The Austin Chronicle

District 10: Gallo vs. the World

By Annamarya Scaccia, August 26, 2016, News

At the start of the summer, District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo only faced one competitor this election season. Now the oft-criticized incumbent has three candidates ready to fight for her seat at the dais.

Philanthropic adviser Alison Alter was Gallo's first challenger. The Rosedale resident told the Chronicle back in July that she wants to be a "fresh voice" who puts "community first." She's criticized Gallo as catering to special interests, citing the incumbent's backing of the disputed Grove at Shoal Creek planned unit development proposal. Alter has said that both Gallo and the Grove's developers have failed to address the need for parkland in the district – a main focus of her campaign. While Gallo denied that allegation, she told the Chronicle she looked "forward to a positive and issues-focused campaign."

But what started off as a cordial rivalry quickly turned sour when Gallo ousted Alter from the Parks and Recreation Board earlier this month. Gallo unseated her appointee on PARB after Alter refused to resign, claiming Alter could no longer serve her or her office "in good faith." Alter said the move was "a purely political action."

Gallo's second challenger emerged at the end of July. Nicholas Virden, a recent UT-Aus­tin alum and lifelong District 10 resident, said he's focused on mobility, affordability, and technology. Particularly, Virden is calling for more competition in bus systems that will allow for private companies to operate and fill mobility gaps, "instead of Cap Metro having a monopoly." "I used to ride the bus every day when I went to UT," said Virden, whose political résumé includes an internship at the Texas Capitol. "Bus service is horrible in this city."

To that end, Virden also wants to deregulate transportation network companies and short-term rentals. The real estate market analyst claims that Austin's rules have pushed out technological innovation and stripped residents of affordable hospitality options. When asked about safety concerns, Virden said that 100% safety is not guaranteed, but companies should be allowed to self-police on their own terms to mitigate problems. "Instead of the city government taking a parental approach, it needs to take a more beneficial approach so you can have these companies flourish in the city," he said, "while at the same time making sure residents have a good quality of life." But Virden doesn't want to cost property owners. He recently criticized the $720 million Mobility Bond for its potential impact on property taxes, which are already "too high," he said. Lowering property tax rates will be another cornerstone of his campaign. "I'm just trying to give back to my community in terms of my pro-fiscal responsibility stance," said Virden, who cut his teeth leading the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at UT-Austin.

International tax accountant Robert Walk­er, the third challenger, threw his hat in the ring at the last minute. The longtime West Austin resident has yet to launch an official campaign website or corresponding social media accounts, but he told the Statesman he wants to bring "a fresh look at things on the City Council." He plans to focus on the environment, hotel tax laws, and expanding the city's hike and bike trails.

With the Grove on the table alone, District 10 residents should expect a hotly contested race. The fiercest battle will ostensibly be between Gallo and Alter – two ideological opposites already marred by public controversy. How Virden and Walker will fit into that fight, though, remains to be seen.

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