About the Author
Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Celia Israel opts to exit state seat, explore mayoral run
State Rep. Celia Israel has moved closer to entering the city’s 2022 mayor’s race, forming an exploratory committee for that campaign and opting not to run for reelection for the seat she has held since 2015.
Israel announced her move Wednesday, making her the most high-profile name circling the office that Mayor Steve Adler will vacate at the end of next year due to term limits. Former City Council candidate Jennifer Virden, who challenged Alison Alter for the District 10 seat, is the only candidate to officially announce her intent to run, though former state Sen. Kirk Watson, a former Austin mayor, is also rumored to be a potential candidate.
Israel said colleagues and friends began pushing her late last year to make a run for the mayor’s post, an undertaking that requires raising $1 million to run a successful campaign. She waited until the end of this year’s legislative session to form her committee and focused on getting a handle on local issues, saying, “It really is an exploratory committee to help me get connected and learn about issues and priorities and do a lot of listening.”
The largest issue is the city’s growth and the affordability concerns caused by rapidly rising real estate prices. Israel, who also works as a real estate agent, said the cost pressures have pushed longtime Austin residents into other northern parts of her district such as Pflugerville.
“The issue of affordability is very real to me in many ways. As a Realtor it hurts my heart to tell my clients to keep driving until you can afford it,” she said. “It’s not that simple when that person is the one who is teaching your kids at the elementary school or the one taking care of your mom. The working-class folks that I know can no longer afford to live in the city, and that’s a challenge for every American city right now.”
On that issue and the growing concern of the homeless population in and around Austin, Israel said she wants to define the scope of the problems the city faces and work with other leaders to find solutions, rather than running or coming into office with a predetermined set of fixes.
“It’s never been my experience that you can tell people, ‘I’m the one who knows, so follow me,’ especially in a 10-member Council when I was an advocate for representative (Council) districts and that is playing itself out now,” she said. “Everyone on the dais needs to have a role and a say in what our solutions are going to be and it’s never easy. I don’t claim to have the answers, but you lead with your heart and a vision, especially for a city capable of great things.”
Local campaign strategist David Butts, who has managed recent campaigns for Council Member Kathie Tovo – another rumored possible mayoral candidate – said Israel’s early bow helps her gain attention ahead of Watson’s possible move into the race for a term that will last two years because of a recent change to the city charter. The 2024 election would be for a four-year term.
“She’s basically hoping to show she has a broad base of support. Since this is an exploratory committee it’s not a firm declaration that she’s running – it creates sort of an open door. If she decides there’s enough support individually and financially then she’ll make the race,” Butts said. “She’d have a very difficult job of beating Kirk Watson, should he run. If he doesn’t run then she has a decent chance to win … if Watson ran she’d be much more of a long shot, which could be why she’s doing this as an exploratory committee.”
Local activist Rubén Cantu has joined Israel’s exploratory committee and said her experience tapping into the issues that matter to constituents will be valuable if she decides to enter the race.
“To lead you really have to understand how the system works … we’re going to shake things up because lots of people get into the system and don’t know how to mobilize people, get votes and move legislation forward, or they don’t know the issues of the people. Celia has been here for a long time, from the early campaign days of helping Ann Richards to sitting on boards and commissions and nonprofit boards, she’s been out there helping to make sure that the issues in our community are being advocated for and taken care of.”
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