Mayor

Mayor Steve Adler speaks at a press conference Monday after meeting with eight other Texas mayors. The mayors met at the Headliner’s club to discuss SB 182 and HB 365, both of which place caps on the property taxes that Texas homeowners pay.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Mayor Steve Adler and eight other Texas mayors met with representatives of the state legislature Monday to discuss property tax revenue caps across Texas.

Mayors from Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Arlington and Plano lined up at the Headliner’s Club to voice their concern about SB 182 and HB 365. Both bills place caps on the property taxes Texas homeowners pay. 

Adler said property tax caps from the state legislature take away city governments’ ability to decide where to collect revenue, how much to collect, obliterating the control of local governments over their communities.

“It’s the ordinances that a local city adopts that reflects its values [and] is something we hope will be honored by the rest of the state,” Adler said.

The real issue of SB 182 and HB 365 is self-determination, according to Adler.

“We really only have a few ways to raise revenue in our local economy — property taxes, sales tax and fees,” Adler said. “If we are limited or capped in one area, it logically follows that we have to raise it in another area. Students could feel this pinch, even if they are not property owners.”

Adler also said the property tax caps could extend into other areas of local control that may need specific protections, such as Barton Springs Pool. 

“This uniqueness of how we live in Austin should be determined at the local level,” Adler said. “Students come to UT not just for the education, but to enjoy this Austin lifestyle. The environment and creative culture are very valuable to us here, and we need to be able to govern these things in our own way.”

Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez said the state legislature needs to understand that the strong economic growth of the state comes from local government managing their cities the way they choose.

“What we need to do is make sure our hands are not tied,” Martinez said. “We know our cities, and we know our legislators have been able to experience the wonderful Texas growth that we’ve had, so we want to be able to collaborate and work in that manner. But revenue caps is not the answer. It would set us back.”

Martinez said different cities prioritize different items on their budgets. She said the Texas legislature may not take issues such as emergency preparedness into consideration.

“[In] every city in the state of Texas, you have unique services, unique reactions, also depending if you live on the gulf coast,” Martinez said. “What happens when you go through the hurricane season, and you have to respond to emergency preparedness as well? Because we’re all unique, we know how to deal with budgets that are unique to our citizens.” 

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser also stressed the main idea of the day: local control. 

“We came to kind of work together … to talk about how we can continue to unite,” Leeser said. “We talk together and have the same voice but understand every city has a unique need and we want to make sure we continue to have the ability to represent the people that elected us.”

As part of an initiative to increase public participation during meetings, Austin City Council displayed texts and tweets from local residents on a projector screen throughout its Thursday meeting.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council attempted to boost public participation in Council meetings Thursday by projecting a livestream of community members’ texts and tweets on the wall.

Although most of the messages were relevant to the meeting agenda, the word-clouds and texts the Council presented also prominently featured Internet memes, such as “doge,” as well as the word “poop.” Eventually, the Council disabled the text-stream service.  

At the meeting, Council members also discussed the formation of a public engagement task force, which will include UT experts.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she plans on launching a separate student advisory council.

“I see it as a separate project, but I hope the public engagement task force would have some representatives on [the student advisory council],” Tovo said. “This would be a student group to advise my office and make sure we have good communication.”

Robert Svodoba, co-director of the UT Student Government City Relations agency, said the group plans to meet with Tovo to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

“We already talked to her during the campaign, but just from a City Relations standpoint to introduce ourselves and present ourselves as a resource and outlet for students,” Svoboda said. “[We wanted her] to gauge student opinion and to find out how she can reach out to students and how we can reach out to her.”

Tovo said the Council will discuss restructuring City Council meetings to make them more accessible. She said she anticipates future Council meetings will be shorter and more frequent.

“We are trying to improve the process so we have more and more effective public input earlier in the process,” Tovo said.

City Council members Sheri Gallo, Ann Kitchen, Ora Houston and Leslie Pool are working with the mayor’s office to have a draft resolution establishing the task force ready for next week’s City Council meeting. The task force will report back to the Council after six months to make recommendations on how to further improve community engagement in Council meetings.

“We only talked about it as a general idea,” Tovo said. “The task force, as I understand it, would not be Council
members. It would be something we kick off to help us revise our process — but not comprised of Council members. That’s one thing my colleague has taken up and is working on a resolution for next week’s agenda.”

Pool said she is optimistic about the City’s plan to expand and diversify public input at Council meetings.

“Building on this sort of engagement we’re having this evening, the entire Council feels it’s a key component of our ability to work in a transparent and accountable way if we understand the various avenues of public engagement,” Pool said.

Photo courtesy of Mike Martinez for Mayor

In October, this editorial board selected Sheryl Cole — a City Council member and the mayor pro tem — as our choice to be the next mayor of Austin. In doing so, we lauded her breadth of experience at City Hall and her common sense approach to the major issues facing students and other disadvantaged groups. For those same reasons, we endorse Council member Mike Martinez over Steve Adler in the runoff election for mayor that will be held on Dec. 16 and for which early voting begins Monday.

Adler, a lawyer and longtime activist within Democratic politics, has good intentions, but he lacks the institutional knowledge that we believe the city desperately needs at this time. Contrary to what many of his backers may claim, this city does not need an “outsider” who will shake up municipal politics, so to speak. Rather, it needs a steady hand to manage the consistent growth that Austin has faced in recent years, as well as a leader who simultaneously implements bold plans to solve the city’s growing problems in transportation and affordability, especially for students.

Both Adler and Martinez supported Proposition 1, the unsuccessful urban rail measure that we had previously opined against. However, only Martinez retains a logical approach to this issue post-Prop. 1, both respecting the voters’ wishes and diligently working to find ways to mitigate congestion beyond road expansion. Martinez, chairman of the Capital Metro board, focuses on innovative bus expansion, hoping to diversify routes, facilitate east to west corridors and even play around with novel suggestions such as a pilot program eliminating bus fares. Adler, outside of a cursory mention of buses in our conversation, looks content to propose the quixotic, such as an increased commitment to telecommuting.

However, perhaps most importantly, Martinez would dedicate himself to the plight faced by the 55 percent of Austinites who rent, including most students. He has suggested possibly using some of the recent affordable housing bonds to build a housing complex for low-income students, hoping to expand existing regulations that ensure some affordable housing units in new construction.

The cornerstone of Adler’s plan, meanwhile, is an ambitious expansion of the homestead tax exemption, which he would fund predominantly with the city’s surplus and possibly “shifting the tax burden.” While he has passionately defended this plan as a rather urgent method of tax relief, applying to far more than just millionaires, Adler freely admits his proposal could squander the city’s surplus on non-renters (read: non-students) and non-renters alone. In fact, he even conceded that it could nominally raise rent prices for most. When asked about future years without surpluses to fund the exemption, Adler obfuscated his response using platitudes such as growth and expansion. 

In the next three years, the mayor will have to face a plethora of complex issues and, with the new 10-district City Council, will be in a unique position to push through an array of proposals to change the city in meaningful ways. The city can take a chance on an untested, inexperienced newcomer, who will prioritize savings for the most well-off people in the community. Alternatively, it can look toward someone with eight years of experience around every nook and cranny of municipal politics, who will tirelessly fight for the least represented among us, most notably students and other young people. Vote for Martinez for a more student-friendly Austin.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

Despite last week’s elections, many of the Austin City Council races remain undecided. Eight City Council races will be decided Dec. 16, including the mayor’s race, as only three candidates have secured their seats on the City’s new district-based City Council since Election Day. Attorney Steve Adler and City Council member Mike Martinez will vie to be Austin’s next mayor over the next month.

Adler led the eight-man race on Election Day with 37 percent of the vote. Martinez claimed the second runoff spot with 30 percent, beating out Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.

Since last week’s election, Martinez has challenged Adler to three debates, which are currently being scheduled between the two campaigns. Both candidates insist they will fight for the whole of Austin, but with different approaches.

Martinez said he would better represent Austin’s middle class, citing the labor unions that endorsed his campaign.

“I am the champion of middle-class, hardworking families,” Martinez said. “That’s why you see folks within the middle-class spectrum supporting our candidacy for mayor who need a champion in the mayor’s office. … Affordability is not just about keeping costs down. It’s about providing more opportunities to working families and higher wages.”

Adler said he was proud to have the 3,000 or so supporters that contributed to his campaign — the largest group he’s seen in an Austin race. According to Adler, the variety of needs in the city all boil down to a few common goals.

“While there are lots of differences of opinion, there are also some very common wishes and hopes that people have,” Adler said. “I think central to those is the hope that we change what we’re doing — that we make City Council governance more thoughtful and deliberative and proactive, and not reactive and long-term in its thinking.

Adler said diversity does not force the City Council to prioritize one group of people over another. Everyone in Austin shares common ground, such as a need for education opportunities and water conservation, according to Adler.

“If we were to support education in the city, so we could move toward universal pre-K, that’s something that would help all of the city,” Adler said. “If we could move forward in ways to make the city more affordable for everybody, like doing things like the homestead exemption. Even though that disproportionately helps lower income people, it helps all people, too.”

Martinez said he supports a homestead exemption — but with a flat rate basis instead.

“One of the strongest proposals pitched and sounds great when you talk about a homestead exemption like Adler’s,” Martinez said. “According to his own numbers, it would raise rents for renters. We need to have policies that reflect all of Austin. When you talk about affordability, you shouldn’t propose policies with a negative impact on students.”

According to Martinez, students are also affected by citywide policies and should vote in the runoff to get their voices heard.

“We want to help those who need it the most,” Martinez said. “We certainly appreciate all the student support we received during the general election. We know that it’s cramming for finals time, but we are going back out after our student base of support. We want them to vote in the early vote, and, if they can’t, we will hook them up with a mail vote.”

Adler said he was proud of the student turnout during the general election.

“There was a time when the student boxes determined the mayor’s race in the city of Austin, back in the early ’70s,” Adler said. “There are a lot of issues that will have a higher priority, like noise ordinances or public safety issues in West Campus or just general affordability issues. There are key issues that impact the quality of life for students. We have actively started conversations with students, and we’ll continue to do that.”

With the runoff scheduled for the last day of finals at the University, Max Patterson, director of Student Government’s Hook the Vote agency, said his organization will work to encourage students to turn out.

“We plan on reaching out to as many students as possible about the importance of the student vote in Austin elections, especially in a runoff where turnout is expected to be much lower,” Patterson said.

Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council member Chris Riley dropped out of the runoff election Friday for the City Council’s District 9 seat.

With 49.1 percent of the vote, City Council member Kathie Tovo was just shy of winning the District 9 seat outright on Election Day, and the race was slated for a Dec. 16 runoff. In a press release Friday, Riley called Tovo a “worthy opponent” and said he wanted to start the City Council’s new term positively by collaborating instead of competing.

“I remain dedicated to the ideals and policies I’ve championed, and I feel there is a path to victory in the runoff,” Riley said in his statement. “But I also feel that, as we begin this new era with a new council, a contest that creates negativity and division is not how we should set the tone for Austin going forward. I would rather work together with Kathie and with the new council members, as an advocate, to solve the challenges we face.”

Last Tuesday’s election marked the first under the 10-ONE system, which reformats the City Council from six citywide members to 10, each representing a geographic district. The change, which goes into effect in January, also makes the mayor the only citywide elected official. Riley also said, while his campaign gave Austin a clear view of his vision, he felt Tovo would represent District 9 to her
best ability. 

“I’m also happy to have been part of this first 10-1 and November election, which has brought so many new participants into the city’s democratic process,” Riley said. “I hope that as Austin settles into this new system, we continue to listen and respond to the voices that I’ve been hearing on the campaign trail — the students, the renters, the younger and newer residents, and everyone who wants the opportunity to live closer, live smaller and drive less. They are Kathie’s constituents and those of the new council members, and they deserve to be heard and represented.”

With Riley’s decision, Tovo is now the third confirmed member of the new City Council. Delia Garza of District 2 and Ann Kitchen of District 5 were the only two City Council candidates to win their races outright. The other seven districts, along with the mayor’s race between Steve Adler and City Council member Mike Martinez, will be decided at the Dec. 16 runoff election. Tovo said she was surprised when Riley informed her of his decision, but she looks forward to working with him in the future.

“I think that Chris has a lot of expertise that’s helped this city advance, particularly with multimodal transportation,” Tovo said. “I certainly anticipate continuing to reach out to him on that issue and others. I expect he’ll continue to be involved in this community in many ways.”

With her seat on the new City Council secure, Tovo said she will make use of her extra time.

“Not having a runoff really provides me to focus on wrapping up on some of my current council projects and getting ready to work with my new colleagues on the new 10-ONE council,” Tovo said.

As District 9 covers parts of campus, North Campus, West Campus and Hyde Park, Tovo said the race had a high amount of student involvement. She said that she and Riley both felt it was important that college students stay involved in the political process.

“One of the things we talked specifically about is the importance of continuing to involve students,” Tovo said. “There was a lot of student engagement in the District 9 race, and I look forward to continuing to work with students and making sure they have a voice at City Hall.”

City Council member Chris Riley dropped out of the runoff election for the council's District 9 seat on Friday.

With 49.1 percent of the vote, council member Kathie Tovo was just shy of winning the District 9 seat outright on Election Day. The race was slated for a Dec. 16 runoff. In a press release Friday, Riley called Tovo a “worthy opponent" and said he wanted to start the City Council’s new term positively by collaborating instead of competing.

“I remain dedicated to the ideals and policies I’ve championed, and I feel there is a path to victory in the runoff,” Riley said in his statement. “But I also feel that, as we begin this new era with a new council, a contest that creates negativity and division is not how we should set the tone for Austin going forward. I would rather work together with Kathie and with the new council members, as an advocate, to solve the challenges we face.”

Tuesday's election marked the first under the 10-ONE system, which reformats the council from six citywide members to 10, each representing a geographic district. The change, which goes into effect in January, also makes the mayor the only citywide elected official. Riley praised the system, and said he hoped it would serve Austin well. He also said while his campaign gave Austin a clear view of his vision, he felt Tovo would represent District 9 to her best ability. 

“I’m also happy to have been part of this first 10-1 and November election, which has brought so many new participants into the city’s democratic process,” Riley said. “I hope that as Austin settles into this new system, we continue to listen and respond to the voices that I’ve been hearing on the campaign trail — the students, the renters, the younger and newer residents, and everyone who wants the opportunity to live closer, live smaller and drive less. They are Kathie’s constituents and those of the new council members, and they deserve to be heard and represented.”

With Riley's decsion, Tovo is now the third confirmed member of the new council. Delia Garza of District 2 and Ann Kitchen of District 5 were the only two council candidates to win their races outright. The other seven districts, along with the mayor's race between Steve Adler and council member Mike Martinez, will be decided at the Dec. 16 runoff election. Tovo said she was a little surprised when Riley informed her of his decision and said she looked forward to working with Riley as well.

“I think that Chris has a lot of expertise that's helped this city advance, particularly with multimodal transportation,” Tovo said. “I certainly anticipate continuing to reach out to him on that issue and others. I expect he’ll continue to be involved in this community in many ways.”

With her seat on the new council secure, Tovo said she will make use her extra time.

“Not having a runoff really provides me to focus on wrapping up on some of my current council projects and getting ready to work with my new colleagues on the new 10-ONE council,” Tovo said.

As District 9 covers parts of campus, North Campus, West Campus and Hyde Park. Tovo said the race had a high amount of student involvement. She said that she and Riley both felt it was important college students stayed engaged.

“One of the things we talked specifically about is the importance of continuing to involve students,” Tovo said. “There was a lot of student engagement in the District 9 race and I look forward to continuing to work with students and making sure they have a voice at City Hall.”

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

With Election Day nearing, Sheryl Cole, mayor pro tem and mayoral candidate, encouraged students to research their local government candidates and vote at a talk in Welch Hall on Wednesday.

At the event, co-hosted by the Lambda Theta Phi fraternity and the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, Cole said she differs from her opponents in her efforts to get the community’s voice heard, especially in her work to connect with students.

“I care about involving the community and especially the student community in the process of making policy so that we can lift all our voices,” Cole said. “I’m happy to report I received The Daily Texan endorsement, and I believe that’s because my office did so much student outreach on issues that affect you guys, like occupancy limits.”

The mayoral race features eight candidates, including attorney Steve Adler and City Council member Mike Martinez.

Lambda Theta Phi President Mario Gonzalez said a fraternity brother and UT alumnus suggested hosting the event. Their organization does not endorse any candidates, Gonzalez said, but wants to educate students on local politics.

“Even though most students are here for four years, most students don’t get involved with politics,” Gonzalez said. “While we might not stay here for life, we’re still part of the Austin community.”

Occupancy limits, Cole said, are something that need to be moderated. According to Cole, the further a student lives away from campus, the more points they lose from their grade point average.

“I was the one who reached out to the students and said, ‘What do you think of it?’” Cole said. “I voted for occupancy limits, but I made sure it was in a narrow area of the city so that Riverside would not be impacted, and the supply wouldn’t go down and increase prices in a bigger area.”

Cole said she had the most moderate record of anyone in Austin City Council, something that would help her balance decision making as mayor.

“When you take your oath of office, you swear to do what is in the best interest of the city as a whole,” Cole said. “I try to come up with a win-win situation for both sides, and that doesn’t always make any particular side happy.”

Cole said one of her top priorities as mayor was affordability. According to Cole, a lack of affordability was pushing out the African-American population.

“I was one of the people that worked really hard with the African-American Quality of Life task force that studies economic issues and how it relates to the African-American community,” Cole said. “The population across the spectrum is chasing better schools and economic opportunities outside the city limits.”

One of the ways to combat the affordability problem is giving out economic incentives to companies, Cole said.

“We have metrics that we look at — the amount of jobs they will create, what impact will it have on school districts, charitable contributions,” Cole said. “We don’t give tax breaks that don’t ultimately result in a positive net return for the city.”

Zeta Phi Beta president Nikah Hatcher said, while she has already voted, she’s still trying to get the student population involved in the local election.

“I know she has experience in local government already, and, as far as the black community goes, she would be the first female black mayor of Austin, and I know some people want to hear what she’s about,” Hatcher said. “I’m not trying to persuade them, but, hopefully, they try to get educated.”

Early voting continues until Friday, and Election Day is Tuesday. 

University faculty and staff have contributed less than $8,000 to major candidates in the Austin mayor’s race this year, significantly less than the total amount of contributions to the state race for governor.

Texas Ethics Commission data on UT employee contributors to political campaigns shows more than 120 individuals who have contributed a total of more than $20,000 to primarily support state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and the Travis County Democratic Party in the governor’s race. Meanwhile, information filed with the Austin Office of the City Clerk shows more than 25 University faculty or staff who have contributed a total of around $7,750 to major mayoral candidates Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and City Council member Mike Martinez. 

People who make gubernatorial campaign contributions are required to disclose their employer, but those who donate to mayoral campaigns are not. It is possible that the number of donations is underestimated because of the different filing practices by the city and state.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, visiting scholar at the University who researches political behavior, said voters tend to follow and support candidates competing in statewide and national elections even though citizens have a greater likelihood of being able to influence local politics. 

“Our attention is always drawn to the top-of-the-ticket folks — in the midterm, to the gubernatorial candidates [and] maybe the senate races,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “It’s this disconnect between the realities of politics and how it affects us and how we perceive politics. Local news will cover what’s going on here in Austin, but it’s not as sexy and glamorous.”

DeFrancesco Soto also said gubernatorial candidates tend to be affiliated with a political party and have developed sophisticated systems for asking for donations — two attributes typically not found at the local level.

Among disclosed faculty and staff campaign donations to the three major mayoral candidates, Adler has received the most with $4,550. Cole and Martinez have both received more than $1,500.  

Adler’s campaign manager Jim Wick said their campaign has currently raised $566,000 from about 2,500 donors since Adler first began campaigning for mayor in January. Wick said this amount beats the record of about 1,500 donors who supported Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s campaign in 2009.

The City of Austin allows individuals to donate a maximum of $350 to a mayoral candidate’s campaign, while individuals donating to a gubernatorial candidate can give up to $2,600.

Matt Parkerson, campaign manager for Martinez, said the campaign has risen more than $200,000.

“We knock on doors seven days a week,” Parkerson said. 

Both Wick and Parkerson said their respective campaigns do not do anything to specifically gain support from UT faculty and staff, but both campaigns have coalitions on campus to get students involved in the mayoral election.

David Sullivan, a research associate for the University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Resources, said he and his wife contributed money to both Cole’s and Martinez’s campaigns, along with the campaigns of several other City Council members.

“Aside from my day job here at the University, I’m also at the city office,” Sullivan said. “My wife and I donated basically out of loyalty and trust. I believe the city is in an excellent position to elect a good mayor.” 

Engineering professor Philip Varghese financially contributed to the Adler campaign, but said it is important for voters to participate in both mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

“However, the sums of money being spent on the governor’s race are so large that I don’t think any contribution I can afford to make will materially impact it,” Varghese said in an email. “I suppose one could argue that’s true of a single vote as well, but I think voting is a responsibility. Donating money is optional.”

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Randall Stephens for Mayor of Austin | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: In the run-up to the November election for mayor, the Texan has been running Q-and-A’s with the candidates. This is the last in our series. Early voting began Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4. Students can vote on campus at the Flawn Academic Center. This interview has been condensed from its original length.

 

The Daily Texan: What are your views on transportation and urban rail?

 

Randall Stephens: … My wife works here at UT, and can take an hour and 15 minutes getting into work from Avery Ranch, and it’s only about 17 miles. I can beat that on my bicycle … What I fear is that very soon we’ll see …  a city where cars can’t flow, can’t move, pedestrians and bicycles weaving through them, and that can happen on our freeways …

The urban rail decision is going to cause problems that we don’t have today and don’t want in the future and those are going to cause east-west flow problems … The urban rail system they want to put in runs on the surface, and it will stop traffic every five to seven minutes at every street it crosses. The frequency at each station is planned for 10 minutes, for northbound and southbound trains … I don’t like anything about the Proposition 1 urban rail plan … That’s not going to solve any of our problems with the commute. It’s not going to take anyone off of our freeways  If you can’t elevate urban rail in a city, then you shouldn’t do it.


 

DT: What made you decide to run for mayor?

 

Stephens: I have certain skillsets and I want to serve. I see things for the way they are. I’ve been a problem solver for the past 35 years in my career. From my first five years in the Air Force, as a young sergeant, I’ve always stepped up into leadership roles. For me it’s just a natural thing to do. But you didn’t hear about me because I’m just a person in a big company. I worked 30 years for American Airlines, stepped up and managed workflow in an environment where you have people from every part of the planet working together for a common cause … Not everybody I worked with grew up speaking the same language I did or looked like I did, but because we listened to each other and worked together for a common goal, we’re a team. And this is what a community has to do. So I respect and understand people, and I listen to people … We love this town, it’s a wonderful place. I can’t think of a more exciting and interesting job than to be the mayor of this wonderful city …        


 

DT: What do you think are the main issues students should be concerned with in this election and how does your campaign aim to solve these issues?

 

Stephens: Cost of living is very important to students … The cost of living is horrendous today. It’s gone up, we have these pressures, we’ve become an urban center now. We’re not a small Texas city anymore. Having more opportunities in housing will be something we need. We have to create that opportunity by creating an attractive investment for builders.


 

DT: What sets you apart from your opponents?


Stephens: I believe that this is a great opportunity for the voters of Austin to find someone who isn’t wedded to downtown money. I’ve setting myself apart as a person who absolutely isn’t going to speak to a lobbyist about a donation … It’s not about money; it’s an interactive age … I believe in people, and I believe we can inspire Austin to change for the better.    

Photo courtesy of Sheryl Cole for Austin

Editor’s Note: Early voting began Monday and continues through Oct. 31. Election day is Nov. 4.

After countless years with a small, commission-style city government, Austin will elect 10 district city council members for the first time this November, a direct result of voters passing the 10-ONE redistricting plan two years ago. The “ONE” in that plan refers to the mayor, who will still be elected by the entire city. But the job will be far different come January because not only will Mayor Lee Leffingwell step down after two terms, but the chief executive will have to work with a city council that looks and acts radically different.

 Between the top three candidates for mayor, civil rights attorney Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and City Council Member Mike Martinez, the choice is abundantly clear for us. Cole possesses both the requisite experience and the needed temperament to be an effective and passionate mayor for all of Austin, including students.

While we certainly appreciate many of the big ideas Adler has brought to the table, this lawyer and philanthropist has no political experience whatsoever. In every election, but particularly in this special one, Austin needs a leader who does not need on-the-job training. We need a mayor who is familiar with the way this city does business. Unlike Houston, Austin does not have a strong mayor system. This means, despite what Adler may be suggesting, that the mayor cannot unilaterally change policies. The mayor would need to calmly and diligently work with the city council to do that.

Between Martinez and Cole, furthermore, we find the latter to be the clear choice. While we think Martinez has some good ideas as well, they appear both less refined and less realistic compared to his competitor. Martinez talks in broad platitudes about opposing the gentrification of East Austin, but his personal actions don’t always match his policy statements.

While we disagree with all three major candidates on Proposition 1, the urban rail issue, we think Cole has the most pragmatic take of the major candidates. At a debate hosted by UT Student Government and The Daily Texan on Monday evening, Cole talked somewhat frankly about what she would do if Proposition 1 does not pass — as many think it may very well not — saying she’d work to establish other modes of transportation. Whereas the other candidates would still be intent upon forcing unpopular boondoggles down Austinites’ throats, Cole would respect public sentiment and try to move forward working for a more manageable plan.

On transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, we also found Cole to be a tempered voice of reason in a debate where simplistic sound bites and tribalistic loyalties led other council members to push for hasty and impulsive legalization without working out the big problems in equity and public safety. We still think the gouging tactics evident in Uber’s so-called “surge pricing” should be strongly curtailed.

But most of all, we think Cole could keep the most open mind for students’ interests. She has pushed for measures to increase the housing affordability for students, and she has even actively encouraged students to participate in the discussion about so-called “stealth dorms.”

All in all, Austin faces some good choices among the candidates to be its next mayor. We believe Cole is simply the best because she has strong experience in Austin city government, pragmatic capabilities and a genuine desire to help students. She’s the best option, for University students and for all of Austin.

Editor’s Note: In the run-up to the November election for mayor, the Texan will be running Q-and-A’s with the candidates. Voting is open only to those registered to vote in Austin and registration continues through Oct. 6. Early voting starts Oct. 20 and ends Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4. This interview has been condensed from its original length.  

The Daily Texan: Why are you running for mayor?

Steve Adler: I love this city. Great things are happening, but I think there are some pretty serious challenges, like traffic, affordability, education, water, permitting and other issues. These challenges are not new; they are just getting worse. We’ve known about all these issues for the past 10 years, and haven’t been able to fix them. I think that we need to. We’re bringing in a new form of government, and that gives us a new opportunity to fundamentally change things. 

DT: Where does UT fit into all this?

Adler: UT is a big resource to the community, considering all of the things that the University has always been. The new initiatives at the new medical school will also be part of the University of Texas. I hope the students in all this will get more engaged and become a more driving political force.

DT: Obviously, your name recognition isn’t as high as some of the other leading contenders. So how do you get your name out there in the community? How do you get your message out to students?

Adler: Well, you start behind in an election when you go against 8-year incumbents. I think it’s a question of just getting in front of as many people as you can. Part of it is talking to personally people, part of it is mail, part of it is online and part of it is on television.

DT: How do you distinguish yourself from City Council Members Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez, respectively, the two other frontrunners for mayor?

Adler: I have a different kind of experience that I bring to the position. My experience has not been sitting on City Council for the past eight years. Frankly, I don’t think that’s the kind of experience that we need … I came to Austin in 1978 for law school, frankly, because it was the cheapest law school around. Tuition was about $9 per hour, and I could afford that. Eventually, I just fell in love with the city. It was a city where you didn’t need a special last name for doors to be opened. I graduated from law school and began practicing civil rights law. I represented women in state court on equal pay cases. I worked in the State Legislature for a few sessions [and] served as a Chief of Staff for former State Senator Eliot Shapleigh …  I was on the founding board of The Texas Tribune, as well as many Democratic establishment organizations. 

DT: What was the most important thing you learned while at UT?

Adler: The most important is to just be infused with the spirit and soul of Austin. If you go anywhere in this country — or the world — and say you’re from Austin, it just really means something. The way we protect the environment and facilitate public participation says something about us. We have a great entrepreneurial spirit. And I think that spirit is in danger, which is a key reason why I am running … UT really taught me how to work with people, and be in groups of people. Allowing the whole to be greater than the parts. 

DT: What do you think about urban rail?

Adler: It’s hard for me to imagine Austin doubling its population from 2 million to 4 million without some type of integrated rail system. But I also like bus rapidtransit. Particularly, those methods where there are dedicated lanes and we can guarantee movement of 45 miles per hour. When people are sitting in stop-and-go traffic, and they see those buses go zooming by, they’ll suddenly have a whole new outlook on buses. 

DT: How do you feel about the specific proposal on the ballot this year?

Adler: I’m frustrated by a process where we send some of our smartest and brightest away and say, “come back with an answer.” And yet, when they come back, we still continue our arguments anyway. We continue arguing over the facts.

DT: What type of facts?

Adler: Ridership numbers. There are two very different views of the world based on ridership numbers. We have subjective, not objective, disagreements, and it frustrates me. I have seen these types of proposals over and over again, because people have been unsatisfied with the process. We have hitherto been unable to discern between these two concurrent realities, each with their different set of facts.