AUSTIN, Texas - Austin voters will pick a new mayor this November. There are six candidates on the ballot and the winner will have numerous issues on their plate when they take office.
Katie Naranjo, Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, and Matt Mackowiak, Chair of the Travis County GOP, joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to discuss.
MIKE WARREN: Katie, what is the number one issue facing the next mayor of Austin?
KATIE NARANJO: Affordability. We all are feeling it. Not just in the US but across the globe, especially in property rich counties like Travis County, where the taxpayers of Austin, especially with the Austin School District, are having to foot the bill that the Republican legislature refuses to make good on when it comes to funding our schools.
MIKE WARREN: Matt Mackowiak, what do you believe the next mayor should prioritize?
MATT MACKOWIAK: Well, save us. Now, we've said from the beginning that there are four urgent crises facing the city, and this council and this mayor have made them measurably worse. Affordability. Katie's correct. It is the absolute worst problem that we face as a city. We've seen the median home price go up astronomically just in the past few years, and that's because we constrain the supply of housing at a time when demand is very high. Second, we have a public safety crisis with a police staffing crisis, a91 call center crisis in an EMS staffing crisis that the city leadership refuses to directly address. We have a homelessness crisis that's been made worse by the camping ordinance, the fact that they refuse to fully enforce property. And then finally, we have totally inadequate transportation infrastructure. So the next mayor and next council need to get serious about the big problems facing our city. And if they do that, I think they'll see significant support.
MIKE WARREN: Katie, talking about Austin PD, the relationship between the mayor, city government, city council and Austin PD. Does the next mayor need to do some bridge building and mending there?
KATIE NARANJO: I think that's up to Austin PD to be doing that bridge building. The council has made a number of efforts to build bridges, to have comprehensive public safety, which is what overwhelming 69% of voters support. They want to see a public safety system that represents our community's values, that is preventative, that is also action oriented. And so we're looking for a police department that does that instead of fist bumping Nazis, actually make sure that folks in our community, of our communities feel safe. And, you know, that's something that this mayor and this council has worked on, but we haven't seen that effort from PD. And I think it's also very concerning the retention crisis. You know, we have a number of spots that have been funded by the city of Austin, hundreds of spots that have been funded by the city of Austin, but have yet to be fulfilled by Austin PD. And they keep losing staff. And I think that's something that we really have to look at.
MIKE WARREN: Okay, Matt Mackowiak, what about this relationship between the city and the police department?
MATT MACKOWIAK: Well, look, I could take 45 minutes responding to everything Katie just said. That's false. I have no idea what fist bumping Nazis have to do with the fact with 360 police officers short of where we were two years ago when Katie and her friends decided to defund our police budget by one third, cutting it by $150 million, delaying graduation of the current cadet class and canceling two cadet graduations. We now have 293 vacancies. We are at the lowest staffing level since 2007. We have a 27 staffing level, and it's affecting every single aspect of public safety. So Katie and the Democratic leadership may want to attack our police department. Most Austinites do not want to see that we cannot retain, we cannot recruit, we cannot pay overtime. It is because the Council has been at war with the Austin Police Department for three years and the consequences have been disastrous for our city and for public safety.
MIKE WARREN: Katie, take it away. Your turn to rebut.
KATIE NARANJO: It's really convenient for Matt to point fingers when it comes to a lack of leadership and when it comes to the backlog of testings and the lab as well as retention efforts, as well as serving our community as the responsibility and the focus really has to be laid at the feet of Austin PD. And what the community and an overwhelming majority of Austinites have said is that they want a community police department that is community funded, whether that includes police oversight. The issue Matt has is he has built a campaign on lies, and he even was caught.
MATT MACKOWIAK: What does that say? What lies?
KATIE NARANJO: You said that there was going to some line. You said there was going to be. Oh, I'm going to I'm going to answer if you stop interrupting for a second, Matt, you said that there was going to be citizen oversight when State Austin now is doing their petition drive, which was not included in the language. You also said that there was going to be requirements for DUI training, which you did not prescribe. You said additional training. And so those were specific. They were.
MIKE WARREN: Matt, real quick response on the break.
MATT MACKOWIAK: What she didn't answer is whether it was a good idea to cut the police budget by $150 million three years ago. No, it was a disaster. She didn't answer the fact that we have 360 fewer police officers today than we had three years ago. We would love to see more oversight. We would love to see more training. We proposed doubling training hours last November and the electorate and the Democrats opposed this.
MIKE WARREN: Okay. Well, I got to wrap it up there. Thank you so much.