Two Leander City Council members are facing a challenger in their re-election bids while an open third seat has drawn three candidates in the May 5 election.
The race for the Place 2 seat pits incumbent Michelle Stephenson against Philip Contatore, while Christine Sederquist will challenge Council Member Ron Abruzzese for his Place 4 seat. Marci Cannon, Marshall Hines and Derek Levisay are running for the Place 6 seat that is being vacated by Troy Hill, who is running for mayor.
Here is a race-by-race look at all of the candidates:
Stephenson, a 54-year-old homemaker, has served one term on the council. She said her priorities if re-elected are keeping residents safe with strong police and fire departments, keeping ahead of the city’s infrastructure needs and working with the city staff to encourage business growth.
She said she has learned the needs of the community and how the city works after serving as a council member and being on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“One of my goals is to help build a strong sense of community and togetherness as Leander grows. There’s explosive growth occurring right now, and I really want Leander to keep its warmth and friendliness,” she said.
Her opponent, Philip Contatore, is a 53-year-old police officer. He said his priorities include diversifying the tax base through commercial development; addressing high water rates; and making sure the city’s public safety departments are properly trained, equipped and funded.
He said he knows Leander residents are also seeking property tax relief. “By helping businesses cut through the bureaucracy, we can alleviate the tax burden on the homeowner, offsetting it with sales tax revenue,” he said.
Contatore said he has more than 16 years of experience in law enforcement and emergency management.
Abruzzese, 55, has served 1½ terms on the council and is a research scientist at Thermo Fisher, a biotech company. His priorities if re-elected include increasing commercial and retail businesses to help alleviate property taxes and working in his role as the vice president of the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority to protect Leander water customers from rate increases, he said.
“My experience serving for four years on the (Planning and Zoning) commission gives me a unique perspective on zoning issues and city ordinances,” Abruzzese said. “I believe that the city is going to see a significant increase in commercial/retail activity in the next five years, and I think it is crucial to have experienced council members to help manage this growth.”
Sederquist, 36, is a stay-at-home mom who has been volunteering in the community for years, she said. If elected, she said, she wants to bring more employers to Leander, roll back home-building ordinances so that affordable starter homes can be built and eventually lower property taxes because of healthy business growth.
She said that “people don’t move here because they want a densely urbanized environment. Let Leander grow in its own unique way.”
Cannon, 47, is a commercial real estate agent. She said her priorities if elected include reversing regulations that impede growth and pursuing retail, shopping and entertainment businesses for the city as well as high-paying jobs.“In recent years the City Council and Planning and Zoning have passed so many overreaching regulations inhibiting commercial growth,” she said.
She also said she has “a unique perspective of sitting on the ‘other side of the table’ representing corporate site selectors, landowners, commercial developers and investors. I know what is needed in order to make Leander competitive to attract jobs and services.”
Hines, 33, is a web application designer for financial institutions. He said his priorities if elected include bringing employers to the city; improving the parks, trail system and public spaces; and having roads that accommodate not just cars but also pedestrians, cyclists and people with disabilities.
“Serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission, I have submitted recommendations regarding policy and ordinance changes that have made interacting with the city a simpler process,” he said. “I aim to be one of the most knowledgeable people in the room on any item that has come before our commission for a vote.”
Levisay, 38, is an insurance agent/financial professional with New York Life. He said he wants to support and foster the growth of small businesses and make sure “our residential development reflects our community spirit and blends in with existing developments. My current experience as a financial services professional has allowed me to work with business owners in the community and understand the unique challenges that they face.”
“My previous experience as a high school football coach and teacher has given me leadership ability, allowed me to work hand in hand with the community, and has given me an opportunity to see the impact that we can have on others when we care about their success and not our own personal gain.”
ABOUT THE CANDIDATES
• Philip Contatore, 53, is a police officer with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia Southern University, an online university.
Civic participation: He has served as executive director for the Police Activities League of Austin and has been on the National Police Activities League board. He is president of his homeowners association.
• Michelle Stephenson, 54, is a City Council member and a homemaker with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of New Orleans.
Civic participation: She has served on the Leander Planning and Zoning Commission, the Leander Board Selection Committee, the Leander Charter Review Commission and the Wilco Blue Star Mother board, and she is a Sunday School teacher.
• Ron Abruzzese, 55, is a City Council member and a research scientist who has a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Pennsylvania State University.
Civic participation: He is vice president of the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority and has served on the Leander Planning and Zoning Commission, the Leander Comprehensive Update Committee and the Leander Bond Election Committee, as well as the St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church Springfest Committee.
• Christine Sederquist, 36, is a full-time mother who attended community college.
Civic participation: She has served on the Leander Charter Review Commission and the Leander Economic Development Committee. She is a Girl Scout troop leader, has served in the PTA at two schools, was one of the founders of the Grants Committee at Texas Humane Heroes and has received a President’s Volunteer Service award for volunteer hours served in Leander.
• Marci Cannon, 47, is a commercial real estate agent who has attended Austin Community College and Stephen F. Austin University.
Civic participation: She is serving on the Leander Chamber of Commerce and the Seton Women’s Development Board. She has also served on the Leander Chamber of Commerce Real Estate Advisory Committee, the Leander Comprehensive Plan Update Committee and the Hill Country Community Ministries Board, and she is a co-founder of the Reagan Parmer Corridor Association and Bicycle Heroes.
• Marshall Hines, 33, is a designer for website applications for financial institutions and attended St. Edward’s University.
Civic participation: He has served on the Leander Planning and Zoning Commission and the Leander Historical Commission.
Derek Levisay, 38, is an insurance agent/financial professional with New York Life who has a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in public relations from Hastings College in Nebraska and a master’s degree in political science with a minor in sociology from Texas State University. He also taught and coached in high school for 14 years.
Civic participation: He serves on the Site Based Planning Committee for Pleasant Hill Elementary and helped coordinate the Texas Ramp Project to help build wheelchair ramps. He has also been a volunteer soccer coach for the Leander Parks and Recreation Department and volunteers as a University of Texas track and field/cross-country official.
ABOUT THE JOB
The Leander City Council sets the property tax rate and policies, and it makes the spending decisions affecting the police and fire departments, permitting and code enforcement, and parks and libraries, among other city services. Council members and the mayor are not paid and serve three-year terms.