Students should make sure to exercise their hefty political potential by voting in city elections, as early voting begins today. All of the incumbents — Mayor Lee Leffingwell and city council members Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole — should be re-elected.
As mayor, Leffingwell has successfully guided Austin through three years of tremendous growth during a devastating global recession. In the past year, Austin’s unemployment rate has stayed below 6 percent, lower than both the state and national average.
Leffingwell supported many measures over the past three years that have benefited students. From supporting alternative transportation methods to defending an incentives deal that will bring high-tech behemoth Apple Inc. to the city, Leffingwell has proven himself as the right leader for a vibrant, dynamic Austin.
As a council member in place 2, Mike Martinez has shown dedication to non-traditional members of the Austin community. Earlier in the semester, Martinez was a strong voice in support of moving municipal elections from May to November, which would benefit students by allowing them more access to vote without the impediments of final exams and summer break. Moreover, as an enrolled student in a UT undergraduate program, Martinez has strong ties to the University community.
As a council member in place 5, Bill Spelman — a UT public affairs professor — has proven an impressive ability to distill complex city policy and is unquestionably the most qualified candidate in his race.
Although Spelman has shown questionable judgment in his opposition to moving municipal elections to November, he has been a defender of Austin’s women and poor. One of his main opponents, Dominic “Dom” Chavez — spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board — seems firmly opposed to any progressive change on the council. The other, Tina Cannon, does not have sufficient experience to take on the more intricate city issues.
As a council member in place 6, Sheryl Cole has been a “watchdog for city finances,” as described by the Austin American-Statesman. Though sometimes her commitment to being a “watchdog” can be counterproductive, her support of the Waller Creek’s redevelopment will further Austin’s reputation as an eco-friendly, active city. She has also shown strong leadership on the Austin Energy issue, which would affect the electric rates of UT students who rent apartments.
Voter turnout for municipal elections is consistently in the single digits citywide, and for UT students that figure is probably even lower. Actions on the city council affect all students, and the voice of UT students is often lost in the crowd during policy debates because of low turnout. When walking to class this week, students should reverse that trend by exercising their political right to vote and making the UT community a formidable local force.