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Former Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson running for Austin mayor

By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune

Former Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson running for Austin mayor” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Former state Sen. Kirk Watson, who served as Austin mayor from 1997 to 2001, announced Tuesday he is launching a bid for his old job.

“It’s official, I’m running to be the next Austin Mayor!” Watson said on Twitter. “Austin is special, but we’re facing a lot of challenges ahead. By working together, we can create transformational change that doesn’t leave anyone behind.”

Watson’s announcement, first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, was sent to his supporters in an email Tuesday morning.

“I’m running for mayor because there’s more to do,” Watson said in his announcement. “I want to ensure that our city effectively addresses the range of issues that will define our future. Austin should be thinking big. We should be setting and achieving aspirational goals. And we should be able to do those things while still providing basic, day-to-day services.”

Watson most recently served as the first dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, a job he took after retiring from 13 years in the Texas Senate, to which he was elected from 2007-20. Before that, Watson ran for attorney general in 2002 and lost to Republican Greg Abbott.

Watson remains a popular figure in Austin politics. He will have high name recognition and is expected to bring in big money in fundraising.

Other candidates include in the November election include Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel, real estate agent Jennifer Virden and City Council member Kathie Tovo. Tovo has not formally launched her campaign but has told the Statesman she plans to run for the office and has filed a campaign treasurer form, the first step toward beginning her fundraising.

At a time when local governments are often butting heads with the state, Watson’s experience in the Legislature could strengthen his bid. But Austin has also changed drastically since Watson was mayor at the turn of the century. Massive population growth has led to housing and transportation woes, and the city frequently tops lists of cities with the biggest income inequality. The city also faces tension between its police department and police accountability activists.

On his campaign page, Watson touts his achievements as mayor, including his work to create the city’s first Office of the Police Monitor to increase police accountability; affordable housing programs; and bond measures to protect environmentally sensitive land, the city’s greenbelt and its natural pool, Barton Springs.

Austin’s current mayor, Steve Adler, must step down after his second term ends unless he collects petitions from 5% of registered voters to run for a third term. Adler said he did not plan to collect petitions.

The candidate elected this year will serve only a two-year term as Austin tries to align its mayoral races with presidential elections in an attempt to increase voter turnout.

Disclosure: The University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs and Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chair, have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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