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Are Council Candidates' Packed Schedules Distancing Them from Voters' Voices?

Callie Hernandez for KUT News
Seventy-Eight Candidates are vying for a spot in City Hall this November, but some say they may lose sight of their constituents' needs.

Labor Day typically marks the homestretch of campaigns, both locally and statewide.

In Austin, 72 candidates across 10 districts, in addition to six mayoral candidates, should expect to have their schedules packed with forums, campaign appearances, stump speeches and fundraisers. But, amid all that hustle and bustle, will candidates get to know their districts and hear their voters before the Election Day?

How busy are Austin City Council candidates these days?

Pretty busy, according to groups who actually keep track of the events candidates are attending.

Frances McIntyre of the League of Women Voters says her group contributed to packing the candidates' schedules. They did so, she says, because they saw a need.

"Well, with a new system with 10 districts, we knew there would be a lot of candidates who had probably not run for office before,” McIntyre says.

So, in order to educate the more inexperienced candidates, the League partnered with other organizations and created something that could be called a "candidate school". The crash course lasted over a month.

“They talked about budget, they talked about Austin Energy, they talked about city services, what all the things that the prospective city council folks are going to have to deal with when they get to council,” she says.

But beyond learning about what they'll be doing once they make it to city council, candidates need to get their name out. That's why many of them are everywhere.

Elizabeth Pagano is a reporter with the Austin Monitor, an online publication that focuses on local politics. As part of her job, she has to attend most of the nearly 30 events, and her calendar is filling up too.

And that doesn't include events for each of the 10 districts.

Pagano says, on top of forums, candidates are attending barbecues and meetings with neighborhood associations and, most are holding full time jobs.

While visibility creates name recognition, Pagano also sees a downside to candidates attending every event.

“These are city-wide groups attempting to get all of the candidates represented. But they are sort of dealing with city-wide issues,” Pagano says.

And not with district-specific needs – which is the original intent of having candidates that run exclusively in one district.

This campaign season, though, is unique.

It's the first time this dynamic is playing out and it's the only time every district will be participating. In the future, there will be staggered terms and that may help subsequent campaigns create better strategies.

Editor’s Note: KUT News has partnered with the Austin Chronicle, the Austin Monitor, KXANand Univision 62 to sponsor candidate forums across all 10 forums. You can view the entire list of forums and RSVP to a forum near you.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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