By most measures the role of mayor pro tem in Austin City Hall is a symbolic title, but District 2 Council Member Delia Garza, who became the city’s first Latina to hold the position during Jan. 7’s council inauguration, called symbolism a powerful tool.
“Symbolism is one of the most important ways we show our values as a community and a representative government,” Garza said following the unanimous appointment from her council colleagues. “Symbolism is a powerful asset when fighting for those who need your voice most.”
One council member is elected to act as mayor pro tem in the absence of the actual mayor. A large part of Garza’s new duty will be to run City Council meetings when Mayor Steve Adler is away.
Garza, who is in year three of her second term on Austin City Council, will take over for former Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, District 9’s City Council representative who has served in the role since the start of her 2015 term. Tovo, who was sworn in for a new four-year term at the same Jan. 7 ceremony, called it an honor to pass the torch to Garza.
“I think Mayor Pro Tem Garza will do a fine job, and I think it’s good to have various people taking on that leadership,” Tovo told Community Impact Newspaper on Tuesday.
Garza became the first Latina City Council member in Austin upon her 2014 election victory. After serving an initial two-year term, Garza won re-election to a full, four-year term in 2016. Garza said she was honored to be the first Latina council member but said it took the city too long for a Latina to get elected.
“Being the first at something isn’t the most important achievement,” Garza said. “Ensuring that I am not the last Latina mayor pro tem will now be all our responsibility. I want young Latinas in Austin to look at our leadership and see themselves and know they can serve in this capacity or achieve whatever goals they have set for themselves.”
Council members Greg Casar and Pio Renteria, the only Latino council members on the dais, expressed their pride in seeing Garza earn her new role.
“I admire you a lot … [you are]someone who never forgets who they are and who they stand for,” Casar said. “I am proud that girls get to grow up in a city that not only has a Latina council member, but … a Latina mayor pro tem.”
Renteria, a lifelong Austinite, said the city has come a long way since the days of racial segregation he experienced in his youth.