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.