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Leslie Pool Wins District 7

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
District 7 candidates Leslie Pool (left) and challenger Natalie Gauldin (right) at KUT and the Austin Monitor's debate on September 28, 2016.

From the Austin Monitor: Tuesday night, incumbent Leslie Pool easily won her District 7 seat for City Council against challenger and political newcomer Natalie Gauldin. Early voting results Tuesday evening solidly placed her in the lead by 40 percent, giving rise to dinnertime cheers from her supporters.

“Leslie has been a huge champion of workers,” said Jeremy Hendricks, business manager of Laborers’ International Union of North America and a Pool supporter. “We put a lot of effort in getting her re-elected because she really is a champion on the City Council.”

Pool won the race with 71.94 percent of 36,314 district residents voting. There were 566,241 registered voters in total within the city of Austin this election, a historic turnout.

It is Pool’s second term representing District 7 and her first full four-year term. She was originally elected in a December 2014 runoff.

District 7 is a jagged area that stretches roughly from 45th Street north to Howard Lane and encompasses the portion of town between MoPac Expressway and U.S. Interstate 35. It includes the North Lamar and Gracywoods areas as well as the more historical Allandale, Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods – where traditionally it has seen the most voter turnout.

Voters in the district are majority white (about 57 percent) or Hispanic (about 22 percent). Median family income is about $74,000 a year, only about 44 percent of residents own a home and about 6 percent take bikes or public transportation to work. Those demographics could potentially explain some of the issues on which Pool and Gauldin found themselves on opposing sides at the Austin Monitor’September candidate forum.

One of the issues at the center of the debate was the development of the Grove at Shoal Creek, a 75-acre multiuse development project near Bull Creek Road and 45th Street. The sooner-than-later expansion of MetroRail placed the opponents on opposite sides as well.

Pool, whose voting record includes a vote against allowing accessory dwelling units on larger single-family lots, believes the Grove’s developers should foot the cost of increased traffic and added congestion, if the project is approved by Council.

“The developer should invest in the project in order to mitigate the traffic congestion and problems and do improvements to the streets throughout the neighborhood so we address the safety concerns,” said Pool at the forum. “The development pays for itself. That’s where I stand.”

In March, Brian Williams, a traffic engineer associated with the development, said the developers are proposing expanding Bull Creek Road to three to five lanes in some parts to accommodate the increased number of vehicles.

At the forum, Gauldin agreed with her opponent in theory but said she thought road congestion exacerbated by development should be funded from the resulting additional tax base. Gauldin also voiced her support for a proposal by pro-transit folks for a Guadalupe-Lamar rail, saying that she was “hearing loud and clear that the residents of District 7 want us to act like the big city we are and plan for rail.”

Pool said that the proposal needed more time to be considered, pointing to the failed 2014 rail bond as evidence of some residents’ opposition to a rail expansion, especially one pursued in haste.

Although approval of the Grove project is slated for a Council second hearing Thursday, Pool told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday night that she had no comment to make about it.

“I’m really just gratified by the turnout and the vote count. I’m excited to have another four-year term to represent District 7 on the Austin City Council,” Pool said.

Pool said that one of the first issues she hopes to tackle in her new term is finding funding for a sustainable parks system in the city.

“We need more parkland, and we don’t have the money to buy it. We don’t have the money to operate and maintain our parks at the level they deserve. Even something as simple as mowing has to be prioritized, so we need to work on that,” she said.

Pool said she has creative ideas to bring forward for funding as the city does not have the funding on its own.

Gauldin could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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