Three candidates for Austin City Council District 4 discuss coronavirus recovery, housing, reimagining public safety

Incumbent candidate Greg Casar faces newcomers Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses II Setepenre in his bid for another four-year Austin City Council term. (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)
Incumbent candidate Greg Casar faces newcomers Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses II Setepenre in his bid for another four-year Austin City Council term. (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)

Incumbent candidate Greg Casar faces newcomers Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses II Setepenre in his bid for another four-year Austin City Council term. (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)

Community Impact Newspaper asked the three Austin City Council District 4 candidates the same five questions, which cover topics from coronavirus recovery to public safety, and limited their answers to 75 words. The candidates' responses are printed verbatim. Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting begins Oct. 13 and closes Oct. 30.




AUSTIN



Austin City Council District 4










Greg Casar



Occupation: Austin City Council Member


Age: 31


Years lived in Austin: 10






The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district?



GC: I led on the creation of $70 million in financial assistance to help Austin families who’ve lost income because of COVID to cover their basic needs, like food, housing and medicine, and we’ve lowered utility bills for everyone citywide. For our small enterprises, I championed a $50 million budget for local businesses, child care centers and nonprofits to help them stay open, keep people employed, and adjust to the realities of COVID.



The District 4 community, home to many front-line workers and a majority-Hispanic population, has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents?



GC: Our first priority is saving lives. That’s why we led the state in social distancing and masking rules, and we passed additional protections guarding sick leave for essential workers. I’ve championed the ongoing eviction moratorium to keep people in their homes. We’ve opened the city’s largest free COVID-19 testing center in District 4. People are still struggling and even dying, so I will continue to fight for our district every day with real urgency.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



GC: The status quo isn’t working. Police are not best equipped to be social workers, mental health professionals and substance use counselors. I’m proud to have worked with the community and council to fund violence prevention, mental health response, substance use services, family violence shelters and housing for the homeless. Police will respond to 911 calls after crime has occurred, but we must also invest in programs that prevent violence and crime in the first place.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, often attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How do you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



GC: In the past, Austin has not made affordability a top priority. Together, we’ve finally passed historic new investments in low-cost housing, and we’re starting to make a difference. Next year, council must pass new development rules that discourage replacing moderately-priced housing with McMansions. We need more available housing options all over the city, available at every price point. We can’t give up on being a truly inclusive and affordable community.



The city is now searching for a developer for the years-in-the-making St. John's development. How do you ensure that this public project meets the needs of the surrounding community?



GC: The St. John property was originally slated to become a criminal justice complex, but that’s not what the community needs or wants. After knocking on hundreds of families’ doors and listening to the community, I’m excited about what we’re creating together for St. John. We’re adding badly needed affordable housing, park space, economic and cultural opportunities. This is a community-driven project, and I will only vote for a community-supported proposal.









Louis C. Herrin III



Occupation: engineer


Age: 64


Years lived in Austin: 40






The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district?



LH: One of the things that we need is to set up training programs to help these people find other works during downtime. All profession have their up and down. Just look at the building industry in the late 1980s.



The District 4 community, home to many front-line workers and a majority-Hispanic population, has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents?



LH: I would support making PPE free for the citizens who cannot afford them and set up free testing zones within the district. I would make sure that the city is checking that all employers are following the rules that are in place.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



LH: I am against the defunding of the police. I would have waiting to make any changes to police department until the audit to see how we can improve the department and get community support.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, often attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How do you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?



LH: Austin need to streamline [the] building permitting process and take out the unnecessary requirements to selling a home.



The city is now searching for a developer for the years-in-the-making St. John's development. How do you ensure that this public project meets the needs of the surrounding community?



LH: Look, the city voted bonds to build a police substation and courthouse at this location, and with the raise of crime in the area, I will be pushing for this to help make this area safer.









Ramesses II Setepenre



Occupation: licensed massage therapist; driver; working on an anthropology degree


Age: 27


Years lived in Austin: 8




The economic impact of the pandemic continues to grow, with many people still out of work, especially those in service and hospitality industry jobs. Without waiting for federal and state aid, how would you lead what is expected to be a long and difficult recovery for the district?



RS: We need to ensure housing, small-business resuscitation, health care access/COVID-19 testing, PPE access and job opportunities. We need local businesses to mobilize. We need people to “Keep Austin Weird” by supporting local business.



The District 4 community, home to many front-line workers and a majority-Hispanic population, has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic. What would you do as a council member to ensure the safety of your constituents?



RS: As a front-line worker myself, I think we need to ensure health care access and COVID-19/antibody testing to the entire population. We need to ensure housing, PPE access and public education. We need to be listening to the advice of expert epidemiologists instead of the personal opinions of pretentious politicians.



In August, City Council unanimously supported a significant reduction to the Austin police budget with a commitment to reimagining public safety. As a City Council member, what will you bring to the ongoing debate over how to reimagine public safety?



RS: Decriminalize all drugs, like Portugal: Drugs are a public health issue rather than a criminal issue. Decriminalize sex work: Since crime and poverty are linked, we need to address the causes of poverty—lack of a living wage, education, social capital and health care access. We need counselors, social workers and therapists on board. [Disarm] the police: If all you have is a gun, then all your problems become a target. Abolish qualified immunity.



Austin has endured a growing housing affordability challenge, often attributed to housing stock that has not kept up with demand. How do you approach the issue of housing, and how do you plan to address Austin's need for more housing?




RS: I envision more affordable micro-apartments, tiny-home communities and, overall, more efficient densification.



The city is now searching for a developer for the years-in-the-making St. John's development. How do you ensure that this public project meets the needs of the surrounding community?



RS: I envision it to be turned into a micro-apartment housing complex, a medical center [or] a library, a job-seeking and/or an educational center.


By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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