This year’s city council race for Place 3 between incumbent Randi Shade and challenger Kathie Tovo has been one of the most tightly contested local elections in years. The months-long campaigns have featured vicious attacks on the other candidates and may very well serve as a sort of referendum on the future of this city.
Shade, a UT alumna and entrepreneur, has campaigned on a platform advocating sustainable growth and maintaining city services. Shade has been supported by Austin’s business community and has won endorsements from the Austin Police Association and the Austin Firefighters Association.
Tovo, her opponent, has a long history of community involvement and has been a member of several commissions and committees. Tovo has drawn support primarily from the city’s various neighborhood associations and won an endorsement from the Austin Neighborhoods Council.
In last month’s general election, Tovo nearly pulled off an upset, netting 46 percent of the vote, while Shade received 33 percent. Because neither candidate received a majority, Tovo and Shade entered a runoff, which will be decided Saturday.
Several key municipal issues have been the highlights of the race so far, including the proposed F-1 racing track, transportation, infrastructure, the approval of a new water treatment plant, and transparency after the Austin American-Statesman obtained hundreds of email correspondences from city council members in February.
Meanwhile, issues affecting the student population of Austin haven’t received much attention but will still be significantly affected depending on which candidate comes out on top next week.
Oftentimes those issues that have the most immediate impact on student quality of life are shrouded in layers of city code and other legalese. For instance, the availability of student housing in areas around campus has a major impact on student life. In recent years the Central Austin Neighborhoods Planning and Advisory Committee has been actively working to create additional restrictions on group residential housing, which would make it harder for new student housing to be created.
While Tovo was not directly involved in the advisory committee’s decision-making process at the time, her links to Austin’s neighborhood associations and their anti-growth politics are troubling. We question whether, if elected, Tovo would govern in the best interest of all Austinites, not just those select few neighborhoods. The Shade campaign has held up a particularly contentious zoning case in Hyde Park as an example of Tovo’s support for a neighborhood association imposing its will on the rights of a homeowner.
Also troubling is the matter of the city’s historic zoning commissions. Currently, properties designated “historic landmarks” by the city receive generous tax breaks. In recent years, that practice has come under scrutiny as a disproportionate number of properties receiving these tax breaks were located in affluent West Austin neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods whose associations have been so adamant in their support of Tovo. Misuse of “historic” zoning has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tax revenue for the city. Shade has called for closer scrutiny of the historic designations while Tovo has voiced support for the process.
In the past two years, Shade has drawn her fair share of criticisms, and rightfully so. Shade’s close ties to Austin business interests and support of subsidies have some questioning her loyalties, and environmentalists have criticized her pro-growth policies. Additionally, her malicious campaign tactics and flippant remarks within City Hall have turned off many voters.
However, while we recognize Shade’s shortcomings over the past two years, we still believe Shade is the more qualified candidate to serve on Austin’s City Council and that she will do the most to serve the interests of all Austinites, including students, not just politically-connected neighborhood associations. We encourage you to vote to re-elect Councilwoman Randi Shade this Saturday.