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City Hall Hustle: The State of the City, Now and Next Election

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

There’s no City Council meeting this week: Instead, City Hall watchers’ eyes were on Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s 2013 State of the City address, delivered at a Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon on Tuesday.

Owing in part to Austin’s good fortunes, the mayor’s speech is traditionally a rosy affair, full of economic achievements. And that was the case this time:  “Austin, Texas is today, I think without question, one of the most widely admired and most emulated cities in America,” said Leffingwell in one of the speech’s many paeans to the city.

But Mayor Leffingwell also used the occasion to champion a couple big initiatives.

First was what he calls an “innovation district” to accompany UT’s new medical school and Seton’s new teaching hospital. Similar to Kendall Square near MIT, the district would focus on medical research and development. The location: the northeast corner of downtown Austin.

“Essentially in the Capitol Complex,” Leffingwell told KUT News. “And I know that they’re looking very hard at trying to redevelop some of that land for a profitable purpose, to monetize some of their assets.”

Urban rail has been a recurring theme in Leffingwell’s previous State of the City addresses – and this year was no different. As he has in years past, the mayor called for a vote on urban rail – this time, before he leaves office in 2014.

While Leffingwell won’t be running once Austin switches to single member districts next year, he offered a defense of the way the city does business – including Austin’s involvement in Formula 1. He called the event “everything that most supporters hoped, and nothing that most opponents feared.”

“Of course that’s the thing about Austinites,” Leffingwell said early in his speech. “They all know exactly what they think we should be doing to keep Austin special, and they all know they could be doing a better job of it than the mayor is.”

Rounding Out the Agenda

In Fact Daily contributor Mike Kanin joined the Hustle to unpack the rest of the mayor’s speech – including the politics of partnering with the Texas Facilities Commission in redeveloping the Capitol Complex, and the repeatedly delayed push for rail.

And pivoting from one speech to another, the Hustle revisits council member Bill Spelman’s comments last week withdrawing a controversial item allowing lobbyists to serve on a commission overseeing the rewrite of Austin’s land development code – and what it may mean for the mayor’s race.

“I think lurking in the background … was perhaps the ambitions of a few council members,” Kanin says.  “We’ve heard … that council members Mike Martinez and Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole are all thinking about running for the mayor’s spot in 2014. We also hear that Representative Mark Strama may want to get in.” (You can read more here in the Austin Chronicle.)

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Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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