Sarah Eckhardt, a Travis County commissioner since 2007, said Wednesday that she will run for county judge next year.
In a widely expected announcement, Eckhardt met with about 100 supporters in the backyard of her mother’s home in South Austin for the lunchtime event Wednesday. As required by state law, Eckhardt also stepped down as Precinct 2 commissioner, representing much of Central, West and North Austin, but will continue to act in that capacity until a replacement is appointed by Judge Sam Biscoe in the next month.
Eckhardt, a Democrat, will face the county’s Democratic Party Chairman Andy Brown in the March 2014 primary.
In her comments to supporters, Eckhardt touted her time as commissioner and her self-described wonkiness: “I want the people of Travis County to have a choice of a candidate who has the experience, the love of the subject matter and the courage to do the work.”
Gonzalo Barrientos, a retired Democratic state senator who in February held a rally to encourage Eckhardt to run, also said Eckhardt’s time as a policymaker makes her better equipped for the job than Brown, who hasn’t held public office.
Brown told the American-Statesman his campaign “is going to be focused on bringing fresh ideas to our county government.”
On Tuesday, Brown wrote in his weekly email sent to the party’s email list that he will resign as party chairman, effective May 19. He has held the post since 2008.
Eckhardt said her decision to run — one that she had been weighing since Biscoe said in November 2011 he will not seek a fifth term as judge — came after months of meeting with residents across the county.
Eckhardt previously worked as an assistant county attorney and defeated three-term incumbent Karen Sonleitner in the 2006 Democratic primary.
Eckhardt’s imminent departure from the dais could change the dynamics of the commissioners court. While Biscoe, also a Democrat, is unlikely to appoint a Republican, the commissioners are sometimes divided on issues, including how to proceed on building a proposed $340 million civil courthouse.
In the past weeks, several people have told Eckhardt and Biscoe they would be interested in filling her seat for the remainder of her term, which runs through 2014, the two officials said. Biscoe said he plans to post the $95,595 a year position Friday and have a new commissioner in place by the first half of June. Biscoe said he prefers to appoint someone who is not planning to run for the post.
Biscoe would not say who he has spoken with about the position, but said once the applications are due, in about two weeks, they will be public.
Eckhardt has been active in a range of issues including planning for the proposed civil courthouse, crafting a policy for tax incentives for companies relocating to the county and forming a task force to look into improved wages and conditions for construction workers with county contractors.