Candidates for Austin City Council District 10 face off ahead of Dec. 15 runoff

Photo of a hand dropping a ballot in a box
A Dec. 15 runoff will determine the who serves as Austin City Council's District 10 representative. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

A Dec. 15 runoff will determine the who serves as Austin City Council's District 10 representative. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Ahead of a Dec. 15 runoff election that will determine the next District 10 representative for Austin City Council, candidates Alison Alter and Jennifer Virden participated in a forum Nov. 30 facilitated by the Austin League of Women Voters. Alter and Virden went head to head on hot-button campaign issues including public camping and funding for the Austin Police Department—two issues one local campaign operative said could be pivotal in the runoff.

The incumbent council member for District 10, Alter received the highest share of the vote in the race Nov. 11, with 34.2%—not enough of a majority to win the race outright. She now faces Virden, her nearest challenger from a crowded field, who earned 25.4% of the popular vote.

During the forum, Alter and Virden differed on ideas to improve Austin's homelessness crisis. The more conservative Virden came out strong against city council's 2019 vote to decriminalize public camping for people experiencing homelessness.

"The reinstating of the camping ban is a tool that must be reinstated in order to consolidate our homeless population, so that we can then enact other help to get them into the housing and services that they need," Virden said. "We have existing models of care that are proven to work, such as San Antonio's Haven for Hope and Travis County's [Mobile Loaves & Fishes Community First! Village]. These locations provide regular services such as food delivery, meal services, social services, sanitary facilities and 24-hour security. For the subset of our homeless population that prefers to camp, we have the state-sanctioned five-acre campsite near [Austin-Bergstrom International Airport]."

Alter emphasized that she did not vote in favor of repealing Austin's camping ban, but criticized the effectiveness of the state-sanctioned campsite Virden mentioned, as well as the "out of sight, out of mind" approach she said was present at facilities like Haven for Hope. Instead, Alter said she supports the city's efforts to repurpose old hotel buildings as shelters.

"The models that we have with the hotels that we have adopted and we are moving forward with are wise. They get set up and run much more quickly. It is much easier to take an existing building and convert it than it is to create new organizations," Alter said.

Another point of contention was funding for APD. Restoring funding for the police department following city council's move to slice APD's budget earlier this year has been a banner issue for Virden. She criticized Austin's "Reimagining Public Safety" initiative, calling it a "rebranding of defunding the police."

"That's not something I would ever have been in favor of. I think it's one of the most dangerous things we've ever done for the city of Austin," Virden said.

She also said she does not believe APD has an issue with systemic racism, calling reports of racism in the department "rare" and "extremely disturbing."

Alter, on the other hand, said Austin needed to "root out" the department's racism.

"[I] believe that there is a systemic problem. Now, that doesn't mean everyone on the force is racist. It means that we have a system that lends itself to racist outcomes," she said, pointing to training opportunities before cadets join the police department as one source of correction for the issue.

Voting for the District 10 runoff race begins Dec. 3. Learn more about the race, as well as the runoff race for District 6, here.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


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