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Outgoing Democratic State Representative Celia Israel announced Tuesday that she would run for Austin mayor.
Israel, elected to the Texas home in 2014, said their campaign will focus on urban housing, affordability and transportation.
“The city I’ve lived in since 1982 has become an exclusive city. It’s extremely unaffordable and I think we’re becoming a city that forgets the women and men who build this economy, “said Israel, who moved to Austin at 17 to study at the University of Texas. “I worry that we will become a city that we don’t really want to be, and I think there is an urgent need for action.”
Israel, which represents parts of north and northeast Austin at Texas House, said it was concerned about the declining numbers of Hispanic and Black Austinites as part of the city’s population. She said these declines were due to an affordability crisis that left working-class colored Austinites.
Israel, who is a real estate agent, said she had seen firsthand through her clients the difficulty of living or renting in Austin.
“It hurts my heart to tell customers to just keep driving until you can afford it. It’s painful, ”she said. “In this great economy, the people who really drive this engine of the economy are left behind.”
Israel made its announcement in Parque Zaragoza in East Austin, a traditionally Latino neighborhood of the city where property prices have skyrocketed in recent years as wealthier white homeowners move in and buy houses. Parque Zaragoza is a traditional gathering place for many of the long-time Latino families in the area, and Israel – who worked for Governor Ann Richards’ government – said it remembered holding Get Out the Vote rallies there at Tejano music and barbecues were offered.
“Everyone in Austin politics knows this is a polling station and I hope to run a campaign that respects this,” she said.
Israel said it plans to use its legislative experience to work with the state to help the city meet some of its most pressing goals. She has close ties with her MPs in the Austin legislative delegation, but a controversial relationship with Republican leaders across the state, who have often attacked Austin directly over the city’s liberal policies.
“I have a job to do and the state has a job to do, but voters are well served when we work and work together,” she said.
In the House of Representatives, Israel was best known for its work on voting rights and LGBTQ equality. Last summer, Israel was among the House Democrats who fled to Washington, DC to prevent the passage of a GOP electoral law that Democrats said would make voting in the state difficult. Though the Democrats were absent for a little over a month, the Republican state leaders convened additional special sessions to enforce the legislation.
When Israel left for Washington in July, it had to postpone its plans to marry her 26-year-old partner, Celinda Garza. The two were married in October by their compatriot Donna Howard from the US state of Austin.
Israel was a founding member of the House LGBTQ Caucus. She has also invested in transportation infrastructure, which she hopes will help the city modernize its public transportation system.
If elected, Israel would be the city’s first openly gay and Latina mayor. Gus Garcia preceded her as the first Latino Mayor of Austin.
Former Austin Mayor and Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson, as well as City Councilor Kathie Tovo, have expressed an interest in running for office. Two candidates have officially announced their candidacy: Jennifer Virden, a realtor and former Austin City Council candidate, and Erica Nix, a fitness trainer and LGBTQ activist, whose campaign documents describe her as an ambassador for body positivity.
Austin’s current mayor, Steve Adler, will have to resign after his second term expires unless he collects petitions from 5% of registered voters to apply for a third term. Adler said he doesn’t plan to collect petitions.
The candidate, elected in 2022, will only serve for a two-year term as Austin seeks to align its mayoral election with the presidential election in an attempt to increase voter turnout.