The audience was able to field questions to Leffingwell by tweeting to #UDemsATX, inquiring on issues ranging from energy rate increases to Occupy Austin’s recent eviction. Leffingwell also announced his support at the meeting for a medical school at UT and the creation of six-and-a-half mile high-speed rail in central Austin.
“Rail is the future of Austin, as it is the future of every great city in the United States,” Leffingwell said. “It would be a tremendous economic stimulant, and eventually we could get it across the river to Riverside [Drive] and towards the airport.”
The mayor is running for reelection this year, and Leffingwell said he hopes to receive the continued endorsement of the UDems as he prepares for his fourth city race.
“We try to maintain a close relationship with guys in the University Democrats,” Leffingwell said. “UT is both the cultural and the economic center of Austin, and we have to keep close ties with the university that brings so much incentive to the city.”
Politicians and electioneers have been making sustained use of Twitter since President Barack Obama’s supporters used the service to mobilize grassroots support for his campaign in 2008. Obama also hosted a national open town hall meeting last year using Twitter, which inspired UDems president Huey Fischer to host Wednesday’s meeting, Fischer said.
“Social media is a huge component of the UDems,” Fischer said. “We have Twitter, Facebook, a Youtube account, Foursquare and a website. All of these tools are just really valuable to connect with supporters and with students especially.”
Using Twitter to enhance discussion and promote interaction is exciting for the UDems, said communications director Andre Treiber, and this is the first time the organization has been able to do this with social media.
“With Twitter, things can be discussed in a public forum without interrupting the flow of the meeting,” Fischer said. “It lets us advertise to members and get discussion going by directly communicating with the speaker. In the past it was just commentary and discussion.”
Peck Young, director of Austin Community College’s center for public policy and political studies, spoke at the meeting after Leffingwell in support of the 10-1 plan for geographic representation. The plan would divide Austin into 10, one-member districts, and Young said that the city needed the help of students to legalize the plan.
Young said he believes the plan will make Austin more democratic, continuing a tradition of progress that the UDems have been fighting for since the 1970s.
“Today we have two progressives running against each other to decide who’s the more liberal,” Young said. “We’ve obviously changed a lot since the time when electing a mayor depended on picking someone who looked good in a KKK sheet. That change was largely the result of the University Democrats 40 years ago.”