Celia Israel (Photo by Jana Birchum)
On Tuesday morning on the Eastside, in front of the Parque Zaragoza Rec Center, the state deputy said. Celia Israel officially launched her campaign to become Austin’s next mayor. If elected, Israel would become only the second woman to lead the city (after Carole Keeton’s tenure 40 years ago), the first woman of color and the first LGBTQIA mayor in central Texas. The announcement follows several months of exploration and a local listening tour while Israel eyed the race to succeed the limited-term mayor Steve Adler.
Speaking to a small group of supporters and media, Israel said these were its top three priorities affordability of housing, public health and safety, and transportation and mobility. “We’re becoming an elite city where only the rich can afford to live,” Israel said, alluding to a real estate market where the average home selling price has skyrocketed by about 25% in a year and the average monthly rent increased by about 22% in the first half of 2021.
“I will support policies that allow for more housing options that help families live here and help seniors age in place,” Israel told supporters. As this is a campaign launch event, she did not elaborate on how to achieve these goals. The housing issue has been sufficiently “examined and analyzed” and there are enough areas of consensus for reform – for example, in relation to the overrun parking requirements or optimized approval of secondary housing units – that changes can now be made.
But Israel has also adopted a politically appealing stance that is becoming increasingly dubious to many who see the city’s housing shortage as an apparent crisis: Density “should go where density is appropriate.” In fact, she said the very location she chose to launch her campaign is symbolic of a future Austin that honors its roots while also growing to accommodate thousands of new residents. “We don’t have to sacrifice quality open space to create more and diverse housing,” Israel said, before describing the role Parque Zaragoza has played for Austin’s Latinx community. (The park in the Holly neighborhood is mostly surrounded by commercial properties and older single-family homes.)
In a brief interview after the event, Israel acknowledged a political reality Adler has embraced: the only housing reforms the city council can pass are those that get at least nine votes (the 75% supermajority Margin required to change zoning against objections from owners or neighbors). Asked if this approach could change policy enough to respond to the affordability crisis, Israel said voters need to send a strong message that they want to see change, both in the way housing is produced and how it is built also where it can be located.
“My hope is that voters will send a statement to City Hall that the next mayor and council must understand the fact that real pain is occurring,” Israel said timeline. “I’m not going to be Queen of Austin … but I’d love to be able to say as mayor, ‘The voters have spoken and we need to move forward because real people are hurt.'” In other words, without enough like-minded council members to support bolder housing policies , it won’t happen even if she pushed them as mayor.
Israel currently represents Texas House district 50 in northeastern Travis County (some Austin, but also much of Pflugerville and some of Manor); first elected in 2014 in a special election to succeed the outgoing MP. Markus Strama, she was easily re-elected three times. (The lead candidate to replace her, the current Williamson County Representative. James Talarico, worked with Strama and grew up in the district’s Wells Branch; he has crossed the county line after his Round Rock-anchored HD 52 seat became much redder in redistricting.) …
Virden shows us the money: Israel is the second official candidate in the November 2022 mayoral race; Jennifer Virden, that Save Austin now-supported candidate who pushed Alison age to a runoff in the 2020 council election, is attempting to clear the right lane in the field for itself, despite the citywide electorate being much less conservative than West Austin’s D10. Still, Virden isn’t suffering from campaign money, thanks to $300,000 she lent to her own campaign on Dec. 20 and another $46,000 raised through campaign donations, according to her campaign financial report filed Jan. 4* . With a $400 limit on contributions to City Hall races, Israel, which is not independently wealthy, has some ground to gain, although it does have a network of potential supporters from its Lege races and time as Texas mayor Democratic Campaign Committee of the House of Representatives (a fundraising job) in 2020. The other two far from official candidates in the running, Council Members Kathie Tovo and former Mayor and Sen. Kirk Watson, can afford to wait longer to start raising funds. Tovo is independently wealthy and able to support herself alongside her support base in Austin’s neighborhoods. Watson has access to a vast network of donors he has built over his long political career in Texas, some 20 years ahead of Israel.
PACKING the hall? Does this mean that we can expect independent political action committees to spend money on behalf of city candidates like Israel who cannot fund themselves? Possibly, especially with two new PACs being created to play at a (as expected) very low turnout D4 special choice (on January 25, early voting is now open; read more). One of those PACs Votes for District 4, was formed on January 4 in support jade lover and defy the front runner of the race, Jose “Chito” Vela. A second PAC, people before politics, was formed on January 6 in support Monica Guzman; She has emerged as the preferred candidate for neighborhood protectors but is struggling with fundraising. None of the PACs have yet had to file financial reports (which will appear in the “8-day-out” filings starting this Friday), but they must move quickly if they aim to keep Vela below 50% and force a run . out. After two days of early voting, 220 people voted in this race.
Ground Game’s first milestone: The citizens’ initiative wants to take measures for decriminalization in an upcoming city election (next possible date is May 1st). Possession of small amounts of marijuana and ban them Austin Police Department from the use No Knock Warrants was certified by City Clerk Myrna Rios. Texas floor game, the organizing effort led by former congressional candidates mike seal and Juliet Oliver, submitted around 30,000 signatures in December; they only need 20,000. Versions of each policy have already been included in the ODA General Orders, but if the regulations are adopted they would be codified and more difficult to reverse.
As with any citizens’ initiative, the council has 10 days to decide whether to adopt the ordinances directly (as Ground Game would prefer) or send them to voters. The marijuana ordinance is unlikely to face much opposition, even from the Austin Police Association, but a ban on warrants is another story. APA President Ken Casaday says he will speak out against this measure because it will be used sparingly locally and for “violent offenders and people prone to violence”. But criminal justice reform activists want them banned immediately because they can lead to tragic outcomes – like being shot dead BreonaTaylor in Louisville, Kentucky, which was the result of a poorly executed no-knock raid.
publisher’s Note: This story has been corrected since publication to correct an error made in editing regarding the date of Virden’s personal loan.