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District 9 City Council candidates chat with the ‘Monitor’: Part II

Tuesday, August 16, 2022 by Sean Saldaña

Editor’s Note: Austin City Council’s District 9 is thought to be one of the more competitive races this local election season. Monitor reporter Sean Saldaña sat down with each of the six candidates to explore their thinking on some of the big issues. For a comprehensive view on each candidates’ policy positions, visit their websites. This is Part II of a two-part series. Read Part I here.

Photo courtesy of the Linda Guerrero Campaign

Linda Guerrero brings to the table an institutional knowledge of parks and environmental issues, along with expertise on affordability and transportation more broadly.

In addition to being an AISD teacher for nearly three decades, she’s also spent time on the Environmental Commission and the Parks and Recreation Board, two of the more prominent non-elected roles in local government.

“As a classroom teacher, I see more and more that my colleagues don’t live in Austin,” she told the Monitor.

Like other candidates, she feels like the city isn’t making good use of its developable land. She’s also a supporter of police oversight and accountability, saying she approved of the Austin Police Department’s new cadet class training.

When asked about Project Connect, Guerrero is a supporter, but expresses some caution and skepticism, both in terms of its cost and scope, as well as environmental impact.

“Project Connect will have important aspects for getting residents around Austin, but that’s years out. One of my concerns would be the fact that we’re going to tunnel under the bridge, under Lady Bird Lake – so there’s all kinds of environmental impacts that could possibly bubble up,” she noted.

Like many, she’s concerned that the project will require taking land via eminent domain and sacrificing businesses, but also noted, “The problem is that so many local businesses don’t own property. If you don’t have that part of the negotiation, then it’s someone else making decisions for you.”

According to Guerrero, the majority of her support is coming from neighborhood groups and associations within the district – Cherrywood, Hyde Park and Travis Heights, to name a few. She’s also received the support of Kathie Tovo, the current District 9 representative.

Tom Wald is looking for the city to use a number of tools to address housing costs: bond packages, more construction around job centers like downtown, increasing the number of income-restricted units, and subsidized housing for low-income residents.

Photo courtesy of the Tom Wald Campaign

He’s a founding member of People United for Mobility Action, a group that’s focused on big-picture things like mass transit and the nuts and bolts of navigating the city. He’s dedicated the past 16 years to the issue.

“Imagine if we did not have sidewalks or protected bike lanes or the pedestrian hybrid beacons or midblock crossings or expanded wheelchair access? Imagine if we were where we were 16 years ago,” he said to the Monitor.

On public safety, Wald thinks there should be an increased focus on mental health resources, more reliable EMS response, and accountability for police misconduct.

“The vast majority of our police officers are doing a tremendous service for the people of Austin, and it’s really unfortunate that there are some people in the police department that are not doing what’s expected of them,” he said.

One of the things he’s offering voters is a detailed knowledge of how big projects get translated into specific policies. For example, addressing the multibillion-dollar Project Connect – which will involve a number of stakeholders – he said, “It gets challenging when you’re working across agencies, and I think it’s really important that we have someone on Council and on the Cap Metro board who is experienced with the politics of these things.”

Tom Wald is positioning himself as a candidate who is deeply familiar with the inner workings of government, knowledge he’ll use to make sure his policy agenda is carried out as intended.

Zo Qadri’s priorities match those of his competitors: He’s a big supporter of the expansion of public transit, loosening zoning regulations and equitable development.

Photo courtesy of the Zo Qadri Campaign

He supports the city’s pending $350 million housing bond and Project Connect, and when it comes to public safety, his focus is more on things like adding street lights around District 9 in the hopes of deterring crime.

But he also believes in investing more in EMS and fire service.

“Austin EMS is severely underfunded, understaffed. They asked for a raise to $27 an hour and they got a 14-cent raise. I think that’s a slap in the face,” Qadri said of a recent round of negotiations between the city and the EMS Association.

Labor is a throughline of his campaign. Proud of the fact that his campaign staff is unionized, Qadri is a big supporter of creating a more labor-friendly environment in the city.

When it comes to some of the growing pains around the initiatives he champions – like the growing cost of Project Connect – he’s a pragmatist: “It’s a necessary pill to swallow,” he said, with issues around connectivity and inequity being so dire in Austin.

If elected, he intends to go to bat for causes familiar to progressives: abortion rights, transgender issues and immigration.

One focal point of his campaign is his identity and what he represents. Reflecting on where his politics come from, Qadri, who is Muslim and Asian American, said, “There were so many times growing up as a kid when there was a hate crime against (my communities), especially after 9/11.”

Zo Qadri’s progressive message has earned him the endorsements of a number of big names in Central Texas politics, like Texas Reps. Sheryl Cole, James Talarico and Donna Howard, to name a few.

With a campaign focused on affordability, District 9 City Council candidate Zena Mitchell has many of the same talking points as her competitors, but differs in one key aspect of her messaging – she’s made the decision to avoid fundraising large amounts of money, leaning into her slogan “people over profits.” Campaign finance reports from July show that, at the time, she only had $109 in expenditures.

Photo from the Zena Mitchell Campaign

As a former teacher at Northeast High School, Mitchell is sensitive to affordability concerns, looking to launch a rent-to-own housing program in the city and limit large-scale real estate investment with the hopes of giving average Austinites a competitive advantage in the real estate market. “I’ve lived in Austin for 30 years. My husband and I raised our kids here. We sent our kids to public schools. And now those kids that we’ve raised here can’t afford to live here,” she tells the Austin Monitor. Mitchell believes that large companies have a responsibility to step up and take more of an active role in supporting the community, saying, “The corporations are stressing our infrastructure, which is our human capital, our electricity, our water and our roads. And I think they need to pay for that.”

Another thing that makes her stand out is her commitment to progressive causes. Whereas many candidates are focusing their efforts on more local issues, Mitchell is committed to fighting for causes like abortion access and gun control. While she knows the odds of coming out ahead of her well-funded competitors aren’t in her favor, she’s hoping to overcome that with grassroots support. Mitchell draws a comparison to the 2022 Derby winner Rich Strike. “Did you see the Kentucky Derby this year? The odds were 80 to 1. That’s me.”

Read Part I of the series.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been updated.

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