AUSTIN (KXAN) — A day before the Austin mayoral candidates debate, Mayor Steve Adler is not sharing which person he thinks should succeed him in office. However, he said either Celia Israel or Kirk Watson should “laser focus” on addressing housing and affordability concerns.

“We can’t lose the people, the diversity that creates the friction, that creates the innovation in our community,” Adler said during an interview Wednesday with KXAN. “We have to preserve all kinds of people, or we’ll lose what is the magic of this city.”

He said making more progress on ending homelessness in the community is another issue the next mayor will have to tackle. He cited that issue in particular as something he would have handled differently in retrospect.

“We see cities on the West Coast that are being turned upside down on this issue,” Adler said. “With the Finding Home ATX, with the controversy we went through, with the focus this community had, we’re on track now, I think, to be the first city our size to actually end homelessness. We’re well on our way with that effort, but the next mayor coming in is going to have to preserve that momentum and expand on it and make sure that we get this task done.”

Mayor Steve Adler spoke with KXAN's Will DuPree during an interview at City Hall on Nov. 30, 2022. (KXAN photo/Tim Holcomb)
Mayor Steve Adler spoke with KXAN’s Will DuPree during an interview at City Hall on Nov. 30, 2022. (KXAN photo/Tim Holcomb)

The controversy in question pertained to the community’s rebuke of the council’s 2019 decision to largely decriminalize the act of sitting, lying or camping in public places. Last year, voters approved a referendum led by the group Save Austin Now to reinstate the public camping ban. Additionally, the proposition made it a crime to ask for money in certain areas and times “or for solicitation in a public area that is deemed aggressive in manner.” Ultimately, Texas lawmakers also approved a new state law banning people experiencing homelessness from camping anywhere in public.

“I think it was real important that we brought people out of the woods and the back area so that the city could actually see the challenge we faced. Otherwise, we would never have stepped in to fix it,” Adler said Wednesday, “but we probably should have done a better job of managing shared public spaces. We needed that angst, and we needed that discomfort — but maybe not quite at the level that we generated.”

During his two terms in office, Adler said what makes him proud is how the city approached and dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, saying Austin had a lower mortality rate compared to the rest of the state.

“When you’re able to be mayor and able to impact policy decisions, and you actually save lives, which is what we have done — our community has done — in this city, I’m proud of that,” Adler said. “It was tough choices. Those were emotional issues that had us in court with the governor in the state — not things that I relish or want to do, but we held our ground to make sure that we were Austin. [We] preserved our culture and our way of approaching it, and we saved many lives.”

When he took office, Adler became the first mayor to serve under the city’s 10-1 system, which now consists of one mayor and 10 council districts. He explained what he thinks the next mayor should keep in mind about how that works.

“The 10-1 council was designed to make sure that all the different voices in the city were actually being heard at the council dais, and that was not the case before we had the 10-1 system,” Adler said. “There are going to be a large number of people on this council of color coming up — in numbers probably that were unprecedented under old councils. I think another mayor or a new mayor coming in has got to know that they need to listen. They need to help elevate all of the voices and empower their colleagues on the council. I think that’s one of the big roles of mayor, and something I’ve tried real hard to do.”

Whoever makes it through the Dec. 13 mayoral runoff, that person will likely have to return to the campaign trail fairly quickly to seek a full term. That’s because voters agreed last year to move the Austin mayoral elections to presidential years, so that race will be back on the ballot in 2024. Adler responded to a question Wednesday about how that might impact his immediate successor.

“The next mayor is really not going to have had enough time in office to upset too many people, so you could argue that it’s going to be hard to unseat somebody who gets elected in this election in a two-year period of time,” Adler said. “At the same time, we live in Austin, and this is a political place, so it could be that the mayor finds themselves having to immediately be in election mode.”

KXAN is hosting a debate between Israel and Watson, the two candidates who advanced to the runoff, on Thursday at 9 p.m. The debate will air on KXAN, the CW Austin and on

The early voting period for Austin’s mayoral runoff runs from Thursday until Dec. 9. Election Day is Dec. 13.