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Q&A With Lee Leffingwell, 2009 Mayoral Candidate

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Lee Leffingwell for Austin mayor
Lee Leffingwell
The election for the next mayor of Austin is on May 9, 2009, and Lee Leffingwell is one of the more prominent candidates. He is a native Austinite with a military background and a career as an airline pilot. After retiring in the late ‘90s, Leffingwell served on Austin’s Environmental Board for several years and in 2005, won a seat in Austin’s City Council. He was re-elected in 2008, and after being inspired by Barack Obama’s leadership, he decided to run for mayor of Austin in 2009.

Leffingwell took the time to answer several important questions for me regarding his role in this year’s mayoral election:

Emily Starbuck Gerson: Why are you running for mayor?
Lee Leffingwell: I’m running for mayor because I know the direction our city needs to go next, and I am confident that I can help lead us in that direction. In the tough times we’re going through now – and the tough times still ahead of us – I believe we need a strong, steady, progressive leader in the mayor’s office who can and will stay focused on the fundamentals: saving and creating jobs; solving our traffic problems; ensuring reliable public safety and social services; protecting our environment and our neighborhoods; and delivering reliable, affordable basic services and infrastructure. I also believe we should use this time to build renewed trust between City Hall and the citizens of Austin, and especially to preserve and enhance our reputation as a tolerant city that respects, supports, and engages all segments of the community.

ESG: What do you love most about Austin?
LL: I’m a native Austinite and I’ve watched a lot of change happen in our community over my lifetime. In fact, in my lifetime, the population of Austin has doubled three times. Some of the change I’ve seen has been very good, and some of it has been not so good. But, even given the sometimes-troubling changes and challenges of our significant ongoing population growth, there’s still almost nothing I don’t love about Austin. I love the food, the music, the art, the architecture, the neighborhoods, the schools, the parks, the non-profits, the pools, the libraries, the trails, the lakes, the neighboring towns, the Hill Country, and all the great events. But most of all, I love the people. Austinites are caring, compassionate, creative people, and they are what make this community unique and truly great.

ESG: As mayor, what would you do to improve Austin?
LL: I’ve laid out a broad agenda and specific proposals to help Austin move through this time of economic uncertainty and get back on track to an even brighter future. I’ll briefly mention four top priorities here: the economy; transportation; public safety & social services; and open government.

In order to help our economy recover and grow, I believe we need to focus on helping our small local businesses succeed. To do so, I’ve proposed expanding the free technical assistance and support services that the City provides to Austin business owners; amending the City’s purchasing policies to help award more contracts to locally-owned businesses; and creating a new, standing citizen Commission on Local Business.

In order to fix our ever-worsening transportation problems, I’ve proposed giving Austin citizens a chance to vote on a transportation-only bond package by next year that would include new funding for roads, bike lanes, sidewalks and other infrastructure. I also believe we should have an election to authorize the expansion of our commuter rail system as soon as possible.

In order to strengthen our community’s safety net, I’ve made a commitment to oppose any funding cuts that would negatively impact the delivery of vital social services or public safety services.

Finally, I believe we need to take meaningful steps to make city government more transparent and accountable. Accordingly I’ve proposed extending the time between finalizing City Council meeting agendas and holding meetings, so everyone has more lead time to see big issues coming; I’ve proposed holding regular Council meetings outside of City Hall, in Austin neighborhoods; I’ve also proposed putting all of the city’s finances online in a searchable format; and I’ve proposed to create the “Mayor’s Community Cabinet” – a new standing advisory body of leaders representing diverse community interests.

This is an ambitious agenda, and I’m certainly not going to pretend that we can accomplish all of it, or do everything better, in the short term. Most folks know that city government is highly dependant on sales tax revenue, and it comes as no surprise that we’ve seen a steep drop in revenue over the last year… If elected, I’ll approach the difficult budget decisions ahead with a clear set of priorities. For me, reliable basic services will always come first – water, electricity, trash, roads, public safety, public health, parks, libraries. Once we’ve done what we must to ensure that our basic needs are met today, we should do everything we can to advance an agenda that makes Austin even better tomorrow. By pursuing a clear, ambitious vision and doing a better job of working more closely together as a community, I’m shamelessly optimistic that we can make incredible progress over the years ahead.

ESG: Why should voters choose you over your opponent?
LL: I hope Austin voters will choose to elect me because I offer the broadest and most specific agenda of any candidate in the race, as well as the experience, the perspective, and the demeanor to get the job done. I am a lifelong progressive Democrat and I pride myself on being straightforward with my constituents and consistent in my positions. I’m not in this race to satisfy my ego, and I’m not in it to use the mayor’s office as a stepping stone to something else. I’m in it because Austin is my hometown, and because I care deeply about making our community a better place.

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