City Council candidates for District 2 make their case in virtual forum

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Candidates for District 2 of Austin City Council joined the League of Women Voters’ virtual forum last Wednesday to discuss their platforms and answer community questions.

League of Women Voters’ Board Member Carol Eckelkamp led the candidates through a series of topics including food insecurity, census response rates, and flooding. The candidates are running to earn the Southeast Austin district’s vote on November 3.

Participants included David Chincanchan, Vanessa Fuentes, and Alex Strenger. Former District 2 candidate Casey Ramos is also on the ballot this year but did not participate in this forum.

David Chincanchan is listed first on the ballot. A senior policy advisor for the City of Austin from Dove Springs, Chincanchan stressed his focus on affordable housing, public transportation, and workers’ protection.

Chincanchan attended The University of Texas at Austin and serves as the chair of the Austin Tejano Democrats and as a board member of the labor union American Federation of State, City, and Municipal Employees.

“I am running to make sure our families in Southeast Austin have our own voice when decisions about our health, our lives, and our quality of life are being made at Austin City Hall,” he said in the forum.

Vanessa Fuentes, a community health advocate with the American Heart Association, is next on the ballot. She stressed her initiatives relating to affordable housing, property taxes, wage stagnation, and COVID-19’s effect on Hispanic communities.

“While Austin continues to grow, the reality is that our working families in this city are struggling,” she said. “I got into this race because the people who built this wonderful city can no longer afford to stay”

Alex Strenger followed with his promise to create an “affordable, accessible, and accountable Austin.”

An entrepreneur who drives a pedicab in downtown Austin, he says his most pressing issue is providing aid to small businesses affected by the pandemic.

“I am literally the working man that our quote-unquote progressive city council claims to care so much about,” he said. “These people are getting crushed and they need immediate aid right now.”

Strenger ran a satirical campaign for mayor in 2018, promising to equip teachers and police officers with flame throwers and erect a dome around Austin to keep away “foreigners and California refugees.”

His campaign takes a more serious tone this year, and is centered on raising the homestead tax exemption to 20 percent and maintaining property taxes at a “sustainable level.” 

Strenger said he opposes defunding the police, but would support “meaningful police reform for the safety of our community and our police officers.” He also calls the city’s pandemic shutdown “economically crippling,” and does not support the city’s rail initiative “Project Connect.” 

Casey Ramos, absent from the forum, is also on the ballot.

Ramos is a professional boxer and third generation Austinite who studied economics at St. Edwards University.

His key initiatives include fighting gentrification by opposing CodeNext, proposing a stormwater infrastructure bond to mitigate flooding, and expanding access to health care and healthy food in District 2. 

Ramos ran for the District 2 position in 2016, losing to Delia Garza.

“District 2 has been neglected for far too long,” he states on his campaign website. “Flooding, Displacement, and the Health of our residents are my top priorities… We just have to believe in ourselves as a district and as ONE community.”

Ramos joined the other candidates in a separate forum hosted by KUT and the Austin Monitor yesterday. 

Affordable housing was a major theme of the night, with all three candidates citing the issue as one of their top priorities. 

Chincanchan advocated for a new land development code to counter the issue, claiming the current code “is rooted in a segregationist plan from 1928” and promotes gentrification. He cited his record of working with the Public Housing Authority and affordable housing developers in City Hall to bring more housing options to the city.

Fuentes echoed this idea, worried that “people have a genuine fear of displacement.” She puts forth multiple plans on her campaign website, including a plan to establish an Office of Housing Stability. She says this would integrate all of the city’s assistance programs into one place and reach out to disadvantaged property owners to ensure they are taking full advantage of available benefits.

Strenger advocates for doubling the homestead exemption to allow homeowners to save up to 20 percent on their taxes and curtailing predatory lending services that disproportionately operate in Black and Hispanic areas. He also worries that Austin’s housing model promotes urban density and the impact this could have on spreading disease during the pandemic.

The winner of this race will replace District 2 incumbent Delia Garza, who is leaving her seat to become Travis County Attorney in January.

The League of Women Voters provides full information on City Council candidates and all other races in their Voters Guide. Learn more and find which races will be on your ballot here.

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