The field is set with seven candidates vying to replace District 4 representative Greg Casar on Austin City Council.
Thursday was the deadline to apply for the January 25 special election. The race will be the only measurement on the ballot, and participation is limited to registered voters in the Center-Nord district. The district boundaries are changing through a city-wide redistribution, but these changes will not take effect until early 2023. Only current residents are eligible to vote.
The race is shaping up to potentially have big implications for city governance, as Casar’s departure creates a noticeable hole in the council following his efforts to make Austin more progressive during his seven years in power. Casar has advocated for workers’ rights and has fought with Republican state lawmakers over issues he says have impacted quality of life. He also crafted two controversial measures that council approved – the 2019 vote to repeal the city’s public camping ban and the vote to cut the Austin Police Department’s budget in 2020.
Casar said in November he was stepping down to run for Congress with three years left in his term. He was re-elected a second time in November 2020.
Some candidates have indicated their intention to continue on the road map set by Casar, while others have taken steps to distance themselves from him.
José “Chito” Vela III
Among those who fit Casar’s ideals is Jose “Chito” Vela III, an immigration lawyer and former State House candidate that Casar once appointed to the city’s planning commission. Casar supported Vela in the District 4 race.
On November 30, the American-Stateman reported that Vela and two others had entered the race. The others were Amanda Rios, a former educator in the Austin School District, and Monica Guzmán, policy director of Go Austin / Vamos Austin, a coalition of residents and non-profit organizations working to improve the health of communities in parts of southern Austin.
Since that date, four other candidates have joined them: Jade Lovera, Strategy Director of Women Who Werk, which presents itself as a lifestyle brand supporting women leaders; Melinda Schiera, past president of the North Austin Civic Association; Isa Boonto, an Austin School District art teacher, who, like Schiera, is a past president of the North Austin Civic Association; and Ramessess II Setepenre, a carpooling driver who showed up for this seat in November 2020.
The city will pay around $ 253,898 to hold the election, but that figure will increase if the winner is not chosen on election day and a run-off is required. It will happen, and feature the top two voters, if neither candidate gets a majority of the votes.
The second round, if it is to occur, is tentatively set for March 22 – eight weeks after the special elections and three weeks after the statewide primary elections on March 1.
Lovera said she was focusing on reducing crime and addressing Austin’s affordability issues. She got involved in local politics by organizing an ongoing community effort to challenge a proposed zoning change for a single-family neighborhood in District 4. The planned development, on Brownie Drive, calls for mixed use with retail and condominiums. Lovera said she was concerned the project could result in higher taxes for neighboring residents through higher property valuations and could trigger the displacement of longtime residents of the district.
The development plan is awaiting council approval and will not be put to a final vote until after the elections.
“The city as a whole is at a turning point,” she said. “That’s ultimately why I run, to make sure I can live here the rest of my life like I have so far and to make sure my kids can live their lives here when they get older. The direction I see going may not be a reality. “
Schiera operates on a platform of public safety, transportation infrastructure and beautification efforts. She said she also wanted to improve the city’s process for identifying and removing abandoned vehicles. A marketing professional, she wishes to develop a communication platform allowing residents of several languages to express their views on the issues that impact them.
“I have spent so much time with the neighbors in this community and would love to hear more from them,” said Schiera.
Ramessess ii setepenre
Setepenre, the carpooling driver, returns after running last year. He said he ran this time because he had been abused as a city hall employee and felt his concerns had not been adequately addressed. He got 8% of the vote in a three-way race.
Boonto, who teaches at Navarro High, wants to address affordability issues and the city’s limited housing supply. Boonto said it’s important to strike a balance in welcoming people who wish to move to Austin and the neighborhood and doing the things necessary to keep current residents in their homes.
“I’m all for development, absolutely, but how do you do that and maintain loyalty and integrity?” said Boonto.
Rios said she was focusing on issues of public safety and affordability. She said she wanted to change the city’s land use planning code to make it easier for homeowners to build secondary suites to earn extra income.
She financially supported the Save Austin Now political action committee. The PAC has often been at odds with Casar, having forced city-wide votes on homeless camping and minimum police personnel, both of whom sought to overturn policies backed by Casar.
Save Austin Now did not support any candidate in the race. Committee co-founder Matt Mackowiak said PAC will send out a questionnaire to all applicants and assess their responses.
Guzmán ran for District 4 council seat in 2014 and finished fifth out of eight candidates. She might be a more viable candidate this time around, having been part of the City’s Task Force on Reinventing Public Safety, a group of volunteers selected by the city manager’s office to recommend police changes after the protests. Social Justice 2020. She said she intends to push for better living conditions and better protections for tenants, as well as advocating for more protections for undocumented migrants.