League of Women Voters’ board member Carol Eckelkamp led a long list of candidates through questions covering affordability, homelessness, and infrastructure. Candidates included incumbent Alison Alter, Ben Eastin, Belinda Greene, Jennifer Virden, Pooja Sethi and Robert Thomas.
As the first candidate on the ballot, Robert Thomas began the forum with his opening statements. A lawyer and former assistant city attorney in Houston, Thomas stressed his long resume of community involvement to argue he is the most qualified candidate. Throughout his 30 years living in Northwest Hills, Thomas has served as the Texas Facilities Commission Chairman and the Commissioner of the Texas Workforce Commission. He says these credentials qualify him to lead the city through economic development and infrastructure planning.
Thomas has also served as the chair of SafePlace Board, the AISD Budget Stabilization Task Force, and the AISD Community Bond Oversight Committee.
This long list of community experience made his pitch to voters simple: “You know me,” he said. “There is no one else that has my background, my experience, or my commitment to service. Period.”
Incumbent Alison Alter has represented District 10 since 2017 and stressed her experience as a mom, small business owner, educator and community advocate. An economist with a Ph.D. from Harvard and B.A. from Stanford, she shared her record on City Council throughout the past three years and said her experience is needed to address the current issues.
“This is a time for leadership and proven experience,” she said. “I believe we can turn the current crises into catalysts for solving problems that have challenged our community for too long… I am proud of my record working to make Austin a place where all can thrive and feel safe.”
She placed a high priority on issues such as the pandemic, unemployment, systemic racism and climate change. Speaking on her record, she stressed that she voted against CodeNext and called the land development code “deeply flawed.” She also listed her efforts to improve the city’s response to sexual assault investigations and oversight of police, focus the city on climate by improving wildfire prevention and sustainability, and improving emergency services by adding more ambulances and EMS workers.
Greene positioned herself as the moderate choice. A wife and working mom, she expressed ardent disapproval of the current City Council’s and the city’s rhetoric, which she dubbed “extreme.”
“Most Austinities do not identify with extremes, that’s why I want to offer the moderate voice,” she said.
Greene specifically took issue with the council’s “irresponsible” budget policies, tax increases and the “lack of direction” in the city’s homeless policies.
“For the last several years my husband and I have considered moving out of Austin for those reasons,” she said.
Ben Easton describes himself as a philosopher, teacher and writer who is running as the “common sense candidate.” His opening statement did not provide any credentials or policy proposals but took a hard turn towards identity politics and vague promises of “truth.”
“I am obviously a white man. We are a dying breed these days,” he said. “We are considered racist, we are discounted by virtue of just my color… I’m on guard against that.”
With no prior government experience, Easton says he is in this race to spread his ideas about the “truth” and does not see earning office as the end.
“I don’t expect to be elected,” he said. “Because I don’t think you guys are ready for me, I don’t think you’re ready for someone to tell the truth.”
Sethi is an attorney, mother and nonprofit founder who has been active in City Hall prior to her campaign for City Council. She stressed her experience creating a taskforce in partnership with city services to feed vulnerable communities during the pandemic and founding a nonprofit to afford services to women caught in family violence.
She has also worked in City Hall on the Climate Plan Steering Committee and on other initiatives including increasing transportation for senior citizens and funding for census outreach.
“I have a demonstrated history of building bridges across our city,” she said in the forum.
Jennifer Virden is running to the right of the current Austin City Council, pitching herself as a conservative owner of a real estate brokerage firm without a traditional political background.
She voiced her staunch opposition to Project Connect, the multibillion dollar rail initiative approved for voter referendum by the council this year, citing its increase in taxes.
She also opposes “defunding the police,” and intends to fully restore the money City Council diverted away from the Austin Police Department this year.
“I’m not a polished politician. I’m just like everyone else in D10 who are sick and tired of the current city council’s flagrant disregard for the best interests of Austin,” she said.
Noel Tristan is also on the ballot but did not attend the forum.
The League of Women Voters and ATXN are hosting forums featuring candidates of each district on the ballot this November. The next forum features District 6 Wednesday at 6 p.m., and the next will feature District 7 at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7. You can find the forums here.