Candidates running for Austin mayor held a forum Friday at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library to present their platforms to voters. Austin’s current mayor, Steve Adler, cannot run for reelection as he has met his term limit.
Five candidates were present at the forum, but the sixth, Anthony Bradshaw, was not in attendance. Bradshaw owns two businesses in Austin and he opened Newday Church around 1989, according to the LBJ School’s website.
The next mayor will serve a two-year term and face reelection for a four-year term in 2024. Early voting ends Friday, Nov. 4 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. On-campus polling stations are located in the Flawn Academic Center and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Phil Brual is a government and history senior at UT with internship experience at the Texas State Capitol.
Brual said he lives in West Campus with four roommates, making him an advocate for multifamily housing, like duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes. He also said he believes that the city’s land development code should be flexible to adjust as the city grows.
“I don’t want to build apartment complexes in your neighborhood,” Brual said. “If you put in a triplex, you’re still going to have that pretty neighborhood.”
Despite his age, Brual said he believes he’s had enough life experience to run the nation’s 11th-largest city. According to the LBJ School’s website, Brual works three part-time jobs.
“It’s very hard to solve a problem … when you don’t live that struggle,” Brual said. “There isn’t just one solution. But it’s hard to find those multipurpose solutions when you don’t have every single voice on that stage.”
Brual said he believes Project Connect was a “trick to the community.” He said he believes the city should reevaluate the project’s costs and design plans. According to previous Daily Texan reporting, Brual said he wants to protect businesses that risk demolition due to the project, like Dirty Martin’s, Halal Bros and The Ballroom at Spider House because he believes they are important to UT’s culture.
“It’s a subway through limestone underneath a lake and costs too much,” Brual said. “It just doesn’t make sense for the city.”
Celia Israel is the Texas State Representative for House District 50, which encompasses most of North Austin, Pflugerville and some parts of Manor and Elgin.
On city planning and housing, Israel said she would like to accelerate zoning changes from commercial to residential land to build more housing. She also mentioned developing public lands the city holds. Israel said she believes increasing housing in the city will help alleviate the lack of affordability.
“The city of Austin owns 6,000 tracts of land that are largely developable during this housing supply crisis,” Israel said. “We should be incentivizing larger swaths of land (for housing), so that we up the supply and take pressure off of the market.”
Israel said the University’s growth will continue to impact the city’s growth. She mentioned the importance of developing areas east of campus. Israel also said that Project Connect is at “30% (completion) evaluation period,” and the plan will provide more equitable transportation across Austin.
“As we grow and change, … we’ve got to work better together,” Israel said. “I’m excited about the future. There is a good opportunity for us there.”
Israel said she is the only candidate running for mayor with a plan to protect reproductive rights.
Gary Spellman is an entrepreneur who co-founded Ultimate Face Cosmetics, “a vegan, gluten-free and cruelty-free global beauty brand based in Austin,” according to the LBJ School’s website.
Spellman said he believes his experience in business leadership has given him necessary skills to lead in the public sphere. He also mentioned the charity money he has given to nonprofit organizations, like The 100 Club of Central Texas and Motorcycle Missions, throughout Austin.
“I provided jobs for over 1,000 people,” Spellman said. “In my 30 year career, we’ve helped open 14,000 to 24,000 hair salons across this state. You can’t be selfish when you are a leader and you own a business.”
Spellman said that 6th Street is a major draw for visitors in Austin, but believes the city is “playing politics with people’s safety,” by not holding them accountable when things happen on 6th Street. Under his mayorship, Spellman said strengthening public safety in Austin starts with valuing public safety officials.
“(The police) go out and they risk their life every day,” Spellman said. “I’ve seen a lot of stupidity on 6th Street where we’re not holding people accountable. Stiffer penalties for misbehavior will curb that.”
Spellman said he wants to “Keep Austin, Austin,” even as large companies like Facebook and Tesla establish roots here.
“This is a great city. … We have to make it more friendly for business,” Spellman said. “You need someone who can walk into a room, demand respect, sit down and come up with the solutions that suit what’s best for Austin and its constituents.”
Jennifer Virden is an Austin real estate broker who graduated from UT in 1991 with a finance degree.
Virden said she is the only candidate with a plan to cut property taxes. Under her plan, she said the city would cut property tax by 3.5% without losing any city services.
“Your potential here in Austin is unlimited,” Virden said. “We just have to make it affordable for people to live here.”
Virden said she has advocated against Project Connect since 2020. She said she wants the transportation plan “to go back to the voters with actual clarity.”
“Bonds equal more taxes,” Virden said. “Every time your landlord’s taxes get raised by $1, your rent goes up $1 or more up until the point the market will no longer bear increases in rent.”
Virden also said she will advocate for a third-party audit of the city’s expenditures. Virden said her experience in business and real estate has prepared her to lead the city, especially on issues like affordability.
Kirk Watson was mayor from 1997 to 2001. He later represented District 14 in the Texas State Senate, which includes most of Austin.
Watson said he believes developing 6th Street will make the area safer. By diversifying the establishments on 6th, Watson said he believes this will make “a difference in activity on any given night.” He also mentioned the increased role that the Austin Police Department would play if he became mayor.
“We need to be fully staffed out with APD,” Watson said. “The optimal response time would be six minutes and 30 seconds, and we’re at eight (minutes and) 52 (seconds).”
Watson said he believes his experience in city and state government will help him build coalitions as mayor. He said he would sit with council members as mayor to listen to and amplify their concerns.
“We need to establish what the priorities are going to be of the city,” Watson said. “But, it’s also important to work and establish priorities for (your) district.”
As mayor, Watson said he would push for a citywide childcare program. Watson said childcare is the second largest expense in many Austin households.