Five Highlights From the League of Women Voters Mayor Forum

Candidates talk climate, cops, and city employees

Kirk Watson speaks at the Oct. 20 League of Women Voters candidate forum at City Hall (Screenshot via city of Austin)

Five of Austin's mayoral candidates had a chance to (briefly) introduce themselves at the Oct. 20 forum sponsored by the city and the League of Women Voters. Here are a few excerpts that stood out to us.

Gary S. Spellman on homelessness: The co-founder of Ultimate Face Cosmetics has actually experienced homelessness, which brought compassion even as a member of the "purple party" (i.e., a little red and a little blue). "We have to serve the needs of the homeless person, we have to treat them with dignity and respect, and we have to give them a clear path to getting back on their feet," Spellman said, adding that unhoused people should not be "demonized [because] they're down on their luck."

Kirk Watson on Austin Water: The former mayor and state senator reminded voters we still need to find a replacement for Greg Meszaros, who retired in February. That person, Watson said, must have "a vision for the department" that makes sense as water scarcity increases on a warming planet. But they also need deep managerial experience so that they can "empower people" and make sure "there are redundancies in place" so that boil water notices don't become the new norm for Austin Water's more than 1 million customers.

Celia Israel on retaining city employees: The state rep. agrees that Austin's municipal workers need to be paid more as the city gets more costly, but she also points to the top. "There's a lack of leadership from the city manager and the mayor and Council," Israel said. "There are good and decent employees at the city who are not getting the support that they need when they have a creative idea or solution. ... We've got to make sure that they are heard and respected."

Jennifer Virden on core municipal services: The leading Republican found a way to answer just about every question with a reminder to "fully" staff the Austin Police Department. She said that's a noncontroversial position (probably correctly) of the type she'd favor, avoiding issues she thinks are controversial, like Project Connect, which was approved by nearly 58% of Austin voters in 2020.

Phil Campero Brual on consensus: We thought that was Watson's brand, but the 21-year-old UT student says he can do it too. "Consen­sus is easy; most of the world lives between the two parties," he said, referring to Democrats and Republicans. "Most of this world is ready to reach across the aisle and that's what I've been doing my entire life."

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