Three candidates challenge Flannigan in District 6 race
Tuesday, October 13, 2020 by Daniel Salazar
Council Member Jimmy Flannigan is facing three challengers – Jennifer Mushtaler, Mackenzie Kelly and Dee Harrison – to serve on Austin City Council’s District 6, which represents swaths of Northwest Austin.
Flannigan has represented District 6 since 2017, when he defeated Council Member Don Zimmerman in the 2016 election. Flannigan said he was elected by a district whose primary concerns were “traffic, traffic, traffic.”
“I’ve spent the first three years of my term focused on getting new projects in the district, focusing attention at a regional level to these challenges and getting stuff added into plans and funded – and we’ve done that,” Flannigan said in an interview, pointing at roadway improvements to U.S. Highway 183 and in the Four Points area.
Flannigan said he wasn’t necessarily supportive of Project Connect “from day one,” but he’s worked hard to ensure that the final proposal will enhance regional mobility, particularly with improvements to the Red Line serving District 6.
“The plan is great, and when is the last time in Austin transportation politics can you say that that’s true?” Flannigan asked. “It is a comprehensive multi-generational investment that will outlast the pandemic and is the type of service that is critical for our essential workers.”
Flannigan also defended Council’s recent changes to the Austin Police Department budget, such as cutting some funds and diverting other functions away from the police. He pointed to a police budget that’s grown faster than the city’s population over the past decade.
“You have an unsustainable fiscal reality and that is the thing I am trying to solve for,” Flannigan said. “There are also elements of racial justice and systemic inequities that are also a part of this work, but the lens that I most frequently look through is one of fiscal responsibility.”
Jennifer Mushtaler is a practicing OB/GYN who has served on a regional Medicaid advisory committee for the last several years. She believes the public health crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates a need for “medical leadership.”
“No, I’m not happy with my incumbent. That’s been there. But that wasn’t enough to make me want to run,” Mushtaler said in an interview. “As I watched what was happening through Covid, I really began to feel that this is really tangible to my family (and) my neighbors.”
“Both the health and the economic welfare of our city is at risk,” she said. “I feel like I can help with that.”
Mushtaler said the pandemic could upend a lot of the city’s assumptions about housing and transit since widespread telecommuting is permanently “changing how people are working and living.”
She also said the “tone and tenor” of the city’s Land Development Code revision effort didn’t adequately consider community feedback.
“It wasn’t an opportunity and a question – ‘Where should we do this? How should we do this? We think we need to get this kind of housing. What do you think?'” Mushtaler said, recalling a town hall in District 6. “It was, ‘Here’s our plan. It’s wonderful. It’s great. Don’t you love it?'”
“I don’t think the neighborhoods got an opportunity to really weigh in on that the way they needed to,” she added. “You can get consensus (on the LDC).”
Mackenzie Kelly is the president of Take Back Austin, a group that opposed the 2019 camping ordinance changes for those experiencing homelessness.
“I have been given the unique opportunity to listen to the voices of over 10,000 Austinites who, like me, cannot stand the current direction our city is headed,” Kelly wrote in an email response to questions from the Austin Monitor. “It was time to stand up and be the real voice of District 6.”
Kelly opposes Proposition A and said the city needs to take advantage of the shifting commute patterns from the pandemic.
“The flexibility in working from home needs more support from the city in order to make businesses continue to allow this,” she said.
While Kelly doesn’t support the Land Development Code rewrite effort, she declined to say which parts of the code should be changed.
She also said the city needs a more cohesive response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was tragic to watch as the top leadership fumbled over SXSW going on or not and then encouraged everyone to go out in groups to patronize bars and restaurants across the city,” Kelly said. “It proved to be a failure and was awful from a leadership perspective.”
“As a city we need to support keeping the small businesses that helped shape Austin’s iconic business landscape, but we need to do so from a proactive point of view with solutions in place before making policies,” she added.
Dee Harrison retired from working for the state of Texas last year after a career in emergency management.
“The city’s changed from a no-growth to a go-growth outlook, but that growth should never be at the expense of our neighborhoods or by placing ever-increasing tax burdens on individual taxpayers and our small businesses,” Harrison said at a KUT and Austin Monitor forum in late September.
Harrison worried that Austin’s police budget cuts would harm victim services and drunk driving prevention in the future.
“It was a terrible misstep on the part of the City Council, one that’s going to have long-lasting repercussions that we can’t even begin to conceive of now,” she said.
Harrison also doesn’t support Proposition A, citing changing commute patterns from the pandemic.
“Our data at this point is wrong because of the impact of Covid-19,” she said.
Harrison said “new metrics” will be needed for a revised Land Development Code after the pandemic and until legal issues around the rewrite are resolved.
“We can’t create something that’s built on quicksand,” she said. “We need to have a solid foundation for our decisions when we’re creating codes like the Land Development Code.”
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