Keeping Austin Woke

Keeping Austin Woke

During the 1970s, Austin—the state capital and home to the flagship campus of the University of Texas—was an affordable haven for the state's assorted hippies, aspiring musicians, and itinerant bohemians. The city's motto was “Keep Austin Weird,” a conscious departure from the Lone Star State's conservative stereotype. A half-century later, Austin's slogan remains popular, and with Texas's rapid population growth and urbanization, the city's progressive politics now enjoy statewide appeal. The city is less “weird” today than “woke,” and the tendency is becoming contagious.

Austin's mayor, Steve Adler, personifies the city's evolution. A Washington, D.C.-area native, Adler attended Princeton, earned a law degree, and became wealthy representing Austin landowners in eminent-domain disputes. He was elected mayor in 2015 when, as a political novice, he defeated an incumbent councilman, Mike Martinez, a progressive activist who formerly led the Austin Firefighters Association. In that race, Adler positioned himself as a moderate, but his centrism has disappeared. Adler now presides over a 10-person city council—all Democrats—elected from single-member districts. He is the only sitting official elected citywide by voters, and the first mayor to govern since a city-charter amendment, passed in 2012, eliminated at-large voting for council members. Last year, Adler was handily reelected in a well-funded campaign—a tribute to his political prowess.

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