Editor's note: Early voting for District 9, along with all the other municipal races, begins Monday. Students can vote on campus at the Flawn Academic Center.
District 9, which encompasses UT’s main campus as well as West Campus, Hyde Park, downtown Austin and South Congress, is one of ten districts under Austin’s new single-member council system, which will replace the council’s previous system of seven at-large members. Students make up a significant portion of the district, so their representative should make a point to address students’ issues and views.
Council member Chris Riley is more engaged with students when compared to councilwoman Kathie Tovo — his main opponent — and Erin McGann, who has never been a council member. Riley’s work with students throughout the council’s process of legalizing transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, demonstrates that he actually cares what students have to say, and he understands that students’ transportation needs differ from other Austinites'. Given how abysmally low the student voter turnout is, Riley’s motivation couldn’t have been solely to secure students’ votes.
Riley is also working with both the Interfraternity Council and Student Government to revise the city’s sound ordinance. With a promise by the city to increase enforcement of sound restrictions, as well as a new process the city put in place that requires a group to apply for permits at least 21 days before an event and submit a specific site plan, West Campus parties and events such as Round-Up could decrease dramatically. Granted, fewer fraternity parties wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world, but Riley’s attempts to mitigate this conflict shows that his priorities are to establish a consensus between West Campus students and nearby residents.
Tovo’s campus involvement, on the other hand, is less concrete. Simply being an alum of the University as well as a former instructor doesn’t say anything about how she’ll represent students, and although she said she is involved with campus programs including The Project and the UT Opportunity Forum, her presence on campus hasn’t had an impact on students like Riley’s has. She hasn’t done much recently to concretely address student specific student issues, such as promoting economic growth or working to increase students’ access to the council, so we see no reason why that would change if she is elected. She may be a good candidate for a different district, but not for ours.
The District 9 council member must foster strong communication with students. Riley is the only council member who currently holds weekly office hours, and he said he plans to hold office hours near campus if he is elected. This illustrates that he values the student population of District 9, as opposed to Tovo, who doesn’t mention students anywhere on her website, and barely mentioned them in an Oct. 7 interview with the editorial board even after we asked her specifically about the student population. When compared to Tovo’s, Riley’s website is further proof of his initiative to communicate with the student population. His website is far more informative and accessible than Tovo’s, and while that in itself definitely doesn’t merit our endorsement, it further demonstrates his ability to adequately communicate with the young student population online, which is one of the most important communication platforms for reaching young adults.
Aside from Tovo’s lack of strong connections with students, she also has infeasible ideas for Austin’s future. Her preservationist views of Austin are nice and cozy but woefully unrealistic. Riley embraces Austin’s rapid growth, while Tovo wants to suppress it. Her focus on preserving Austin’s history is great for a city that wants to be a museum district with no economic growth, but impractical for pretty much any other purpose. Not every student who graduates will want to move to a different city to find a job, so we need councilmembers who will accommodate and facilitate responsible growth in Austin’s population rather than push against something that’s inevitable. Riley is the person to do this. His forward-thinking visions and plans for Austin combined with his accessibility to students show that he is the best candidate to represent District 9.