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District 4: An incumbent and two challengers

Monday, October 12, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

After briefly weighing a state Senate run, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar is seeking reelection once again, facing challengers from his ideological right and left.

Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses II Setepenre are running against Casar to represent North Central Austin’s District 4 on Austin City Council.

Casar said this campaign has been a departure from a previous reliance on door-knocking to reach voters.

“Even though in many ways we’re socially distanced, people are more engaged with their local government than ever,” Casar said in an interview. “I’m proud of a lot of the change that we’ve been able to make, but I especially have been proud to be a part of working with community members to make that change themselves.”

Casar said he is most proud of the city’s Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance and his advocacy work on the affordable housing bond passed in 2018.

In addition to the city moving forward with repurposing the former Home Depot/Chrysler site near Interstate 35 and St. Johns Avenue, Casar touted expanded amenities in St. John Park, the Highland neighborhood and Cook Elementary School.

“We’re bringing real and new investment to a district that inarguably has been one of the most neglected in the city,” he said. “We’ve brought a lot of public investment to the district, while still focusing also on affordable housing.”

Casar believes the city has made solid progress toward achieving the goals of the Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint and the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, noting how Orange and Gold service in Project Connect would serve District 4 if Proposition A passes.

“We have to continue to double down,” he said. “I think that essentially we have started to make some real important incremental improvements in a lot of policy areas, but it’s time for us to make more transformative change.”

Casar defended votes on reducing Austin Police Department funding and pivoting dollars to other focus areas, as well as last summer’s vote on the camping ordinance affecting people experiencing homelessness.

“We need to improve both public safety and protect people’s civil rights,” Casar said. “We should be doing both. I think that’s what the Council believes we need to work on.”

“I think that when there are conversations in good faith that there’s actually a lot more agreement than when people are hearing from the governor, who is very clearly fear-mongering,” he added. “I find that people are supportive of our actions when they understand what we actually did.”

Casar said the city will need to address the “public health crisis” created by Covid-19 in order to tackle the economic damage from the pandemic.

Louis C. Herrin III is a professional engineer with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He’s run in the last two District 4 elections.

Herrin said he ran a more “minimal campaign” in 2014 and 2016, in part because of state restrictions on public employees running for office. He said the ordinance changes around homelessness and cuts to the Austin Police Department are motivating his run this cycle.

“I’m not going to come up with the money that Greg has but … I basically decided I’m going with a full-mounted campaign,” he said.

Herrin laments that the shutdown restrictions this spring from the coronavirus pandemic “really screwed up the economy.”

“Even if I’m not on the City Council, we need to sit down and see what we did right, what we did wrong,” he said. “We need to see (if) we (could) have done something better … because we really hurt small businesses.”

Herrin said Austin’s development review and code compliance processes take too long. “I think the biggest hurdle in the city of Austin is it takes forever to get a permit to build in this city. It is ridiculous.”

Herrin said his focus on the dais would be on the environment and roads.

Herrin said there will be a need to fund the “core responsibilities of the city” in the next budget due to revenue shortfalls from the pandemic, adding he supports some sort of citywide audit – which was rejected by voters in 2018.

“We need a lean, trim budget to make sure we get the core functions,” he said.

Herrin said he also thinks the Home Depot/Chrysler site should have been redeveloped into a police substation and not the mixed-use housing proposal currently moving forward at the city.

The third candidate, Ramesses II Setepenre, identifies as a “self-funded, gay eco-socialist” and is running in favor of “all things progressive.” He did not respond to our interview questions by press time, but did participate in the District 4 forum held by the Austin Monitor and KUT last month.

“I’m arguably the most progressive candidate,” Setepenre said during the forum. Setepenre decided to run after working as a city contractor, where he said he earned “meager wages” and faced homophobia from city employees.

Setepenre believes in “divesting” from Austin’s police department and in new leadership for APD.

“If we want to reduce crime, we have to start at community enrichment,” Setepenre said. “We have to provide people with living-wage jobs, affordable health care (and) affordable housing.”

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