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Crowded field looks to represent small, diverse District 4

Thursday, July 10, 2014 by Mark Richardson

District 4 under the new City Council system is – figuratively and literally – at a crossroads. Interstate 35 and US 183, two of the city’s busiest highways, bisect the area. In addition, the district reflects the divide between Austin’s east and west sides, which kept races and cultures in the city apart for decades.

The area is a mix of neighborhoods, from middle class enclaves such as Windsor Park and Quail Creek to traditional minority areas such as St. Johns and Heritage Hills. It has the Highland Mall area, which is transitioning from a retail zone to a commercial and educational haven, as well as the formerly crime-ridden Rundberg Lane neighborhood, which law enforcement and civic groups have been working to turn around in recent years.

The district is bordered by Lamar Boulevard and US 183 on the west, by Cameron Road on the east, 51st Street on the south and Braker Lane on the north. The area also borders the site of the former Mueller Airport, which was redeveloped as the ultra-planned Mueller neighborhood, an area that – in contrast – is much more Anglo and middle class.

The area is the smallest district by square miles (about 12) but has the highest population density, with about 10.5 people per acres. The area had less than 2 percent population growth between 2000 and 2010.

District 4 is the fourth “opportunity district” created by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, with Hispanics making up more than 65 percent of the population. Like the other Hispanic opportunity districts, District 4 is not a wealthy area, with the median family income about $36,000 a year. Fewer than 30 percent of homes in the district are owner-occupied, the area has a poverty rate of about 29 percent and almost 33 percent of the residents of the district are non-citizens.

No fewer than 11 residents have stepped forward to run for the District 4 Council seat. They include Gregorio Casar, Katrina Daniel, Monica Guzmán, Xavier Hernandez, Marco Mancillas, Manuel A. Munoz, Roberto Perez Jr., Laura Pressley, Sharon Mays, Gabriel Rojas and Louis Herrin III.

Casar, 25, is one of the youngest candidates in the race. However, his recent work as a community organizer with the Workers Defense Project has already made him a familiar face at City Hall. Cesar is a native Texan, who now lives in North Austin. Casar is focused on putting education first, rebuilding the middle class through the creation of jobs that pay a living wage, making streets safer and ensuring family-friendly housing by working with property owners to get District 4’s problem properties under control.

Daniel, 45, is a senior associate commissioner at the Texas Department of Insurance. She is also vice-chair of the Central Health Board of Managers. Previously, Daniel worked as an emergency room nurse, and as a policy analyst for the Sunset Commission. She moved to Austin in 1996 to intern for State Rep. Garnet Coleman and has since been active in public policy and community involved. Daniel holds a master’s degree from the UT School of Public Health. If elected to Council, Daniels promises to focus on positive redevelopment, transportation and public safety.

Guzmán, 47, is a community organizer in Austin with who has experience as a community relations consultant and activist. She is a native Austinite who holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Masters in Human Sciences. Guzmán currently serves on the CAN Community Council and both the Hispanic Outreach Advisory Board and the Community Bond Oversight Committee AISD citizen boards. Her campaign is focused on community engagement with a platform that touches on public safety, economic development, transportation, safe and affordable housing, health care access and the right to public education.

Hernandez, 24, is an employee of Taco Bell. He was born in Houston, but moved to Austin when he was 4 years old. He does not have any prior experience in local government or community service. Hernandez had his interest sparked by the recent switch to single-member districts, which he thinks will engage Austinites not previously involved with local politics, like him. Hernandez said that he is interested in city resources and education.

Mancillas, 34, is a native-born Texan who moved to Austin in 1999. Mancillas holds a BBA in marketing and business management from St. Edward’s University and has worked for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate and multiple political campaigns, both as a staffer and as a consultant. He has worked for the Texas Association of Realtors and was the former executive director of the Hispanic Physicians Association. His platform, which he frames as “city initiatives” promises to increase local business and entrepreneurship, increase public safety services, review the city budget, cut wasteful spending and work toward building consensus among the new district leaders.

Munoz, 23, is currently a student at Texas State University. He also works as a LULAC organizer. Munoz is a native Austinite who stresses the changes he has seen in the city during his life. His campaign focuses on fighting gentrification, which he says is the biggest threat to Austin residents, and bringing back affordability. Munoz also advocates for parks, and says that as a long-term Capital Metro rider he can point out the flaws in the city’s transportation system.

Perez Jr. is a projects coordinator with Goodwill industries. He is currently serving as the co-chair of the Rundberg Revitalization Team. He is running under the slogan “experienced leadership – prepared to serve.” Perez holds a bachelor’s degree in Public and Social Policy and a master’s degree in Business Administration. In his campaign, Perez emphasizes the safety and affordability of neighborhoods, equality and transparency in business and workforce development.

Pressley, 51, is running for City Council for a second time. Pressley previously ran against Council Member Mike Martinez in 2012. She holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin and worked in the semiconductor industry before co-founding Pure Rain Purified Rain Water. The 26-year Austin resident is the current president of the Windsor Hills Neighborhood Association and an executive committee member of the Austin Neighborhoods Council. She is running on a platform focused around protecting neighborhoods, reducing waste at City Hall, safeguarding the environment and water supply, improving affordability through reduced taxes, utility fees and the creation of a city homestead exemption.

Mays, 41, is a real estate agent who identifies herself as a “marketing professional by day/superhero by night.” Mays is also a board member on North Austin’s YMCA, president of the North Austin Community Garden, and a member of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance. Mays previously served on Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s Small Business Advisory Committee. Affordability and transportation are at the forefront of her campaign, issues that Mays sees as both important to her district and the city as a whole. Her campaign will also focus on economic development and creation of more public green space and parks within the district.

Rojas is an urban planner who emphasizes his experience with planning, development review and City Hall who is running for District 4. Rojas recently ended his tenure on the Zoning and Platting Commission in order to run for City Council, and has served on the Boards and Commissions Transition Task Force and the North Austin Civic Association.

Herrin is an engineer at the Texas commission on Environmental Quality.

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