Watson, who served in the Texas Senate for 13 years, was Austin’s mayor from 1997 to 2001.
“It’s official, I’m running to be the next Austin Mayor,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “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 resigned from his senate seat in 2020 to become the inaugural dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. He stepped down from his mayoral position two decades ago to run for attorney general, which he lost to current Governor Greg Abbott.
A lot has changed in the City of Austin since his time at city hall. The city’s two-year experiment in lax public camping rules led to a resounding rebuke by voters at the polls. Months later, voters shot down an attempt to set a minimum staffing level at the Austin Police Department — a response to the city’s $150 million budget cut and redirection in 2020.
Nearly two years after the fact and despite an internal investigation that found no wrongdoing, 19 Austin police officers face indictment pursued by progressive Travis County District Attorney José Garza.
Austin is confronted with the negative externalities that accompany the prosperity brought on by rapid population growth. Texas’ capital city is becoming more unaffordable by the day as property valuations jump two- and three-fold.
And then there’s the current inhabitant of the position Watson hopes to attain. Mayor Steve Adler has lurched leftward in a city that’s natural political orientation is already starkly blue. He’s dismissed his detractors as “right-wing [spreaders of] misinformation.” He advised city residents to cancel their travel plans from his beachside perch in Cabo. And he issued a starkly different message than his city manager and police chief, who defended the indicted officers, tacitly scolding the department for its then-in-place policies.
Whomever replaces Adler will have to confront the displeasure many in the city have had with its current inhabitant — and it’s not just from Republicans, who only account for about a quarter of Austin’s population.
Though Watson joins an already teeming field, his name might loom largest in the crowded group — which includes Austin City Councilwoman Kathie Tovo, state Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin), and former council candidate Jennifer Virden.
Austin’s population has nearly doubled since Watson was last at the helm, and some of the growing pains the city is now experiencing are new. But the former mayor’s reputation may make him the current frontrunner for the position.
The election will be held on November 8 this year. It is a nominally non-partisan race.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.