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Wednesday, December 2, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
Flannigan and Kelly showdown in District 6 forum
District 6 voters once again have a choice between two candidates: incumbent Jimmy Flannigan and challenger Mackenzie Kelly. In November, Flannigan won just over 40 percent of the vote and Kelly just over 33 percent.
On social media and at campaign events, the rhetoric between the two candidates and their supporters has been heated, and at times, more reminiscent of national politics than a local campaign. Though it dipped into fiery terrain a few times during the Tuesday night forum hosted by the Austin League of Women Voters and the city’s Ethics Review Commission, the conversation mostly centered on policy issues that highlighted the differences between the two candidates.
In response to a question about systemic racism in the Austin Police Department, Flannigan declared that he was “the only candidate in the race that has continued to refuse to stand with groups that espouse white nationalism.”
Referencing a photo that has received avid attention online and in the news media, Flannigan said, “We cannot have our leaders standing in photos with groups that are seeking to undermine the … critical equity work that we do in this community.”
Kelly called Flannigan’s repetition of the charge “gaslighting.”
“I do not stand with white nationalists. I do not support racism,” said Kelly, who claimed she was not aware the Proud Boys members were present at the time the photo was taken. “Unfortunately, he refuses to accept that.”
On the subject of Project Connect, Kelly said she had heard from people in the district who said they could not afford the associated tax increase for the $7 billion transportation project that was approved by voters last month. As a remedy, Kelly proposed an outside audit to identify “wasteful spending” in the city.
“Recently, in the news, we saw that over $1 million in toner ink was stolen by somebody who was employed at the library,” she said. “It is my firm belief that if there are things like that that are occurring, there’s other wasteful spending happening too.”
Flannigan stood by his support of Project Connect, saying the transportation bond is the only way to fix the city’s traffic woes. He pointed out that, unlike an outside city audit, Project Connect was approved by voters. In terms of the cost, Flannigan referred to himself as the “fiscal conscience of the dais” and said he had taken hard votes against what he considered unwarranted spending in the past.
Though both candidates agreed that homeless campsites around town are, in Flannigan’s words, “not ideal,” they disagreed on the impact of reinstating a citywide camping ban. Though Kelly maintained a camping ban would not criminalize homelessness and supported a reversal, Flannigan strongly disagreed.
The candidates also differed on recent City Council actions to reallocate police department funds and responsibilities. Kelly said the current process of reimagining public safety was, in fact, defunding the police.
“We need to refund the police department and make sure we have a proper amount of staffing for our community,” she said.
Flannigan said categorizing Council’s August action as defunding was “misinformation.”
“We are precisely trying to get our police officers into a place where they are responding specifically to the tasks and jobs for which they are specially trained and best-suited,” he said.
The candidates addressed the city’s looming eviction crisis and the economic worries many are experiencing due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When you talk about the scale of the disaster we are talking about, it requires state and federal support,” said Flannigan. He said he looked forward to having a “minimally functional” federal government and said the anticipated aid that will come from the change in administration will help support newly established city programs like RISE and SAVES that he has helped to initiate.
Kelly said she believed the city should have been “more forward and planning thinking with putting restrictions in place that would prevent people from being able to get to work.” She also emphasized the need for more information about city programs already in place.
“It would be nice to have had alternatives to the shutdown – I am happy and delighted that we are starting to reopen things,” Kelly said.
In terms of the impact of the sudden shift to virtual meetings this past year, Flannigan said it was “a real learning curve” but ultimately a smooth transition, given the tech-friendly nature of District 6 and his office.
“We were able to keep the work going for District 6,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s a real equity problem. If you’re part of the community that doesn’t have ready access to broadband or to technology, you’re now even more isolated from the levers of power and from the community.”
Kelly said she enjoys using Zoom and WebEx to communicate. “This is the new normal, and it’s been exciting to adapt to new challenges,” she said. “My reach has actually been a lot better and bigger.”
This story has been corrected to reflect the accurate vote totals from the November election. Photos via Facebook.
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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 6: District 6 covers the far northwest parts of the city, including the Anderson Mill, River Place, Avery Ranch, Riata and Robinson Ranch neighborhoods. The area is bisected east to west by SH 45/RM 620 and north-south by US 183 and RM 2222. The southern end of the district hugs neighborhoods along Lake Austin and the south shore of Lake Travis.