Palmer Events Center

District 9 candidates Erin McGann, Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley discuss transportation issues at an Austin City Council forum Thursday evening.

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The three candidates vying to be the first District 9 representative in the newly restructured Austin City Council discussed public transportation, affordability and Sixth Street safety at a forum Thursday hosted by the city’s Ethics Review Commission and the League of Women Voters.

In 2013, Austin voters approved reformatting the council from six citywide elected members to a district representation system made up of 10 members. The mayor will continue to be elected citywide. Under the new system, much of the University, downtown Austin, West Campus and Hyde Park are located in District 9. The new council will be elected in November and take office in January. 

Council members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley, and Erin McGann, a program supervisor in the Department of Criminal Justice, are competing for the first District 9 council seat. 

At Thursday’s forum, held at the Palmer Events Center, McGann said she was running because the council had become out of touch with the city and criticized its approval of the urban rail. McGann also said the proposed urban rail would not actually decrease traffic, and suggested more parking lots would help alleviate the growing traffic problem.  

“The proposed rail will continue the trend towards unaffordability in Austin,” McGann said. “I will fight to audit all departments for waste, corruptions. We owe it to Austin to be completely transparent in spending and taxes.”

Riley said making bike sharing available at Austin’s larger events would help traffic and parking problems.

“We can make some city facilities available for parking,” Riley said. “I’ve sponsored resolutions to make sure we are appropriately managing those resources. Parking is a resource and it needs to be managed carefully, thoughtfully and responsibly.”

According to Tovo, neighborhoods without off-street parking may have trouble if driveways are small or residents need to find parking for friends.

“One of the things we can do to make sure we can preserve the quality of life in our neighborhoods is to pay attention to things like parking,” Tovo said.

The candidates also addressed affordable housing. Riley said District 9 is a diverse area with need for a wide variety of housing.

“Currently, we’re not doing a very good job of providing the options that are needed to meet every housing need that’s out there,” Riley said. “It serves everyone’s interests to have a great diversity of housing options. District 9 is a great place to provide a model for the rest of the city and for the country.”

Tovo said one way of creating more affordable housing would be preserving older houses, as well as requiring developers to provide housing on-site if applying for the city’s density bonus program. 

“Within District 9, I think we have some good opportunities, one in the area of preservation,” Tovo said.  “We also need to look carefully how we use our density bonus programs. We lost millions of dollars of money that could have been used for affordable housing.”

McGann addressed Sixth Street and the safety issues that accompany its popularity.

“I would like to see Austin have a sobriety center,” McGann said. “The center would allow access to people who are not necessarily breaking the law but need somewhere safe if they cannot go home.”

Tovo said the importance of Sixth Street to Austin makes it more imperative to improve safety in the area.

“People need to feel comfortable eating and enjoying the nightlife,” Tovo said. “We need to make sure we have adequate officers in the street.”

Texas Sen.Wendy Davis speaks to supporters at a rally celebrating the one year anniversary of her filibuster of SB 5. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

One year after state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, delayed a vote on an anti-abortion bill with an 11-hour filibuster, a large crowd filled the Palmer Events Center on Wednesday as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Davis and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, talked about their top priority to include the voices of all Texans in the legislature.

“We will do these things because it’s both right and necessary,” Davis said. “We’ve got more work to do, more steps to take, a few more mountains to climb as we face the challenge of building the 21st century economy of this beautiful state, and as we do face those challenges.”

Davis’ filibuster did not ultimately stop the Texas Legislature from banning abortions 20 weeks after conception and regulating other aspects of abortion, but it did  delay the bill's passage. During the last minutes of the session, Van de Putte raised a parliamentary inquiry that many say set off 10 minutes of cheering, screaming and clapping from the gallery, delaying the vote. Van de Putte asked, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

At the event, Van de Putte said even after the demonstration last year, the legislature does not understand the wants of Texas women.

“We sent a clear message to our state and to our nation … that women would just no longer tolerate not being valued, not being listened to. That we would no longer tolerate their lack of trust to make personal decisions in our own lives,” Van de Putte said.

Both Davis and Van de Putte are trailing behind their Republican opponents, according to the most recent UT/Texas Tribune poll numbers. Attorney General Greg Abbott is 12 points ahead of Davis in the gubernatorial race, and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, is 15 points ahead of Van de Putte.

History senior Max Patterson, president of University Democrats and who has worked Students for Wendy, an on-campus student organization, said he thinks the state needs new leadership.

“Whenever we register somebody to vote, we gauge their support of Wendy Davis, talk to them a little bit about the path that Texas is going on with the current Republican leadership and the one that we would like to see [Texas] going on with more progressive leadership in the state capitol," Patterson said.

Patterson said he is excited about bringing the campaign to campus.

“It’s going to be a really fun campaign, but it’s also going to be a really important one for our community, for the whole state, because it’s really a very distinct choice that’s going to be made for the direction of our state,” Patterson said.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story incorrectly reported Davis' filibuster was 13 hours long. It was in fact 11 hours long.

Rocking gems

A participant inspects an assortment of rocks and minerals at the Austin Gem and Mineral Show that happened this Friday and Saturday at Palmer Events Center. Hundreds of people from around the country gathered for the event this weekend. 

Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff