As black Austinites have left or been forced out of East Austin by gentrification, Pflugerville, Manor and the ever-growing sprawl in northeastern Travis County has become a new home for many former residents of the city’s once-vibrant African-American community.
As a result, the race to replace longtime County Commissioner Ron Davis has become a debate about the future of the Austin area’s black community. Like Davis, all five Democratic candidates are African-American men, and they are all pitching plans to increase development and prosperity in Precinct 1 without driving away its low-income residents.
The political establishment has largely lined up behind Jeff Travillion, 53, a Pflugerville resident and city of Austin worker making his first run for office after years of working in Democratic-aligned groups. Also making waves is James Nortey, a 29-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer and protégé of former City Council Member Sheryl Cole.
Richard Franklin III, 59, an educational consultant, and Arthur Sampson, 66, a contractor for the city of Austin, have both run for the office before and have struggled to raise money and win endorsements. And both have sharp criticisms of the Democratic Party politicking that they say has stacked the deck against them.
The fifth candidate, Marc Hoskins, 37, will face eligibility questions if elected because he is a convicted felon.
Pat McCord is running unopposed for the Republican nomination in the March 1 primary. Early voting begins Feb. 16.
Richard Franklin III
Franklin in 2007 founded Youth Unlimited, an educational nonprofit that works in schools to help motivate at-risk students. Through that work, Franklin said, he has learned that the problems facing the county’s low-income population — juvenile justice issues, poor health care facilities, educational gaps — must be addressed holistically, not through piecemeal policy initiatives.
“They’re issues that are all interconnected,” he said.
As commissioner, Franklin said he would push for the county to work with the Del Valle school district in applying to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to make the area one of its “promise zones,” designated high-poverty areas that get prioritized for federal assistance programs.
Hoskins, who started a lobbying firm in 2004, was arrested in 1999 and served six months in federal prison for intent to distribute cocaine, according to the Houston Chronicle. In Texas, convicted felons cannot hold certain public offices, including county commissioner, meaning Hoskins is ineligible for the post he is seeking.
The rule isn’t news to Hoskins, whom a judge removed from the Galveston City Council in 2006 because of the conviction, but he’s asking Travis County voters to give him a chance in the hopes that he secures a pardon between now and inauguration day.
“I’m asking voters to look at what I’ve done since the felony,” he said. “Obviously I’m a different person now.”
A Dallas native who went to high school in Cedar Park, Nortey has served on the Austin Planning Commission, chaired the Mueller Neighborhood Association and was president of the Black Austin Democrats.
To get new results, he said, voters must choose someone who hasn’t been enmeshed in the local political scene for years.
“People feel as if they are tired of the standard consultant machine. They want someone with courage to break away,” said Nortey, a lawyer with the Austin firm Duggins Wren Mann & Romero.
Sampson, a former city of Austin employee who still works as a consultant for the city, said his primary concern is making sure the precinct has enough resources and infrastructure to handle its rapidly growing population.
“The (911) response time in that area is very, very slow,” he said. “With that many people moving in, we are going to need more deputies out in the county area.”
Sampson also wants to give more resources to the county’s fire departments.
Travillion has worked in various roles at the city of Austin for 15 years and is a division manager in the Code Department. He spent 15 years in state government before going to work for the city.
“I have been very involved in work that addresses families living around the poverty line, housing issues, access to health care, transportation, quality of life and redevelopment,” he said. “All of these elements are key and critical issues that will be dealt with by the Commissioners Court in the coming years, particularly in Precinct 1.”
Travillion, a former head of the Austin NAACP, said transportation spending in northeastern Travis County would be his top priority as commissioner.