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Leffingwell, Morrison popular with endorsing Democrats

Thursday, March 27, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Incumbent Council Member Lee Leffingwell was the big winner last night, securing the endorsements of four Democratic clubs holding a joint candidate forum to hear the contenders speak on issues important to Austinites.

 

The groups, South Austin Democrats, Capital Area Progressive Democrats, Texas Environmental Democrats of Austin, and the Austin Asian American Democrats, met at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Facility on South Congress.

 

Three of the four groups—all but Texas Environmental Democrats—endorsed Laura Morrison in Place 4. In the Place 3 race, two of the groups endorsed incumbent Jennifer Kim and only one, South Austin Democrats, endorsed challenger Randi Shade.

 

Three groups also endorsed Tim Mahoney for the Austin Community College Board, and Jerry Garcia for the Austin Independent School District trustees.  

 

Representatives of the four groups each asked the candidates in each race a question. Topics ranged from single-member districts to Water Treatment Plant 4 to transportation issues.

 

In Place 3, candidates Ken Weiss, Randi Shade and incumbent Jennifer Kim attended. The candidates were asked what they would do to improve east-west mobility in Austin.

 

“I would be working with Capital Metro to improve its routes,” Shade said. “We need to improve relations with the University of Texas and the State. As you may have noticed, many of our cross-town routes stop at the edge of UT and the state’s property.”

 

Kim said the city needed to plan better to accommodate residents. “With better land use, people on the east side can walk to the store for a loaf of bread instead of having to take the bus to a faraway store. We need to design our neighborhoods for pedestrian traffic.”

 

Weiss said he would rework Capital Metro’s route system. “We need to go to a hub-and-spoke system that feeds into the central city, and allows easy connections to where people want to go. Major bus routes should not be stopping every block, and local routes should remain in the neighborhoods.”

 

In Place 1, candidates Jason Meeker, Alan Demling and incumbent Leffingwell attended. The candidates were asked to comment on whether Austin should have some form of single-member district representation on the Council.

 

Demling said he backed a hybrid form of SMDs. “We need some at-large districts and some local districts. People in some areas of Austin don’t feel they are represented, and they don’t know where to go at City Hall to get someone to listen to them.”

 

Leffingwell said he is strongly in support of a hybrid system. “However, there aren’t enough of us on the City Council to get the item put on the charter election ballot. Now I hear these are those who want to wait until after to 2010 census to vote on it. I hope we can find a way to get it on the November ballot.”

 

Meeker—who previously issued a press release in opposition to single-member districts—said he supports the concept of a hybrid system, but needs to study the issue further before he could issue an opinion.

 

In Place 4, candidates Robin Cravey, Cid Galindo, Lauda Morrison, Jennifer Gale and Ken Vasseau attended. They are running for the seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley. They were asked what should be done about development over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

 

Cravey said the City Council is going to have to develop some discipline. “They need to vote no when developers bring them projects that involve an upzoning over the aquifer. We only control about half that area, so we are also going to have to work with other cities in the region to protect the aquifer.”

 

Galindo said protecting the aquifer may be the most crucial challenge facing the city. “In our part of the aquifer, the properties currently developed constitute about 9.6 percent impervious cover in the area. If all the land that can be developed is, it will put us over the 10 percent threshold where we will damage the aquifer. We need to consider a system where we can transfer development rights from land over the aquifer to land in the desired development zone.”

 

Morrison said city officials need to take a ‘big-picture’ approach. “When we look at each project as it comes up, we are only looking at a microcosm of the problem. And as we approve development closer in, we may trigger more development further out. The city can be a lot stronger in dealing with the problem.”

 

After the Forum, the groups announced their endorsements for Council:

  • South Austin Democrats, Pl. 3 – Randi Shade, Pl. 4 – Laura Morrison, Pl. 1- Lee Leffingwell; 
  • Texas Environmental Democrats, Pl. 3 – No Endorsement,  Pl. 4 –  No Endorsement, Pl. 1 – Lee Leffingwell; 
  • Capital Area Asian American Democrats, Pl. 3 – Jennifer Kim, Pl. 4 – Laura Morrison, Pl. 1 – Lee Leffingwell; and
  • Capital Area Progressive Democrats, Pl. 3 -Jennifer Kim, Pl. 4 – Laura Morrison, Pl. 1 – Lee Leffingwell.

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