. Anderson
Geographically and demographically, the northwestern D7 is like a brain: its two hemispheres split by the divide of Hwy. 183. To the south are the relatively affluent neighborhoods around Allandale, where the most prominent recent civic campaigns have been to block the new Little Woodrow's on Burnet and to get a new park for Crestview. To the north, around Parmer, Metric, and Braker, the city's energies have been poured into the Restore Rundberg Project (also a District 4 effort), tackling the poverty and crime that has slowed growth. The question now is whether the two disparate electorates can agree on a City Council member to represent everyone.
Unsurprisingly, five of the eight candidates come from the district's historically more politically active south. That includes regular names in local affairs: Jeb Boyt and Leslie Pool have been fixtures on various city boards, commissions, and neighborhood groups for decades. As a founder of the Bull Creek Road Coalition, Pool can claim some credit for the city's recent decision to negotiate to purchase 75 acres of state land in West Austin. However, she is not the only candidate with state-level experience: Jimmy Paver was a staffer to both Rep. Mark Strama and Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Meanwhile, county transportation planner Melissa Zone emphasizes neighborhood preservation, while charity veteran Pete Salazar promotes a coherent public transport strategy and encouraging small business.
North of the 183 divide, Zach Ingraham highlights transportation frustrations (Metric is virtually collapsing, while the Red Line passes through – but doesn't stop) and his concerns about police militarization have been timely. Retired salesman Ed English was an early member of Austinites for Geographic Representation, while Fleming's Prime Steakhouse co-operator Darryl Wittle could provide a voice for the still-burgeoning Domain.
So far, Boyt, Pool, and Zone have split the small number of endorsements between them, but Paver took an early lead in the ground game, with mailers and a steady August calendar of meet-and-greets across the district. It has since become a battle of yard signs: An early crop of Paver and Zone was joined by late-blooming Boyt, Pool, and English.
The next round of campaign finance reports come due Monday, Oct. 6; initial reports showed Paver leading on fundraising, mostly through a $40,000 loan to his own campaign. However, he's not just spending his own money, with $18,000 in contributions in his July campaign report (including $300 from Pool, contributed in May before she filed herself). His nearest rival, Boyt, sits on a $20,000 war chest. He made a $5,000 loan to himself; other contributions are from political regulars like consultant Mike Blizzard, Downtown Austin Alliance president Charlie Betts, and developer Perry Lorenz – no surprise, considering Boyt's long career of urban advocacy. After them, no other candidate had raised more than a few thousand as of the July deadline, with three latecomers – Ingraham, Pool, and Wittle – not having filed reports.
D8: Mon., Sept. 29 Alamo Slaughter
D7: Thu., Oct. 2 Alamo Village
D9: Mon., Oct. 6 KUT Studio 1A
D10: Wed., Oct. 8 LCRA Headquarters
Mayor: Wed., Oct. 15 KUT Moody Auditorium