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Riley and opponents square off at Republican forum

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Yesterday afternoon at the Green Pastures restaurant in South Austin, incumbent Council Member Chris Riley and two of his opponents in the race for Place 1, Roger Chan and Josiah Ingalls, faced tough questions about energy, urban rail, and economic development from members of the Republican Club of Austin.


Candidate Norman Jacobson, meanwhile, was once again nowhere to be found. 


The candidates for Place 1 in attendance varied wildly in their opinions about what the primary issue facing Austin is. Riley pointed to “the way our development takes shape,” and where regulations have limited development along transportation corridors. He said he hopes that working with neighborhoods and allowing the free market to thrive will foster more compact growth that can “serve everyone with transit and utilities much more efficiently in the future.”


Ingalls, meanwhile, pointed to the budget, saying, “Everything that this city provides in the city is directly affected by the budget. By saying anything else is the number one issue, you are denying everything.” Ingalls also criticized bond spending as a loophole that allows the city to operate in a deficit.


Chan said he sees bad management as the most pressing issue. “We recruit many of our leaders from smaller cities? Nonsense,” he said. “They bring no perspective. They bring nothing to the table in terms of how we’re going to get out of here. This is a situation where we could fix this with relatively simple solutions . . . It’s not brain surgery; it’s just a very different way of looking at things.”


Chan, who served as assistant city manager from 2000 until 2002, emphasized his past experience in that position. As the only candidate in the race who has voted in a Republican primary, he may have felt more comfortable in the room than his decidedly more liberal opponents.


“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with where this nation is going in terms of poor management,” said Chan. “Since this administration has taken hold, cities like ours have followed suit with some kind of crazy vigor. I think it’s time to take it back, be responsible, and have some adult supervision.”


Riley, who has been a member of City Council for the past two years, told the forum that “so far every single organization that has endorsed in this race has endorsed me.”


Ingalls, who told In Fact Daily that he is not a member of any political party, spoke about increased transparency and accountability, especially where the budget is concerned, and about more funding for health and human services.


When asked about plans for “the mayor’s rail transit system,” Riley expressed his support for the plan, though he said there is still a lot to figure out in terms of operations, regional partnerships, and funding. He did not sway from his support for urban rail, or for public subsidization of the project, even though the room seemed less than thrilled at the prospect.


“I do support moving towards urban rail as one piece of a multimodal transportation network in Austin,” said Riley. “All forms of transportation tend to be subsidized. In other words: roads or bike lanes or sidewalks, there is a public subsidy involved.”


Ingalls worried that that a quickly implemented urban rail system could encourage urban sprawl. “It could actually go against what we are working towards,” he said. Chan said he is currently opposed to the rail and called the timing of it “vastly immature.”


When asked about economic development incentives, Chan cited a need for an economic development corporation, like the ones found in other major cities. Ingalls said he is skeptical of the millions of dollars he claims are given to wealthy corporations and of breaks given to Formula One in the guise of reduced rates for water infrastructure.


Riley drew a distinction between different types of incentives and came out in favor of “carefully constructed” subsidies on a “modest scale that can be a way of building our economy and preserving local jobs here.” The incumbent also clarified that he would not only refuse to support something like the Domain subsidy but that he and his fellow Council members had formally passed a resolution stating that they would no longer support retail subsidies at all.

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