Austin State Rep. Celia Israel Won't Seek Reelection Ahead Of Possible Run For Mayor
State Rep. Celia Israel says she will step down from the seat she's held in the Texas House since 2014 to possibly run for mayor of Austin.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Israel said she's formed a 19-person exploratory committee to run for mayor. She's served in the Texas House for four legislative sessions, representing House District 50, which includes Pflugerville, Webberville, Elgin and Austin.
Israel told KUT she decided to explore a possible run because of Austin's persistent struggles with affordability and homelessness, among other issues. She said, as a realtor and a longtime Austinite, the issue of affordability is particularly pointed for her.
"It hurts my heart to tell clients, ‘Just keep driving until you can afford it,'" Israel said. "That’s, I think, a common concern amongst all kinds of people regardless of how long they’ve been here or what kind of job that they have.”
Austin's population and its real estate market have boomed in tandem over the last decade and a half, and Israel said she wants to see the city address issues in a more "proactive" way — one that would forestall the flight of Austinites moving from the city because they can't afford to live in it.
Looming over the discussion of affordability is the city's land development code. For the better part of a decade, the city has been wrangling with rewriting its land development code, a contentious process that was ultimately halted after a lawsuit. That process is likely to spark another spat between those who wish to largely preserve the city's current code that favors single-family homes in residential areas and those who want Austin to allow for more density to promote construction of more affordable housing.
Council could take up that rewrite again within the next year, and Israel says she hopes the insights from her exploratory committee will inform that process, if she's ultimately elected mayor.
“These are very difficult, challenging times for all kinds of people and we’re losing our character," she said. "So, if that’s the basis of understanding, I would hope that I’m using my energy and my belief in public service to say to the 10-member council … we can’t not do anything. So, what are we going to collectively do and attack this problem that has only exacerbated in the last six months? Now, the median home price is north of $400,000.”
On the issue of homelessness, Israel said she's been encouraged by the push to get more Austinites living outdoors into housing in the past few months, but she wants to see the city take a more active role in combating homelessness.
“It’s not just a downtown problem," she said. "We have to be empathetic, be thoughtful and be proactive and take it for the crisis that it is. It’s part of a larger health care and affordability crisis that we have to address. You can’t just say the word ‘crisis’ at the podium and walk away and say, ‘Good. I made my statement on the crisis.’ [You’ve got to] wake up every day and suit up and be ready to address it, because we’ve never seen anything like this.”
Israel likely won't be alone in the field to replace Mayor Steve Adler, whose term-limited tenure ends next year. Former Austin mayor and state Sen. Kirk Watson is also considering a run for mayor, along with District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo.
This story has been updated.