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Adler calls on Council to do ‘big things,’ Garza elected mayor pro tem

Tuesday, January 8, 2019 by Jack Craver

Mayor Steve Adler began his new four-year term on an optimistic note, saying that the city is “poised to get some really big things done” when it comes to addressing Austin’s major challenges, notably housing and transportation.

Adler, along with two new members of City Council and three incumbents who were re-elected, took the oath of office Monday evening in Council chambers, which was packed with friends and family of the elected officials being inaugurated.

In his remarks after being sworn in, Adler acknowledged that “government works too slow” but that the new Council is in a position to finally put into action plans that have been working through City Hall for years, even decades.

“Now the cards are aligned for us to be able to move forward,” Adler said.

Adler highlighted work done by city staff or outside consultants hired by the city to examine major issues, such as displacement, homelessness and a potential expansion of the Austin Convention Center. That work, he argued, would set Council up to act in the coming months.

“It’s just a question of taking everything that we’ve learned and making those things happen,” he said.

Adler also argued – while acknowledging his political “bias” – that the results of the elections provide him and his colleagues a mandate to act decisively on reforming land use regulations. In addition to his own landslide victory, a ballot measure aimed at making it harder for Council to rewrite the land development code failed.

“The community is saying that they trusted this Council to be able to make the decisions and move these things forward,” he said.

The five other Council members introduced themselves, thanked their campaigns and their families and pledged to work collaboratively with their colleagues for the good of their districts and the city as a whole.

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who was elected to replace retiring Council Member Ora Houston in East Austin’s District 1, spoke jubilantly about her commitment to her district and the city and her enthusiasm to address poverty, transportation, food access, child care and economic development.

“Whether you’ve been here for generations or you got here yesterday, I promise to represent you equally,” she said.

Council Member Paige Ellis, who was elected to Southwest Austin’s District 8, did not delve into specific issues but pledged to “look out for those who are in need of care, such as our seniors, our kids, those who are getting on their feet, and of course our environment.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who ran for re-election unopposed, struck a tone similar to Adler’s, emphasizing Council’s obligation to address transportation and housing needs and stressing the importance of working collaboratively, despite differences of opinion.

“On the Council, I truly believe our differences can be our strength when we listen to each other,” said Kitchen.

Council Member Pio Renteria, who won a second term in December by triumphing for a second time over his sister, Susana Almanza, spoke of the progress Council had made, such as approving a record affordable housing bond and championing various workers’ rights policies, including paid sick leave and raising the minimum wage for city workers. He took the moment to “recommit to these goals” because “we’re still battling economic segregation, displacement, flooding” and other challenges.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, who was re-elected in November over challenger Danielle Skidmore, noted that debates over some of the city’s major challenges, notably land use, “have been incredibly divisive.” She urged her colleagues to work together, “with determination and creativity,” to develop solutions.

Tovo added: “You also have my renewed commitment to go beyond these walls and out into the community to listen and learn from the constituents so I can represent their interests.”

After serving the last four years as mayor pro tem, the person who runs meetings in the mayor’s absence, Tovo nominated Council Member Delia Garza and Council unanimously elected her to the position.

Garza, wiping tears from her eyes, said that while the position was largely symbolic, “symbolism is one of the most important ways that we show our values.”

Garza also noted that while she was proud to be the first Latina elected to Council, it was sad that it had taken so long. Her obligation as the first Latina mayor pro tem, she said, “is to ensure I’m not the last.”

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