Two mayoral candidates visit the hilltop amidst election season


Evan Younger / Hilltop Views

Mayoral candidate Kirk Watson introduces himself to attendees of the forum.

St. Edward’s University hosted a mayoral forum Oct. 25 for Austin’s current election. Of the seven candidates running for Austin mayor, two attended the forum: Celia Israel and Kirk Watson. Early voting for Austin is open until Nov. 4. The university will have a polling center open on campus on election day, Nov. 8.

This event was organized by the university’s Civics Lab and student organization Feminist Leaders in Politics. Civics Lab member and FLIP Vice President Olivia Prior and Civics Lab member James Motheral co-hosted the event.

“This Austin mayoral race will shape the city for the next four years, and it’s a very critical time for the city,” Motheral said.

University President Montserrat “Montse” Fuentes briefly addressed the students, faculty and staff in attendance.

“We want to make sure Austin is better because we are here,” Fuentes said. “Vote effectively. Make informed decisions.”

Following Fuentes’ words, the mayoral candidates took the stage, with Watson speaking to the audience first, then Israel.

“We didn’t want to have a debate,” Prior said. “We wanted them to individually speak about their platforms and then allow students to ask questions.”

Watson recalled when he and his wife first came to Austin in 1981 and the abundance of resources they found. However, according to Watson, the excess capacity on roads, affordable housing and clean air and water has left the city since then..

“We now have to make up for not addressing some of these issues during this transition,” Watson said.

Watson previously served in the Texas Senate from 2006 to 2020 and as Austin Mayor from 1997 to 2001, a time when more land was preserved for environmental protection than in the history of the city. He identified the high costs of housing and childcare as a large problem in Austin and emphasized the need to build a pipeline for students into the job market.

“This election is about who will be able to achieve what needs to be achieved, so that 20 years from now, Austin is the city that people can afford to stay in,” Watson said. 

Israel, a representative for the 50th district of Texas since 2014, emphasized her El Paso roots as she introduced herself in Spanish. She first came to Austin in 1982 to attend the University of Texas.

Mayoral candidate Celia Israel sits with various students, faculty and staff in attendance to discuss solutions to Austin’s problems. (Evan Younger / Hilltop Views)

“There was something special about Austin that was welcoming, that said, ‘you’re welcome here, this is your home,’” Israel said.

Israel worked under Ann Richards as a volunteer for her campaign and credits that experience with showing her the fundamentals of how to be a successful public servant.

Israel calls her time in the Texas legislature an honor of a lifetime, during which she has been involved with securing safe and accountable transportation, providing greater access to voting and advocating for immigrant and LGBTQ+ rights.

“The spirit of Austin called me here,” Israel said. “(The city) is in a really fragile place right now.”

Israel recognizes that Austin has lost many people of color and connects that loss to the issues with the city’s land use and public transportation.

“For me, transit systems are equity,” Israel said.

According to Israel, she decided to run for Austin mayor because of a lack of urgency to address housing and affordability issues. These issues, she explained, contribute to the city’s ongoing loss of diversity.

“This race is not about nostalgia,” Israel said. “I ask you to make sure that you know how important it is that you have a mayor who understands the working men and women of this city.”

A breakout session followed the candidates’ introductions, during which attendees asked Israel and Watson questions about their platforms and plans to address various issues in the city. It is expected that more events like this will happen at the university.

“Even if it’s not a candidate forum, I hope this can be a yearly thing,” Prior said.