Mayoral debate covers possible medical school at UT

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Incumbent Lee Leffingwell, right, and his opponents, Brigid Shea, middle, and Clay Dafoe, left, prepare for more questions during the mayoral debate held Monday afternoon in the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Photo Credit: Skylar Isdale | Daily Texan Staff

Hot topics at Monday afternoon’s mayoral debate included the addition of a medical school to the UT campus and solutions for traffic congestion throughout the city.

Candidates in the debate included former city councilwoman Brigid Shea, who works as an environmental consultant, Clay Dafoe, self-proclaimed citizen activist and recent UT alumnus and incumbent Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who was first elected to City Council in 2005 and elected mayor in 2009. The debate was held at the Bass Lecture Hall in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where candidates discussed a range of issues involving making Austin a more affordable and accessible city for everyday citizens. The mayoral election will occur May 12.

Both Leffingwell and Shea support the proposal from Senator Kirk Watson to build a medical school near UT. Austin is one of the largest cities in the nation lacking a medical school, Shea said.

“I think that a medical school is important for the future of this city,” Shea said. “I have met with hospital officials for briefings on this. They do make a very powerful case that a medical school is a very important way to retain top-flight doctors with the best experience with medical specialties.”

The positive aspects of building a medical school in Austin may be outweighed by the further debt it would cost the city, Dafoe said.

“While having a medical school in Austin sounds like a great idea, I do not believe we [can] afford a medical school,” Dafoe said. “I think we should focus our energy on providing a better infrastructure for Austin, reigning in the spending, and decreasing the scope and size of city government.”

Each candidate had a different approach in dealing with Austin’s heavy traffic congestion. Leffingwell said current initiatives for solving the city’s traffic issues will be beneficial in the future.

“We’ve been pursuing innovative solutions,” Leffingwell said. “We just completed recently the fly-overs at I-35 and Ben White [Boulevard]. Currently under construction are the fly-overs at Mopac and Ben White [Boulevard]. Those fly-overs are going to be completed and they’re going to save Austin drivers 2000 hours of driving time every day, by estimates of our driving department.”

Shea said higher efficiency for Capital Metro’s bus system is a critical part of increasing the quality of public transportation in the city. The issue of congestion throughout the city has not been made a significant priority by current officials, Shea said.

“We’re smart enough and creative enough as a community to come up with these solutions,” Shea said. “I don’t think the city has made resolving congestion in general enough of a priority. Either that or we just flat failed miserably at addressing it, because we are still such a congested city.”

Sherri Greenberg, lecturer and director for politics and governance at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Affairs, was one of the panelists appointed to pose questions for candidates. Greenberg said student involvement should be an important part of these local elections.

“Students live here, and what happens in the city affects students,” Greenberg said. “We have 50,000 students here living all over the city. Turnout has been very low, but students can register to vote here and participate. I encourage students to get involved.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Mayoral debate covers possible medical school