More Than a Yard Sign: A Runoff Rematch in District 6
Austin’s District 6 is one of the city’s wealthiest – the median family income falls around $86,000 a year. It also boasts the largest number of Asian residents in the city.
Council Member Don Zimmerman represents Austin’s northernmost district. He has served as a resounding voice of fiscal conservatism, often abstaining from votes because of a general aversion for government spending.
This year, he faces only one opponent: Jimmy Flannigan, the guy he just squeaked by to win the seat in a 2014 runoff.
To better inform voters, we thought we’d focus on three of the big issues of the last year-and-a-half of Austin’s first 10-1 council. We asked non-incumbents how they would have voted on these major issues. Then we added one more category: a pet project for incumbents, and for non-incumbents, what they’d like to focus on. It’s all part of our “More Than a Yard Sign" series.
An online marketer and community activist, Flannigan helped found the Northwest Austin Coalition and at one time served as president of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Flannigan lost to Zimmerman in 2014, garnering just 191 fewer votes than Zimmerman in a December runoff election.
While Flannigan said the bond has its flaws and he would like to see more money for District 6, he supports it.
“At the end of the day, the vast majority of that bond project are vetted corridors that have gone through extensive community input, that residents from multiple districts drive on, that all need to get built,” said Flannigan.
As it played out, Flannigan said he didn’t understand why council pursued requiring fingerprint-based background checks for ride-hailing companies in the first place.
“I didn’t see the evidence that fingerprints made a substantial difference in public safety,” he said. Companies Uber and Lyft shut down Austin operations after voters supported council regulations.
“For the vast majority of homeowners, you’re talking a few bucks,” said Flannigan.
He called the homestead exemption a “red herring” – distracting the public from the fact that council still has the ability to raise the city’s tax rate, potentially nullifying any break that a homestead exemption grants on property taxes.
Flannigan said as a representative of one of Austin’s most outer lying districts, he would stress the relationship between housing prices and traffic.
“When Austin doesn’t build enough housing for the folks who want to live here, District 6 suffers,” he said. “[Residents move to] Cedar Park and Leander and they drive through District 6.”
Council Member Don Zimmerman prides himself on being a “voice of the taxpayer,” often questioning city staff about the finances of a contract.
Born in San Antonio, Zimmerman worked as a software engineer before being elected to council.
While Zimmerman supported the bond on an initial vote, he abstained from casting a final vote on the measure in August. He said he would have preferred to split the bond up into parts, and to require more specific language on the tax impact to residents on the ballot.
An advocate for little government regulation of private business, Zimmerman vehemently opposed requiring all ride-hailing drivers to get fingerprinted. When the item went to a public vote and residents rejected lighter regulations, Zimmerman sued the city over what he claimed was misleading ballot language.
While this year Zimmerman supported an eight percent homestead exemption, up from six percent last year, he said he would have supported a greater increase.
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t do four percent to keep on track with our commitment to reach the 20 percent within four years,” he told his colleagues on the dais.
Zimmerman said he is committed to working with TxDOT to build a new freeway in northwestern Austin.
“I’ll do everything I can to make that happen,” he said, adding that roads, not alternatives, are what his constituents have said they want. “[City staff] use traffic congestion as a social engineering tool to try to get you to ride a bike, or take a bus, or go find a train and that’s not working.
Below, you can listen to the full audio of our District 6 Ballot Boxing forum, co-hosted with the Austin Monitor and Glasshouse Policy.
This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.