New community group hosts forum Thursday for 29th Ward candidates

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When a group of Austin residents attended one of the town hall meetings leading up to last fall’s midterm elections, they decided they had heard enough of the same old rhetoric and empty promises.

Later that night over dinner, they decided it was time to create a group that would hold local politicians accountable for the plans and promises they made to the community during election time.

By December, the Advocates for Neighborhood Development and Empowerment (ANDE) had been launched.

“We want to provide information that helps people understand how they can be served and what are the best ways to be served,” ANDE President Serethea Reid said.

“They can then take those measures and put them up against the candidates — all of them, including the existing alderman — and see exactly who is the best candidate to serve their needs.”

Members of the group expressed their frustration over what they said was a lack accountability, transparency and a general feeling that their voices were not being heard since Ald. Deborah Graham took office in 2010.

AustinTalks gave Graham a chance to respond, but she did not return a phone call.

“There’s enough talk going on in Austin,” said Terry Redmond, ANDE’s secretary and treasurer. “Everybody’s having all these town hall meetings, all these talks, and nothing is getting done. And so we said, ‘Let’s really do something here. Let’s form a group that’s really going to advocate for the area.’

“And that’s how we came about, because we wanted to do something more. We wanted to provide information.”

The non-partisan group will host the Forum on Impactful Leadership from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 5 at Galewood Community Church, 1776 N. Narragansett Ave.

The forum will focus on holding 29th Ward candidates accountable for their platforms; all candidates were sent a letter requesting their participation. All seven challengers – Larry Andolino, Bob Galhorta, Chris Taliaferro, La Coulton J. Walls, Zerlina Smith, Stephen Robinson and Oddis “O.J.” Johnson – have agreed to participate. Ald. Graham has not yet accepted the invitation, organizers said.

The crowded field of candidates was reduced to eight after four withdrew or were removed from the ballot.

Included in the letter was a request for candidates to respond to issues ANDE sees as crucial for comparing candidates:

1) two examples of a candidate’s role as a team leader in the community, two examples of coalitions created by the candidates and the impact of those coalitions, and

2) the top two accomplishments the candidate expects to achieve after the year in office.

The idea behind the questions is to take the candidates beyond the talking points and force them to commit to plans that can be measured and the candidate can then be held accountable to, Reid said.

“I think the challenges in Austin are very significant, and we have severe conditions,” said Reid, who also heads the Central Austin Neighborhood Association.

“So, in that environment, you can’t have a mediocre person. You really need somebody with skills, exceptional skills, to be in a situation that is this demanding.”

ANDE plans to compile candidates’ responses and measurements of leadership in the community, then post the information on its website so residents have an easy side-by-side comparison they can use when it comes time to go to the polls Feb. 24, Reid said.

The group will not endorse any candidate, she said.

Some of the top issues ANDE members would like to see addressed are economic development, safety and education, all areas that will “improve the lives of people in the neighborhood,” ANDE Vice President Fran Sapone said.

Although the Feb. 5 forum will focus solely on the 29th Ward, there are plans to expand future forums to include all of Austin, Reid said.

For more information, contact ANDE at or call (773) 234-1591.

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