Commissioner Pct. 4: Leadership in a Left-Out Area
Can Susanna Woody dethrone Margaret Gómez?
Observers have long commented on the difficult task an opponent faces in defeating Precinct 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez, who has held the office for more than two decades. While Gómez says she still has meaningful work to do, challenger Susanna Woody is hoping to harness the grassroots energy of this post-2016 election year.
Woody, a project manager for Advanced Micro Devices, is a former delegate for Bernie Sanders and has served on the Del Valle ISD Board of Trustees since 2011, including one term as vice president. During this time, she said, the board has expanded dual-credit and career-and-technology programs, given teachers raises every year, contributed more to employee health care than surrounding districts, and implemented a nondiscrimination policy. Woody is also an involved member of the Del Valle Community Coalition, an activist neighborhood group that she helped found about 15 years ago.
Despite Gómez's undefeated election record, which includes 13 years as a constable in the Eighties and 23 on the Commissioners Court, Woody says she chose to run because the southeastern part of Precinct 4 has been neglected for too long. "You have to protest in order to get some attention out here," Woody said over breakfast tacos at Javi's Tex Mex. "And that's just not how it should work. We're tired of having to beg for basic resources and services. What I really feel is they deserve an active voice." Woody has lived near the Travis-Bastrop county line her entire life, and is focusing her campaign platform on collaborating with other local officials to bring public transportation, more robust health services, and a grocery store to the area. "I think she's been complacent," Woody said of the incumbent.
Gómez, known for being the quietest commissioner on the court, explained that she simply works behind the scenes. "I'm not a showboater," she said from her Downtown office. "Solutions sometimes have to be come up with by meeting with people, some from the county, some from Central Health, some from Capital Metro. Those meetings take place here; they don't take place out there in front of the media."
Though opponents have been calling Gómez out of touch with her community since as early as 2010, she recently had a big success with last November's bond election, in which voters approved a tax increase to fund millions of dollars in road projects, including many in Precinct 4. Gómez said there is a measured, phased approach to achieving economic development. Before you can get a grocery store and other businesses, she said, you need more "rooftops," and to get those, you need improved roads that are out of the flood plain. She cited affordable housing within the precinct as a goal and challenge this year.
Woody and Gómez are both against a Major League Soccer stadium being built in Roy G. Guerrero Park, but their positions differ more when it comes to the new women's facility being planned for the county's correctional campus in Del Valle ("Del Valle's New Digs," Jan. 26). Gómez, who serves on the committee overseeing justice planning, said she supports "more space to take care of women better," while Woody is against any increase in capacity and would rather focus on decarceration. She's spent the winter running a Beto O'Rourke-style campaign, knocking on doors every weekend, and has already netted endorsements from the local branches of Our Revolution, Black Austin Democrats, and the Austin Young Dems. Gómez, meanwhile, has been endorsed by 10 organizations – including the Central Austin Democrats, Austin Tejano Democrats, and the Travis County Sheriff's Law Enforcement Association – and says she's also reaching out directly to voters. "For me, there was no doubt I was going to run again," Gómez said. "Probably people would say, 'She's gotta be tired.' To me, no, I'm not tired when I'm still thinking, I gotta get that infrastructure done."