The winding drama over Austin’s next mayor pro tem was resolved in diplomatic fashion during City Council’s inaugural regular meeting Jan. 26: District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison earned the support to serve in the role through 2021, and District 10 Council Member Alison Alter will get the nod for 2022.

The role of mayor pro tem in Austin is largely ceremonial. On the surface, the mayor pro tem—who is elected by City Council—is responsible for running City Council meetings in the mayor’s absence; however, campaigns for the role by a number of City Council members revealed a view that the position was an opportunity to represent City Council interests across the city, as opposed to remaining contained in one’s district.

The split-term approach—proposed by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who called the move “probably unprecedented"—earned unanimous support.

“For this year, I think I’m uniquely equipped to carry the ball,” Harper-Madison said. “Council will take on some of the biggest issues in our city. We’ll continue to have conversations are public safety and homelessness, and I think those are issues that we all recognized are largely rooted in institutional racism.”

Harper-Madison, who is Black, was born and raised in East Austin. In 2018, she was elected to represent East Austin’s District 1, a part of the city with a history of systemic disenfranchisement.

“By selecting someone who was born and raised in East Austin to take this role at this moment, someone who came from poverty, who experienced it firsthand, and the struggles that discrimination produces, ... we signal to our city that we remain dedicated to prioritizing equity and justice in the eastern crescent,” Harper-Madison said.

Alter, who City Council agreed to elect for the role in 2022, said she would save her comments for her own election. Alter was first elected to City Council in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020; both victories came in December runoff elections. Her West Austin district is one of the wealthiest and whitest districts in town.

District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo, who served as mayor pro tem from 2015-18, said the role carries “real responsibilities.” She endorsed the split-term approach as a way to prioritize civility for the new City Council session.

“Many have expressed our interest in having a more collaborative tone on City Council,” Tovo said. “The last couple of years on City Council have been some of the most divisive."