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Place 1 candidate Cavazos seeks to include more citizens in government

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Although Perla Cavazos has lived in East Austin for more than 11 years, her route to Austin’s political scene did not go through the city’s neighborhood organizations. Instead, Cavazos’ decision to run for local elected office was spurred by her passion for the arts and her involvement in women’s political organizations as well as Democratic politics.


She is currently president-elect of the Texas chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus.


Cavazos came to Austin in 1997, shortly after graduating from Stanford University, where she studied cultural anthropology. Originally, the Rio Grande Valley native had intended to major in computer science, but she joined a friend who had signed up for a program that allowed students to live on a Native American reservation as part of their studies. “We taught high school and lived with a Zuni family, and I went to a first grade class every week and taught Spanish. I fell in love with the community and the culture, and came back to Stanford and said ‘this is what I want to do’,” Cavazos said. “I just love anthropology. I like meeting people and learning about their culture and their history and where they’re from, what their values are.”


Cavazos arrived in Austin to work for a local non-profit group through a fellowship with the National Council of La Raza. She lived in the Copperfield Neighborhood in northeast Austin and got involved in the campaign for the 1998 bond election in order to support the creation of the Mexican American Cultural Center. “I fell in love with Austin because I’m very artsy myself,” she said, “I paint and dance and do theatre, and so really I fell into an arts community here in Austin and that’s what kept me here.” She is still active with several arts organizations, including the Austin Latino Theater Alliance and the Friends of the Mexican American Cultural Center.


But it was the fight over Texas Congressional redistricting in 2003 that convinced Cavazos to step up her involvement in local politics. At the time, she had just earned her master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and was a new staff member for State Sen. Eddie Lucio. The bitter partisan fight over redistricting, during which several Democratic lawmakers left the state, showed Cavazos the difference between the theory and practice of governing. “After that, I got more involved politically,” she said. “It’s not just about public policy and helping put forward good ideas…it’s also really important to be active on political campaigns and make sure you get the right people elected.”


That eventually led to a seat on the Planning Commission, where she served 2 and one-half years, and her current run for Place 1 on the City Council. “I quit my job in the middle of a recession. This is what I want to do,” Cavazos said. “I feel very passionate about serving at the local level.”


As a resident of East Austin (she currently lives in the Chestnut Neighborhood) and president of the Austin Women’s Political Caucus, Cavazos said her top priority would be to represent those who have traditionally been under-represented within city government. “I think the most important thing I can do is be a voice for people who are feeling disconnected from City Hall, just from my background…having worked with diverse communities who haven’t had historical representation,” she said. “I’m very interested in working on real solutions to help families and individuals, especially during this economic downturn…help them stay in their homes, give them the ability to pay their bills.”


To that end, Cavazos would like to build partnerships with private institutions to expand financial literacy and debt counseling programs. “I’m also very interested in exploring ways that the city can expand its role in small business and micro-business lending. There were some HUD funds available at some point for a neighborhood business fund that I’m really interested in exploring if we can tap into those funds again,” she said. “The number one thing that City Council needs to be focused on is jobs and the economy.”


But, Cavazos said, the economic downturn should not divert the city from moving ahead with some of its long-term planning projects. “I am ready for us to go ahead with the Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown Plan. I know there’s a concern about the financial impact, but I think it’s a wise investment,” she said. “I think that we need to absolutely make that investment now. If we don’t do it now…it’s going to cost us more public distrust, it’s going to have financial implications. It’s been over 30 years since our last comprehensive plan and Austin has changed tremendously. I think it’s time that we get the community together and talk about what our community values are and what are the priorities that we envision for our city.”


Cavazos hopes the current recession will not deter the city from pursuing other priorities, such as historic preservation, health care, and affordable housing. She said she appreciated the effort made by City Manager Marc Ott to seek public input prior cutting the city’s budget earlier this year. “I feel that he’s starting to get to know the community and is making a greater effort to listen to the community,” she said. “It sounded like he got off on the wrong foot with the Hispanic community early on…and I don’t know what was the back story with that, but I feel that I’ve been seeing him more in the community.”

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