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Former Mayor Bruce Todd leaves a lasting legacy

Wednesday, January 5, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Bruce Todd, who served his community as mayor of Austin as well as Travis County commissioner, died Christmas Day at the age of 72. He suffered from Lewy body dementia for several years before his death.

Todd, who was Precinct 2 commissioner from 1987-1991 and mayor from 1991-1997, is remembered as a champion of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan, which preserved thousands of acres of habitat for endangered species and public enjoyment.

He is also remembered for his work convincing the Air Force to hand over Bergstrom Air Force Base to the city once the base was slated for closure, allowing the city to move Austin’s airport from the old location at Mueller. In addition, he helped convince Austin voters to approve $600 million in bonds to build a new airport. Todd is also credited with helping to recruit a number of high-tech firms to move to Austin, including Samsung Austin Semiconductor, AMD, Applied Materials, and an expanded Motorola.

After his second term as mayor, Todd started a public relations firm, but came back to the Commissioners Court to help serve out the term of Sarah Eckhardt, who stepped down to run for Travis County Judge.

Former Travis County Commissioner Valarie Bristol contributed this remembrance of Todd: “Bruce was such a fine leader because public service actually meant that to him. He believed in searching for answers to public issues through consensus, if at all possible. As a county commissioner I worked with Mayor Todd to establish the Balcones Canyonlands Plan, on resolving issues on Barton Creek, and sought his advice on many other issues. He was also charming and had a wonderful sense of humor. All of Austin and Travis County bears his mark.”

A major factor in the creation of the Balcones preserve was support from U.S. Rep. Jake Pickle, who represented Austin from 1963-1994. Todd and Pickle worked with Bristol on the preserve, starting when Todd was a commissioner and continuing through his career as mayor. At the time of its establishment, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve was the largest urban preserve in the United States.

Peck Young, a longtime political consultant and retired director of the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, said he and Todd worked on many projects together over the years. None was more important than their efforts to pass Austin Independent School District bonds. Todd did the fundraising and Young ran the campaigns. “I cannot count how many AISD schools were built or renovated because of Bruce’s leadership and fundraising skills,” Young wrote.

Young and Todd served on the city’s electric rate commission together, eventually convincing city leaders to create Austin Energy’s first Electric Utility Commission. Todd was the first chair of the commission and Young became chair later on.

Young recalled when Todd was running for reelection and was forced into a runoff with Daryl Slusher, The Austin Chronicle‘s politics editor. On the night of the first 1994 election, after it became clear that there would be a runoff, Young was invited to the home of Elizabeth Christian, Todd’s campaign manager. When he got there, Todd and Christian, along with Christian’s father, George, asked him to take over as the campaign’s political consultant. Not long after his successful election, Todd and Christian became engaged.

John Fitzpatrick, who served simultaneously as executive director of Skillpoint Alliance and vice president for education and workforce development at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, wrote the following:

“I have wonderful memories of Bruce Todd during his tenure as mayor in the 1990s when he helped establish the Construction Gateway program and the Capital Area Training Foundation. … He saw in Austin’s economic development and growth an opportunity to create education and job training programs both for high school students via career pathways in high school and for incarcerated youth, homeless and unemployed Central Texans via Construction Gateway. Bruce used the bully pulpit as mayor to lead a city delegation to Koblenz, Germany of Austin employers, educators and civic leaders. Working with Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Chamber CEO Glenn West, he had a vision for creating an Austin version of the collaboration between public and private sectors.”

Todd, who grew up in the small West Texas town of Breckenridge, came to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1968. After arriving in Austin, he began work as night supervisor at the city’s Municipal Court. He was later promoted to clerk of the court, where he met Judge Ronnie Earle. Earle, who was later elected to the Texas House of Representatives and then Travis County district attorney, became a friend and mentor.

Todd graduated from UT with a degree in business administration and earned his CPA license in 1974. He worked for three different accounting firms, including Garcia, Morrison & Co., where he became friends with Gus Garcia, who served as a City Council member when Todd was mayor. Garcia, of course, served as mayor from 2001-2003. In 1994, Todd and Garcia worked together to pass the city’s first ban on smoking in public places.

Todd is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Christian, his son Jeremy Palmer Todd, his stepdaughter Alex Rose, and many friends.

A funeral service celebrating Todd’s life is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 3003 Northland Drive. Graveside services at the Texas State Cemetery at 909 Navasota will follow immediately afterward.

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