Five questions with Austin mayoral candidate Celia Israel
As part of our local elections coverage, we recently chatted with state Rep. Celia Israel, the pathbreaking candidate for Austin mayor who currently represents parts of north Austin, Pflugerville and northeast Travis County.
- Originally from El Paso, Israel has lived in Austin since the early 1980s — and now lives in northern Travis County with her wife.
- During her near decade in the legislature, Israel, a licensed realtor, has championed legislation protecting voting rights, investing in transportation infrastructure, improving safety, and supporting LGBTQ youth.
Do you think Austin is moving in the right direction?
"We are at a critical juncture, at a crisis situation. But every election is an opportunity to do bold and creative things. Austin could be doing more with its public space. It owns 6,000 tracts of land. That could be teacher housing, 911 operator housing, police housing. We should have policies allowing people to age in place. We're under-utilizing commercial space. The lack of urgency [among government officials] is what gets me going."
What would your approach be to homelessness?
"I don't fault those unhoused. It's a tragic black mark on our society that so many individuals are unhoused. I don't think I've become so smug about my own status in life, to not think I'm only one or two body blows from a situation of surfing from couch to couch, of being desperate enough to camp in the woods. Housing is a human right, the city should be leading that effort — but this has to be an all-in situation."
Where do you stand on funding the police?
"Dad had a drinking problem, he was a drunk with a temper. Several times during my childhood I had to call the police because Dad was abusing my mom. At one point Dad reached for a gun and I had to call the police — so I understand the stress of a 9-year-old kid who just wants police to be there to keep mom safe. You should be safe no matter what your station in life, no matter what your zip code. That life experience would inform me to be a mayor that will respect those who put on that uniform — but know high expectations come with that badge."
Austin's relationship with state GOP politicians has been antagonistic. Does that matter? What sort of relationship would you have?
"When I would the need support of the governor, I can pick up the telephone and call 512-463-2000. I know I can call him, and say we’ve got this situation and we can talk about it. Am I going to back down when they say to corporations based in Austin, you can't take female employees to get abortions in New Mexico? You damn right I’m not going to. As a woman, as a member of the LGBT community, as a Latina, I'll speak up, but I also have responsibility to move the whole city forward."
What distinguishes you from your opponents?
"Hello, I’m a chick with opinions and I’m a chick with a record. I served on boards and commissions at the local level, and I'm well regarded at the Capitol. I'm not a wealthy lawyer born of privilege or who found privilege. My wife works at HEB and delivers groceries. The odds were against me graduating high school, as a Latina on the border. Forces were against me reaching the Capitol, but I've been standing strong, calling out injustices. I’m proud of that."
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