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Zimmerman: 'I'm Out of Here'

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Then-Council Member Don Zimmerman at KUT and the Austin Monitor's District 6 debate on September 20, 2016.

From the Austin Monitor: If City Council Member Don Zimmerman is unhappy about losing the seat he has held for two years, he’s not showing it.

After losing re-election to Jimmy Flannigan – the same candidate he beat to earn his spot on the then-new 10-1 Council in 2014 – Zimmerman said he accepts the will of the voters, particularly in light of how well Hillary Clinton performed in the traditionally conservative northwest suburbs that Zimmerman represents.

While the results of the presidential election nationally were largely characterized by unexpectedly strong performances by Donald Trump in certain traditionally Democratic areas, particularly the Rust Belt, Trump did worse than recent GOP nominees in Texas and much worse in Austin. His opponents prevailed, said Zimmerman, by continually tying him to Trump.

The results, on both the top and bottom of the ballot, demonstrate the “power of lies in political campaigning,” he said.

As he did prior to the election, Zimmerman declined to comment on the president-elect but said that he is “thrilled that Hillary Clinton is not president.”

“If you prefer Hillary Clinton, I should leave,” he said, describing his constituents in an interview with the Austin Monitor at his district office on Anderson Mill Road.

“The vote is a clear indication that they don’t want to press in a fiscally conservative way,” he later added. “I accept it. I enthusiastically accept the voters’ wishes. I’m packing up. I’m out of here.”

He is nevertheless proud of the policies he pushed during his two years on Council. His greatest accomplishment, he said, was becoming the first and only Council member to open a district office, a move that he said city staff – a frequent target of his derision – tried unsuccessfully to impede.

“I had to fight city government bureaucrats to get this office open,” he said. “They did not cooperate.”

He noted that his successor plans to keep the district office open. That decision, he said, belies Flannigan’s repeated assertion during the campaign that “Zimmerman did nothing” for the district.

Zimmerman is also proud of the role he played in Council voting down a proposal for the city to annex 83 acres of land in Northern Travis County, the first time in history that Council had rejected an annexation recommendation by city staff.

The Council member was pleased that he was able to push for a portion of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s quarter-cent funds to be divided evenly between each Council district – $1.9 million each – and that he got $30 million of the $720 million transportation bond earmarked specifically for his district, even though he ultimately voted against the bond, reasoning that it “spends too much on reconfiguring roads for dense development and not enough on congestion (relief).”

Satisfactory outcomes were the exception for Zimmerman, however. More often than not, he was in the minority on the Council dais, including many instances when he was the lone vote of dissent against the policies adopted. Delivering on his campaign platform of lower taxes and smaller government was nearly impossible on a Council that is “more progressive Democrat than fiscally conservative Republican,” he said.

Despite being outnumbered significantly by those who disagree with his politics on Council, Zimmerman said some of his constituents blamed him for not getting passed the policies he advocated for in his 2014 campaign platform.

“They said, ‘Well, Zimmerman, you didn’t get our taxes down,’” he said. “I tried to cut spending. That is indisputable.”

He generally got along well with his Council colleagues, however, and sung particularly high praise for Mayor Steve Adler, who he said deserves credit for making sure that everybody on Council got to share their opinions.

“He’s very intelligent. His strong suit is he’s a remarkable mediator. He has an incredibly calming voice – sometimes I can’t hear him – (and) he goes out of his way to make sure all voices are heard,” he said.

The only interaction with colleagues that he deemed “uncivil” was what he called the “false accusation of racism” levied against him in response to remarks he made to a group of children and their parents who were visiting Council in August. Zimmerman urged the kids to “finish school, learn a trade, a skilled trade, get a college education, start a business, do something useful and produce something in your society so you don’t have to live off others,” a comment that some interpreted as racially charged because the group he was addressing was largely Latino.

Zimmerman defended himself by pointing out that he had made similar remarks to other groups of kids, including a near-verbatim comment he made after the birth of his own son this summer.

Zimmerman declined to comment on rumors that he is lining up a job in talk radio for next year.

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