Austin’s Mayoral Candidates Talk Health and Wellness

By James Russell – October 1, 2014

On Jan. 6, 2015 a new era in Austin governance and politics begins when the winners of the Nov. 4, 2014 election (and any runoffs) are sworn in as the new City Council. The Council includes ten seats, each representing respective districts, plus the mayor, who will be the only at-large elected official to hold office in Austin. With this new system come a few important questions for voters to consider: 

1. What district am I in?
2. Who is running for my district seat?
3. Who is running for mayor?

The answer to question No. 1 is found by visiting austintexas.gov/page/maps-and-demographics

If a list of names will suffice, the remaining questions are just as easily answered; there are 70 candidates for the ten council seats, and eight people vying for the honor of being Austin’s next mayor (Source).
While only those who live within the district can vote on that council seat, everyone registered in Austin has the opportunity to vote for mayor. AFM sat down with each of the candidates to learn more about them. These candidates are varied: some have many years of public service experience; for others, this is a first attempt at running for office. If the diversity of these candidates could be summed up into one sentence, it might sound like the beginning of a joke: Two council members, a lawyer, activist, engineer, musician, airline mechanic, and tech writer walk into a bar….

One commonality, however, is each candidate’s love for this city and a desire to see all of its citizens prosper. Here is a brief recap of their responses regarding the influence of health and wellness on their political positions. (Note: As of printing, responses had not been received from candidates Sheryl Cole and Mary Krenek.) For more information, see the extended article at austinfitmagazine.com

To register to vote, click here 


Steve Adler 

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan

Educational background: B.A. from Princeton; J.D. from UT Law School

Current office (if applicable): attorney 

Website: adlerforaustin.com

Extra info (from website): “Within 45 minutes of first arriving in Austin [in 1978], I was swimming in Barton Springs. I knew I had found my home.”

Campaign themes: Affordable Housing, Education, Traffic 

Form of exercise: working with a trainer three times a week, weight training, functional movement exercises

I would want to maximize the potential of the Mayor’s Health and Fitness Council. There are a lot of health issues that the city has in any kind of community. There have been some high profile people in the city that have been members of that council, so there are role models within that council, and we need to leverage that. The truth is, I don’t know all the specific things that it can do, but the mayor’s power in this city is the power to convene and the power of the bully pulpit—and the power to try to set community priorities and community focus. 

I think Austin is at a tipping point…We are facing real significant challenges that are not new; we just haven’t been able to solve them, and we have to. Five years ago, we were the sixteenth-most congested city in the country, and today, the fourth, and we aren’t solving that problem. We live in city where property values are increasing five times more rapidly than income, and people [are] losing homes because they can’t afford to pay property taxes. In this city, some 53 percent of African American kids under 18 and 44 percent of Hispanic kids under 18 live in poverty. We have water and electric utilities with business models that don’t last the next 10–12 years. We need to be more thoughtful and deliberative, more proactive, more long-term in [our] choices. We need to focus on ensuring that everybody in this city gets the same opportunity for a great education. I think that the 10–1 system we are about to start is an absolute gift. Cities don’t [often] get the opportunities to do government restarts….But we only get one shot at this, and if we do government on Jan. 6, 2015 the way we did government on Dec. 15 because that’s what we’re comfortable with, that’s what we have experience with, then shame on us. Every bit of gravity and inertia will be pulling us back, and the way we have done things in the past is not good enough. The spirit and soul of Austin literally lies in the balance of this election.


Randall Stephens

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan

Educational background: N/A; served in the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard

Current office (if applicable): CEO of adbirds.com; aircraft maintenance technician

Website: stephensforaustinmayor.org

Campaign themes: Transportation, Small Business Development.

Form of exercise: walking the dogs, cycling, hiking

If I were elected mayor, [I’d support public policies regarding] healthy lifestyle and diet.

I would introduce a workout with the mayor. Let’s do a hike; let’s have a morning workout. If the participant list is longer than my campaign donor list, we can have it down in the park; right now, you can probably have it in a closet down at City Hall [said laughing]. I try to contain myself because humor in politics sometimes doesn’t come out well. I say that with a wink and a smile.
I’ve been in a few [local athletic events]. I rode in the Hill Country Ride for AIDS once. I thought that was the best-managed and organized ride. 

I show up and park in the same garage every night. I’ve been married to the same inspiring lady for the last 20 years; she’s helped me work harder and do more aside from my career to achieve higher goals. I’m inspired by my wife, and I believe that anyone involved in local politics needs to be a caretaker of the city, uplift the citizens, and protect the weakest among us.


Mary Krenek 

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan (Or Democrat; the Austin Bulldog found in August that Krenek voted in one Democratic primary election since 1990 and no Republican primaries) 

Educational background: N/A

Current office (if applicable): investor and activist (occupation listed on Krenek’s filing form) 

Website: N/A


Sheryl Cole

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan

Educational background: B.A. in accounting from UT; J.D. from UT Law School

Current office (if applicable): Mayor Pro Tem for City of Austin

Website: sherylforaustin.com

Extra info (from website): Cole has served on the Austin City Council since 2006; she is the first African-American woman to be elected by the council


Mike Martinez

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan

Educational background: Attended ACC and UT (no info on whether graduated or not) 

Current office (if applicable): Austin City Council member

Website: mike4mayor.com

Extra info (from website): During his 13 years with Austin Fire Department in East Austin, Martinez was elected president of the Austin Firefighters Association (2003)

Campaign themes: Affordable Housing, Environment, Transportation

Form of exercise: running, working up a good sweat

As chairman of Health and Human Services, I know all too well how many Austinites are food-deprived. We have over 120,000 folks in Travis County eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that aren’t registered. One of the things that I’ve fought for—and will continue to fight for—is more outreach to those folks and those children that are food-deprived to get their parents or guardians to enroll in SNAP to get the level of nutrition that they need. Many AISD students would not get nutrition if they didn’t get free meals at school. That is an area where we can impart education about healthy eating and not just exposing them over and over to what we are used to: junk food, chips, soda. I supported an item to create more healthy options at all city vending machines; while that seems somewhat insignificant, it’s huge because it starts a culture shift. We were having council meetings at Austin Energy, and I was pleasantly surprised to see fruit and cheese trays, proteins, and vegetables available in the vending machine. That is a direct result of the action that the council took, and those are the initiatives that I would love to continue. I will keep a cautious eye [on] overreaching bounds and trying to have government too involved in people’s lives but at some point, we have to own these problems, take responsibility as a community, and realize that we have a lot of folks that are unhealthy. If we measure how much it’s costing us in indigent health care because people are eating unhealthy, we’d be doing all that we can to change that mentality. If we look at it from that broader perspective, it’s worth every penny and every ounce of energy that we can put into trying to get folks healthier in our community. 

I think it’s important [to know] know that I have experience on the City Council. With at least nine out of 11 council members being brand new, you’re going to need a mayor that understands all of the issues that Austin faces [to] help this council be as successful as it can be. The other thing I’d like to mention to your readers is to register to vote, and it’s free. You can go online and register just as easily as for a race, and it doesn’t cost you a dime.


David Orshalick

​Party affiliation: Nonpartisan 

Educational background: N/A

Current office (if applicable): retired tech writer 

Website: N/A

Extra Info: Orshalick told United Way of Austin in September that “we [residents of Austin] are victims of our own success. Intense marketing of Austin around the country may be a source of pride to some, but massive demand has been incredibly inflationary and has resulted in gentrification and over-crowding. All of this marketing hype needs to stop.” 

Form of exercise: exercise machines

My background is in IT…they revamped the city website a couple of years ago and spent over $1 million and in my opinion, it is worse than the old website. Why do I bring this up? There is no end to the good works that a government can do, so the only limitation we have is money. Are there ways we can improve the quality of our citizens’ lives without spending any money? The answer is to have a good website that works, and you can then use it as a source of easy-to-use information on everything, including health, and you can promote community engagement. Millennials especially understand the power of the Internet. You could use the city website as a vehicle to improve public health. 

I am all about improving the quality of life in Austin; I’m all about social equity; but most important, I’m all about lowering the cost of living and maintaining our neighborhoods as family-friendly places. For example: I was dead set against the commercial use of houses as short-term rentals…It’s just not right—they should have never allowed that. I’m all for people being able to rent out their own home during SXSW and ACL to make a few bucks but to take a house out of the housing stock that someone doesn’t live there on a regular basis is horrible because it puts more inflationary pressure on the rest of the houses. I was forced to enter the race because none of the other candidates were talking about any of these things. Even when they talk about quality of life issues, they don’t have any ways of fixing this. They aren’t addressing it systemically or holistically (the way you would approach your health), and they're not just doing the things we ought to be doing, especially in Austin, Texas…We can act as a shining beacon on the hill for the rest of the United States just as the United States is a shining beacon on the hill for the rest of the world. 


Todd Phelps

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan 

Educational background: N/A

Current office (if applicable): Austin musician, owner Texas Music Events, founder of Texas Alternative Wind Energy 

Website: toddphelpsforaustin.com

Extra Info: Phelps told United Way of Austin in September, “We [residents of Austin] are victims of our own success. Intense marketing of Austin around the country may be a source of pride to some, but massive demand has been incredibly inflationary and has resulted in gentrification and over-crowding. All of this marketing hype needs to stop.” 

Form of exercise: mostly maintenance during campaign (gym work, weight work, stretch bands), walking the dog

If elected mayor, I will sponsor recommendations (not requirements) regarding ample amounts of outside time for children and possibly some "real” (not video) game play days. We can provide lists of healthy food choices and recommended amounts and types of exercise. We can highlight which foods to avoid and how to identify things, like trans-fats, in packaging. At the end of the day, though, it is about personal responsibility and families…I am in good shape and eat well because of my mama, not the government. Common sense choices in life, fitness, and government decisions can go a long way. I would say a goal to encourage people—especially kids—to spend more time outside is important to me. 

Government fitness councils should provide guidelines on how to stay healthy, but not make people feel shamed into doing things. I will stay focused on the Mayor's Health and Fitness Council's goal of providing community connections, building alliances, and supporting the implementation of best practices and programs that truly effect positive change to healthy lifestyles. I also intend to further its vision for Austin to be the fittest, healthiest community in America, along with its mission to support and inspire people to improve their health by encouraging physical activity, improved nutrition, and tobacco-free living. Former mayor Will Wynn established the Health and Fitness Council to raise awareness of the cost of health care, promote prevention of chronic diseases and better health in Austin, and to promote the city of Austin as a healthy place to live and work, with the vision of becoming "the fittest city in the U.S." I intend to continue this effort and enhance it in the future.


Ronald Culver

Party affiliation: Nonpartisan (Or Democrat; the Austin Bulldog found in August that Culver voted in eight Democratic primary elections since 1994 and no Republican primaries)

Educational background: N/A

Current office (if applicable): retired electrical engineer 

Website: N/A

Campaign themes: Culver told the Austin Monitor in September that he plans to “address increasing traffic, population, and costs to citizens from city bonds and utility fees.”  

Form of exercise: exercises (sit-ups, push-ups), walking,

We have in Austin probably 10–12 marathons from different companies and organizations; I don’t know of anything I could push for right away. We have swimming; we have parks that people run in, and you have activities in these parks. I would hope that people would come to me and let me know if something is lacking. 

I’m a problem solver. I’m more of a logical thinker than subjective. I want people to be free thinkers; I love free thinkers—without them, nothing ever changes. If everybody is a “button pusher,” nothing changes. I like active people….When you’re active, your mind is working and in a way, you can see things that people sitting on their tails all day can’t see. I want to change the Austin government to a more citizen-responsive government; I want to go from a more passive management to an active management. We pay all sorts of fees for things, but we don’t get the service. I want to institute a program—these people that we pay all this money for do not get one cent in bonus unless they get an 80 percent approval rating from every district…not 80 percent of the city, but 80 percent of each district. We have to put more quality into the work we do and more pride into it. Two months ago, a woman got a bill ($5,000 for water)…and she had to argue that? I want to institute a program where, if it takes more than a day and a half to settle a dispute like that, the department [pays] the citizen for his or her time. People hate to have their time wasted. I want to change the culture of our city staff to serve the citizens of Austin.

 
 

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