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Old Austin meets new system in District 5

Friday, July 11, 2014 by Mark Richardson

The area running south from Lady Bird Lake between Barton Creek and the Union Pacific Railroad line is truly “old Austin.” Not to be confused with “old money Austin,” but with comfy neighborhoods like Zilker, Barton Hills and Westgate with homes on tree-lined streets that may remind you of a well-worn cotton shirt.

City Council District 5 is built along South Lamar Boulevard, with myriad Tex-Mex and burger joints, semi-seedy bars ,and further south along Westgate Boulevard, with its strip malls. parks and churches. Even further south, it takes a right turn and picks up the South Park area on the far south edge of town and wanders east across I-35 to the well-to-do Onion Creek Country Club area.

Many of the people in this area settled in Austin in the 1960s and 70s, and much to the chagrin of the city’s latest crop of hipsters, are known to sip a Shiner Bock and talk about how great things were before all the California tech yuppies showed up.

It is Middle America with a counterculture vibe. District 5 is one of the most politically active of the new districts, with about 57 percent of its residents registered to vote, and a voter turnout almost four times higher than the city average in 2012. The area voted heavily Democratic in 2012. Its north neighborhoods are known to be a haven for progressive politics, while political activism tends to wane as you get closer to the Hays County line.

District residents are 59.5 percent white, 31 percent Hispanic and fewer than 7 percent are non-citizens. The median family income is $72,000 a year – about the city median of 49,900 but well below the city high-end enclave to the west. Home ownership is at 51 percent, and it has the second highest number of Senior Citizens at 8.5 percent. The poverty rate is low at 11.2 percent.

Five residents have stepped up to vie for the District 5 Council seat. They are Dan Buda, Jason Denny, Dave Floyd, Ann Kitchen and Luis “Mike” Rodriguez.

Buda, 35, has lived in Austin for the past eight years, all but one of those years in District 5. He lists his occupation as Realtor and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan. Prior to becoming a Realtor, he was a policy analyst, legislative director and then chief of staff for Senator Wendy Davis, who is now running for Texas Governor.

Buda lists transportation, managing the city’s growth, affordability and public safety as his major issues. Asked whether he supports continuing city participation in Chapter 380 agreements, which grant tax benefits to companies bringing jobs to Austin, he said, “I need to see that there’s a real benefit to those being put in place.” He is also taking a wait and see attitude toward a possible rail bond election this fall.

Denny, 37, has lived in Austin for the past 10 years. Before coming to Austin, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He now works as a customer service representative for the Veterans Land Board, helping veterans understand their benefits. Denny lives in the Olympic Heights neighborhood in far South Austin that he says gets little attention from the city.

Denny lists transportation, water and public safety as his top issues. Even though the urban rail proposal likely to be on this November’s ballot will not directly help people in District 5, Denny says he will vote for it because “it’s a starting point.” He wants to make sure that bicycle riders on South Lamar get more protection as the area becomes busier and more dangerous. He is also interested in more and better bus service for District 5. Denny is active in the Republican Party. He has served as director for the Austin Young Republicans and Texas Young Republicans and is the Republican chair for Precinct 408.

Floyd, 38, is an attorney with De Leon and Washburn. He practices mainly business and insurance law. Floyd moved to Austin with his parents when he was 13. Although he went to law school in Virginia, he returned not long after graduation. Floyd lives in the Zilker neighborhood and his parents still live in Barton Hills.

Floyd helped found and serves as chair of the board of The Creative Fund, a local nonprofit that helps artists display their work. He is also board secretary for both the Texas Advocacy Project and the Austin Young Lawyers Association. He is past president of Habitat Young Professionals, part of Habitat for Humanity. Floyd’s primary issues include transportation, managing growth, affordability and public safety. He also lists long-term water conservation and sustainability as important for Austin.

Ann Kitchen, 59, is an attorney with De Leon and Washburn, practicing mainly business and insurance law, while consulting for small businesses. She has lived in Austin since she came to the University of Texas in 1973 and has lived in South Austin for the past 20 years. Although she is an attorney, most of her recent work has been as a health care consultant. She represented southwest Austin from 2000 to 2002 in the Texas House of Representatives, where she helped pass legislation related to women’s health care and abortion as well as privacy of medical records.

Kitchen envisions Austin as “a place that is affordable for everyone, where we protect our environment and our neighborhoods and offer opportunity for everyone, including the opportunity to be healthy and safe.”

Rodriguez, 66, has lived in Austin for the past 20 years, having moved here after retiring from the Air Force as a colonel. After returning to Austin, he went on to become a financial adviser and stockbroker. He has twice served as the commander of the American Legion post in South Austin and is a former president of the South Austin Civic Club.

He lives in Onion Creek in the southern part of District 5. He said, “My key issues are to restore affordability; also what I call common sense solutions for energy, traffic and water.” He says he would work for transparency in government, if elected, noting that is difficult for citizens to participate in decisions that take place at 3 a.m. as they sometimes do with long Council meetings.

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