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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Houston withdraws, and Harding enters, in race for D1 Council seat
Austin’s City Council District 1, which is made up almost entirely of portions of East Austin, will definitely have a new representative in 2019, with current Council Member Ora Houston announcing Wednesday she will not seek re-election. Houston’s decision came less than a week after she hosted a State of the District event at the George Washington Carver Museum and History Center, where she framed many of the issues facing the community in the coming years.
Those issues include a continued shuffling of political influence in the community following the creation of the district representation model, the possible impact of CodeNEXT on development, needed infrastructure for addressing flooding and roads, and the rising cost of living she said is exacerbated by rapidly increasing property tax values.
Houston told the audience assembled Saturday that she was proud of her work to learn the nuances of the issues affecting residents throughout the district. In a written statement announcing her decision not to run in 2019, she said she will spend the remainder of her term pushing to prioritize the needs of the district in decisions and discussions with the rest of Council.
“The council must make equitable decisions on the land development code and associated chapters; the adoption of the FY 19 budget; the contents/amounts to include in the 2018 Bond Proposal to be voted on in November; the possibility of placing changes to the City Charter on the same ballot; and assuring that ‘justice for all’ is accountable, transparent, unbiased, effective, and affordable,” she said.
“For three years, five months and 8 days (but who’s counting), I laid a foundation of listening to the people, of civility. … I will continue to represent all constituents with integrity, vigor and compassion until my term ends.”
Also on Wednesday, Vincent Harding, outgoing head of the Travis County Democratic Party, announced he will seek election to Houston’s seat. He becomes the fourth candidate for the position, joining Natasha Harper-Madison, Mariana Salazar and Lewis Conway Jr. in the election field.
At Saturday’s event, Harding discussed his concerns for the needs of the district, emphasizing many areas Houston highlighted and stressing the need to work with regional and state leaders.
“Displacement, infrastructure, economics, health care … those are going to be the issues that we’re looking at, along with affordable housing and things of that nature,” he said. “I’m of the belief that coalition building is key, both at the city level and the community level, and the state. We have some serious challenges right now, and we must be looking at them from a holistic approach. At the state level, we’re having a problem with funding where we’re sending back money from recapture, and that directly impacts property taxes we’re paying.”
Harper-Madison also spoke at the event, and she praised Houston’s character and community involvement during her Council tenure while drawing contrasts with their positions on development and CodeNEXT.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for Council Member Houston because she lives with integrity, and I have told my kids and myself that I want to be that kind of politician, the kind that I could respect,” she said. “I definitely feel like the current code and land use, we’re young enough as a city that we can fix the mistakes, and so let’s work to set the standards for how we can move forward in a way that makes sense. We’re currently in a crisis of trying to perfect ourselves into paralysis, but it shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out how to do things better going forward.”
Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
District 1: District 1 is one of the largest districts by area created by the commission, being bounded by Interstate 35, bumps up against Pflugerville on the north, SH 130 on the east and reaches down into the eastern parts of downtown and the University of Texas campus. It includes a variety of neighborhoods, such as Copperfield, Harris Branch, University Hills, Colony Park and Rosewood. It also contains Decker Lake Park and some of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
Ora Houston: Austin City Council member for District 1