Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat running in Texas 35th Congressional District caused an uproar among some Austin and San Antonio Democrats after using a campaign mailer to attack his opponent, former Austin City Councilman Greg Casar.
The mailer, first reported by the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, touts Rodriguez’ legislative record on affordable housing and accuses Casar of designing the “disastrous ordinance lifting the ban on tent cities in Austin.”
“As an Austin City Council member, Greg Casar ended Austin’s ban on encampments in public spaces, allowing homeless people to set up tents anywhere and making the city less safe,” the mailer reads.
The mailer accuses Casar of not being progressive for failing to build affordable housing during his tenure, a claim that can be debunked as recently as October, when Austin City Council and Casar were touting plans to have 2,200 supportive housing units available by 2024 — a number that steadily grown from zero to more than 700 in recent years. (“In the last two years, our city has voted to put 775 homes on the ground to pull people off the streets,” Casar told Austin’s KVUE weeks before launching his campaign.)
The mailer goes on to show a homeless encampment with the caption, “This is Greg Casar’s failed answer to the homeless crisis.”
The negative mailer prompted an angry written response from several Austin-San Antonio elected officials, including Reps. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) and James Talarico (D-Round Rock), Travis County District Attorney José Garza and County Attorney Delia Garza, and five city council members from both cities.
“We, the undersigned Democratic officials and progressive leaders, call on your campaign to cease using Republican-style campaign tactics,” the letter says. “Your latest political attack mailer appears to fear monger about unhoused people and disparage the work of the Austin City Council.”
“Democrats should not blame the poor and unhoused for their challenges, and we should instead work toward a bold vision of affordable housing for all,” the letter continues. “In 2021, the Travis County Democratic Party and other Central Texas Democrats stood firmly against the Republican effort to attack unhoused residents in Austin. The messaging used in your recent mail piece suggests a Gov. Greg Abbott-style approach to campaigning. These tactics are shameful and have no place in the Democratic Party.”
In 2019, Austin City Council repealed ordinances in the city that criminalized sleeping or sitting in public. The council voted 9-2 to repeal the ordinances which they said worsened homelessness and made it more difficult for homeless people with citations to find jobs or housing.
Casar supported the repeal of the ordinances, saying at the time, “I know that changing these ordinances will be unpopular with some people. I’m not trying to downplay the challenges that we’re going to face, but we can take on those challenges in a better way.”
The vote to repeal the anti-homeless ordinances was also supported by Mayor Steve Adler, who in a Sunday tweet called Rodriguez’ campaign imagery disappointing and incorrect.
In May of 2021, Austin’s public camping ban was reinstated after voters approved Proposition B, a petition kicked off by the Republican-founded PAC Save Austin Now.
Mailer Photo: Patrick Svitek / Texas Tribune