Races grow more crowded ahead of November Austin city elections

Ask Travis Duncan why he’s running for mayor of Austin, and he’ll tell you a tale. Of a city where electricity and food are free and “a network of cooperative projects” pays the bills. Of the city he believes this could be.

You probably haven’t heard of Duncan, a drummer and former Tesla worker, and that would be understandable. He’s a 28-year-old political newcomer planning to run “as close to a zero-dollar campaign as possible” against two well-established candidates with strong community support: Mayor Steve Adler and former Council Member Laura Morrison.

But he’s one more candidate entering the ring as the calendar flips a page closer to Election Day on Nov. 6. Five Austin City Council seats and the mayor’s seat are up for grabs, all with sitting incumbents expected to seek re-election.

No candidates have announced runs against Council Members Ann Kitchen of District 5 or Sabino “Pio” Renteria of District 3. The filing deadline for the election isn’t until August. Meanwhile, here’s a roundup of who’s running so far:

District 9

Recently announced challengers include Danielle Skidmore, a civil transportation engineer running on a mobility platform against Council Member Kathie Tovo in Central Austin’s District 9.

Skidmore, who serves on the city’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Committee, has advocated on various efforts on the state level, including against the Legislature’s contentious bathroom bill proposal last year. In her run for City Council, her focus is on finding both short- and long-term transportation improvements, she said.

“The people need a voice that is relentlessly focused on making improvements to our mobility challenges,” she said. “I don’t think the council has done that well in general, and I don’t think the District 9 rep has done that well either.”

Skidmore, originally from Philadelphia, has lived in Austin 24 years. She supports CodeNext, the city’s rewrite of its land-use policies, noting that Austin needs to “find ways to grow as a city and make room for all.”

Tovo has gained a council reputation as a preservation supporter, with strong neighborhood support, and an opponent of business incentives. She was the only City Council member to make the transition from the old at-large body to its new 10-1 district-based system and has served one term in each.

Unsure whether that means she has reached her two-term limit, she will be running under a provision that allows her to collect petition signatures for another term, she said.

District 8

Challengers have lined up to challenge Council Member Ellen Troxclair in Southwest Austin. Four candidates announced potential runs against her.

Shane Sexton, police chief for Concordia University Texas, withdrew his candidacy as the field grew more crowded. Environmental marketing specialist Paige Ellis, who filed notice of a treasurer to raise money in December, said Monday that she is still weighing whether to make the run official.

All in are Rich DePalma, a contracting consultant and member of the Parks and Recreation Board, and Bobby Levinski, an environmental lawyer and avowed critic of the city’s CodeNext rewrite of its land-use rules.

Both have criticized Troxclair, the council’s only political conservative, for advocating at the Capitol in favor of legislation to overturn local city policies.

Troxclair, a Realtor and former aide to state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, has maintained that her focus is on lowering taxes and fees citywide. She has failed to gain council support for halting property tax increases and increasing the homestead exemption but has initiated successful measures to relieve utility bill spikes.

District 1

Three challengers are expected to run against Council Member Ora Houston in her East Austin’s district. Natasha Harper-Madison, a social activist and small business consultant, kicked off her campaign officially April 6. Mariana Salazar, director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition and former grass-roots organizer in her native Venezuela, also is running.

Both called themselves committed to improving affordability and access to services in East Austin.

“Austin was named the best place to live for a second time in a row, but the question is, for whom?” Salazar said.

The third candidate opposing Houston has drawn the most attention. Lewis Conway Jr., a Grassroots Leadership organizer and criminal justice activist, has a 1992 manslaughter conviction for stabbing an acquaintance to death during a fight over stolen money. His run is expected to test a Texas provision blocking felons from holding public office.

Houston has established herself as among the most unpredictable of council members, liberal in persuasion but a no vote on issues such as requiring paid sick leave and promoting housing density.

Mayor’s race

Joining Duncan on the mayoral ballot is another little-known hopeful: Alexander Strenger, a pedicabbie, former substitute teacher and self-published author of “Dear Diary I’m Wasted,” a vulgar comedic memoir of college sex and drugs. Strenger, who appointed a treasurer in early April, said Austin “can do better” than a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“We are going to build a dome around the Austin border so we can keep out all the California refugees,” he said. “And we’ll make Uber pay for it.”

The race among the serious candidates for mayor is expected to divide largely along views of growth and development.

Morrison, a former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, has emphasized her opposition to CodeNext and called Adler too friendly with big business. She was known on the City Council for questioning growth policies and jumped back into politics in 2016 as a supporter of council efforts to regulate ride-hailing companies.

Adler has called it important to prepare the city for growth and has touted his efforts to be a leader on national issues such as climate change, technology and trade. He said he’s proud of the $720 million mobility bond plan passed last year and efforts toward affordable housing programs, and he acknowledged some missteps, such as an idea to double his own office staff and the handling of the city manager search, which drew a lawsuit from the American-Statesman.

Morrison threw a campaign launch party March 26. It ended with a plea from environmentalist Robin Rather for donations, noting that Adler was Austin’s first mayor to break $1 million in fundraising.

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