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Community activist launches campaign for District 1 seat

Monday, December 11, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Council Member Ora Houston is the first representative of the city’s first district and she’s also the first incumbent to draw a serious challenger in the 2018 election.

Last Monday afternoon in East Austin, community activist Lewis Conway Jr. announced his bid for Houston’s District 1 seat.

“In order to serve the people of District 1, we must conduct an aggressive, robust and nontraditional campaign,” Conway said. “A style of leadership that has proven to be nebulous and uncertain has had almost four years to make a difference in the conditions in which the people in District 1 find themselves.”

The criminal justice organizer for Grassroots Leadership, a prison-reform group, told the Austin Monitor he had been considering a run since the end of the most recent session of the Texas Legislature. Despite taking a few swipes at Houston for her vote in June to extend the nighttime juvenile curfew, for supporting a scheme to redistribute bond money for sidewalks that ultimately left District 1 with less money than it would have received otherwise and for working with City Council’s conservative members Conway said he doesn’t want to be thought of as running against the incumbent, who did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

“It’s me against conditions that are keeping people in poverty. It’s me against conditions that cause people not to have a fair chance at housing. It’s me against the conditions that allow us to spend 40 percent of our general revenue on a police contract that obviously has not been advantageous, particularly in regards to the people that they are policing,” he said.

Conway pledged to create a District 1 field office to allow constituents to weigh in on Council business without having to travel to City Hall. He also wants affordable housing qualifications to be measured by the median family income of the district rather than the city as a whole.

Another affordability initiative Conway wants to explore is the expansion of the city’s community land trust program. And while he insists on preserving culturally significant aspects of neighborhoods, he acknowledges that change is unavoidable.

“When I look at Austin, I have to see Austin in 2050 and 2060, and I realize that we’re not going to get there without building, without developing,” he told the Monitor. “But I think there are ways for us to ease racial discrimination on the west side of town that may open up some affordable housing.”

Conway has yet to officially file and could possibly run into headwinds due to his criminal past. He spent eight years in prison and 12 years on parole for a voluntary manslaughter conviction dating to 1991 when he was 21 years old. According to Texas law, no one can hold public office if they’ve been “convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”

Because his voting rights have been restored, Conway believes he is eligible to run.

“Our platform is unapologetically, radically compassionate,” Conway said of his young campaign. “We’re unapologetically socialist and we’re unapologetically people-based.”

This story has been corrected. We originally reported that Conway was endorsed by Austin’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America as well as Left Up To US, when that is not the case.

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