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Differences stark among D8 candidates vying to succeed Troxclair

Monday, October 15, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

In the City Council district with the lone conservative Republican representative on the 11-member body, voters in District 8 face a choice in November: elect a Council member who will remain a brake of sorts on policies that largely reflect a progressive agenda or pick someone who will be more in harmony with the other 10 votes on the dais.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair’s decision to not seek re-election leaves her seat open to four challengers. One, Frank Ward, is a small-government conservative who most approximates Troxclair’s beliefs, while the other three – Paige Ellis, Rich DePalma and Bobby Levinski – to varying degrees express their beliefs in using governmental tools and policies to improve Austin as the city grows and faces challenges in housing affordability, transportation and a growing rift with the state Legislature.

At a recent forum organized by KUT, the Austin Monitor, Glasshouse Policy, Austin Tech Alliance and A Functional Democracy, each candidate addressed how they would serve differently from Troxclair.

Ward said Troxclair is “a little more Libertarian” than his own views but said he shares many of the same ideas concerning fiscal conservatism and reducing taxes for property owners.

“With regard to the way we work across the aisle, I think it is incumbent on any working democracy to have a difference of opinion. And if you think it’s a good idea to have a Council full of people who are all of the same mind, I would ask you to think long and hard if that’s what we really want,” he said. “Ellen’s represented a different viewpoint that’s vital to help us make better decisions on things like homestead exemptions, which she’s now gotten up to 10 percent.”

Ellis said she would collaborate with other Council members to keep communities in need from being left behind.

“I would want to be the type of leader that champions things like making sure that people have access to health care, the proposition on the ballot for Dove Springs over on the east side, making sure that clinics have the things they need to stay open and have the appropriate community centers, cultural centers, libraries and senior centers that are going to be needed no matter which part of town you live in,” she said. “It’s really important to make sure you handle safety in a really balanced way as well.”

Levinski said he would work to be more personally responsive to constituents in Southwest Austin, and both he and DePalma said they wouldn’t follow Troxclair’s tendency to abstain from votes that were going to go against her interests.

“When you recuse on a vote, you’re saying your district doesn’t want a voice on that issue, and I don’t think that’s what we deserve to our constituents,” Levinski said. “She was often quoted criticizing her colleagues in the newspaper, and that’s not something we need in terms of building relationships to make sure we’re getting things done with the other districts.”

Said DePalma: “The stark difference is I don’t intend to abstain from votes. I don’t intend to be off the dais for votes. Ellen has used that as a tool in how she’s made her votes, with over 300 abstentions and 80 off-the-dais votes where she’s on the premises. I’ll be accountable and take the vote. You’re electing folks to make the vote. On my Council page you’ll see the votes I took and what I had, the vote I took and the reason why, so I can be that accountable for everybody.”

On the issue of the state Legislature moving to counteract Austin policies on matters such as paid sick leave requirements for local businesses, Ward said his time working in politics at the state and federal level will help him broker agreements locally and in the Capitol.

Ellis and Levinski said having a Council member who won’t agitate state lawmakers against policies they’re not in favor of – another criticism of Troxcair – will be a step forward, while DePalma touted his recent work on the local and state levels to lessen the legislative impact on parkland dedication and tree protection as evidence of his ability to build consensus.

On the matter of Proposition K – the ballot measure calling for an independent outside audit of city spending – Ward said he’s strongly in favor of the measure, while the other three candidates voiced their opposition.

The foursome broke the same on the matter of the city’s recently passed but also judicially paused paid sick leave policy.

Ward said the policy is an example of big government regulation. Ellis said she’s strongly for it. Levinski said he favors it while acknowledging the Legislature will likely make such policies illegal next year. DePalma said he’d have voted in favor of the ordinance but wanted more collaboration with business in designing it, and he wants a review after one year to measure its effects.

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