AUSTIN, Texas — For State Rep. Celia Israel to become Austin’s 53rd mayor, she’ll need to first defeat the city’s 48th mayor, Kirk Watson.
And when asked how she’s most different than Watson, Israel was succinct with her answer before elaborating.
“I’m a chick,” she said laughing on Inside Texas Politics. “My policies are focused on the working women and men of Austin, Texas who are going through some really difficult times right now, so I would say that there’s a big distinction between our policies.”
There are many pressing issues facing Austin’s next mayor.
Israel says the city’s housing crisis is at the top of the list and is the main reason she’s running.
Depending on who is providing the estimate, the average home price in Austin ranges from $550,000 to $625,000.
And the fees the city charges to build new homes are much higher than in other major cities. That cost, to hook up to the city’s water/sewer systems for instance, is passed on to the folks living there. And the expense also acts a deterrent to developers and would-be residents.
Israel says as mayor, she would work to solve some of these issues with pro-housing policies, including converting some city assets and unused real estate into housing.
“One of the things Austin is known for is ignoring growth and not stepping up to that. Usually it’s a transportation example. But we have a long history of not building enough kinds of housing for enough people. And we’ve become accustomed to pushing people out instead of inviting them in,” she told us.
Israel says she also wants to tackle the bureaucracy slowing housing development by cutting red tape. She plans to introduce an ombudsman program to deal with some of the housing issues.
“I’m not giving up a seat in the legislature to do more task forces,” Israel said. “This is an urgent situation.”
The next mayor of Austin will also have to address a dramatically understaffed police department. This has led to longer response times and even 911 operators hanging up on callers.
The City Council cut the Austin PD’s budget by a third a couple of years ago. Israel says the city needs a fully funded and fully staffed police department, as well as additional support to modernize it.
“What the city of Austin needed to do is focus on quality training. And they put a pause on training, they didn’t cut the force. But we are now at a point where we are catching up to that delay in the training,” Israel said. “I think looking back, we should have been able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We could have improved our training.”
Israel served in former Governor Ann Richards’ administration before becoming a residential realtor.
Israel later became a member of the Texas House of Representatives, where she’s represented the Austin area since 2014. But she didn’t run for re-election after deciding to make a run at the Mayor’s office in January of this year.
Early voting for the runoff election runs through Friday, Dec. 9. Election Day is Tuesday, Dec. 13.