Don Zimmerman, the ardent conservative who represents northwest Austin in City Council, did more than his usual dose of ruffling feathers and upsetting people at a recent hearing for the proposed city budget. Zimmerman has a record of making off-color and shocking statements, but his insulting comments last Thursday — to a group of children, no less — reveals that he is an unfit representative for a city as diverse and supposedly tolerant as Austin.
During the budget meeting, a group comprised mostly of Hispanic students and their parents asked council members for increased funding for after school programs in public schools. In response, Zimmerman pontificated on the virtue of being a “productive” member of society.
“I’d ask for everyone here, including the children, when you grow up, I want to ask you to pledge to finish school,” Zimmerman said. “Learn a trade, a skilled trade, get a college education, start a business, do something useful and produce something in your society so you don’t have to live off others.”
Zimmerman had the gall to denigrate students who were, in fact, already doing something useful for their society by attending a city council meeting and advocating for an issue they cared about. And beyond that, his remarks unduly placed the racial stereotypes of minorities living off of government assistance on these students. Although Zimmerman claims he has made similar statements to students in the past, the specific appeal to not “live off others” was unique to this particular group.
His comments came off as especially tone-deaf in Austin, a city that suffers from some of the worst neighborhood income segregation in the country. The areas with higher concentrations of poverty receive less funding for schools, which in turn results in lower levels of educational attainment and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Gregorio Casar, who represents many of the students and parents who were at the meeting, additionally pointed out that Zimmerman’s comments had the effect of belittling residents who must depend on assistance from the government.
“[He] implied that those that rely on, & ask for, public programs are nonproductive citizens,” Casar wrote on Twitter.
This isn’t the first time Zimmerman has put his foot in his mouth and found himself at odds with the people of Austin; he has eschewed political correctness in favor of political ugliness in the past, like when he compared the 2015 Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage to legalizing pedophilia.
Although Zimmerman politically represents an important constituency with his strong focus on excess taxation from the government, this goes beyond politics. He has displayed behavior that doesn’t belong in any representative of Austin, and his thoughtless remarks to children only highlighted that he is unsuitable for the job.
Nemawarkar is a Plan II sophomore from Austin. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @janhavin97.