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Adler kicks off campaign for Mayor of Austin with City Hall rally

Monday, May 5, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

More than 200 people gathered in the hot sun at City Hall Sunday afternoon to cheer attorney, nonprofit leader and novice mayoral candidate Steve Adler as he officially announced that he would be a candidate for Austin Mayor.


In addressing supporters, Adler emphasized that Austin is at a tipping point in dealing with traffic congestion, education, affordability and protecting the environment and neighborhoods.


Referring obliquely to opponent Council Member Mike Martinez and likely opponent Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole without naming them, Adler said, “Others have had the chance over the last eight years to address the very same challenges we face today. It is time for new leadership. We don’t want experience in how things have been done in the past; we need a new and broader experience and a vision for how things should be done tomorrow.”


Adler also praised Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who stood in the shade and watched the speech. “Mayor Leffingwell promised to jump-start the economy and create jobs. He did. And we owe him a debt of gratitude. But now we must deal with the challenges growth brings,” Adler said.


Adler met with the Austin Monitor last month to discuss why he is running for mayor, how he is qualified, and to talk about his background, which he says qualifies him to help ease Austin’s upcoming transition to single-member districts.


Adler explained that he and his brother were the first in his family to attend college. He first went to Princeton on a scholarship, then University of Texas law school (also on a scholarship.)


“I come from a place where I understand what opportunity and access means, and I understand how it can change peoples’ lives.” said Adler.


After graduating from law school, Adler did civil rights work in the 1980s, primarily representing workers and women on workplace and pay issues. He then spent eight years working as chief of staff and general counsel for State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso). He worked on policy issues such as public education and equity and access issues.


Since then, he has worked as a founding partner of Baron & Adler LLP. He’s also been involved with a host of Austin nonprofits. He has been board chair of the Texas Tribune, Ballet Austin and the Anti-Defamation League. He’s also served on the boards of GENAustin, Breakthrough Austin and the Long Center.


Though critics might point to lawsuits he was involved with that were related to the Save Our Springs ordinance, Adler said that he is a strong proponent of the ordinance. He explained that he would never accept a lawsuit that would challenge the ordinance itself, but had worked on four cases that dealt with property in the SOS ordinance area he said they were narrow in focus and dealt with a misinterpretation of the ordinance.


Adler said that he is running for mayor out of love for the city. He also expressed a desire to address some of the city’s challenges in the new system, which he said is an opportunity to deal with those challenges in a way not previously possible.


“I think one of the reasons that the city has been unable to set and achieve long-term goals is because a lot of the city feels disengaged, uninvolved, and not part of a common community direction and purpose,” said Adler. “I think the 10-1 system is a gift of a governance culture restart.”


Like other candidates, he singles out traffic and congestion as one of the biggest issues facing Austin. Adler is also concerned with affordability and the “divergent wealth” in the city, water, and providing quality education in the city.


“I do not agree with the suggestion that the education of our kids isn’t an important part of the portfolio of the mayor’s office. The mayor of this city needs to be actively engaged in something that has such a great impact on the quality of life and future of this city,” said Adler, who points to San Antonio and Dallas mayors as examples of those making big contributions to education in their cities.


Adler told the Monitor that he thinks Austin’s mayor should be working to get more resources for pre-K programs, for two- and three- year-olds. He said that, as a community, we should better understand the funding formulas that dictate how much money we send back to the state.


“Our community doesn’t understand that it’s not Robin Hood that is the evil here but, rather, the funding formulas that are driving the disbursement under Robin Hood. If we are going to change those things, I think it’s going to require not only court actions that are happening now, but also some measure of focused community will,” said Adler.


Adler says that it’s time for a conversation about not just the people moving to Austin every day, but also the people moving away.


“We are driving out the creative communities that helped establish who we are, because the artists and musicians can’t afford to live here. People’s children, when they graduate from school, can’t afford to live here,” said Adler. “I think we need to change the focus of the metrics.”


Adler said that it’s time to change how we evaluate success, and make it less dependent on high-paying jobs, and more on finding jobs for people who live here saying, “We need to focus on not only a return on investment, but a return of our values.”


Though he declined to take a position on city management, Adler did say that from the outside, the relationship between city management and City Council “doesn’t appear to be constructive.” He said that, with the new council, it will be important to have a constructive relationship, and that he will be working on that relationship.

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