At 31-years-old progressive Democrat Zohaib Qadri has worked behind the scenes for some big name progressive politicians including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former El Paso Congressman Beto O’ Rourke. But now Qadri is stepping into his own race hoping to secure the seat for Austin City Council District 9.
The Signal spoke to Qadri on his journey into politics, critical issues facing centrally located district 9, and what he hopes to achieve as a council member if elected.
According to Qadri, his passion for community service specifically comes from his background as a first generation Pakistani-American and his parents teaching him the importance of giving back to his community.
So how did you get into politics?
“I’m someone who was already really motivated by service. Both of my parents are immigrants to the states and both of them were in medicine. My dad was a physician and my mom worked in the lab. So I saw how they gave back to their patients. Oftentimes after work and on the weekends they would take me and my siblings to volunteer at animal shelters, food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. At first, I wanted to become a doctor because I could help people that were sick and then I could use those resources from that job and help my community. But then I started school at the University of Texas and I realized my interest didn’t align in medicine. I still wanted to give back to the community, but I saw it more through law, policy, and government.”
Qadri said after his father’s sudden death in his undergraduate years at UT, he knew a career in politics is exactly what his dad would want him to do.
You have a lot of experience in other election races. So why did you choose Austin City Council to be your first office run?
“I moved here originally as a student at UT. I grew up in this district. I met my now wife in this district. So for me, it’s home. At 31-years-old, I’ve lived in a few states. I’ve never lived anywhere longer in my life than I’ve lived in Austin and I’ve never lived anywhere longer than I have in District 9. This district has given me so much like the friendships I’ve made or relationships I’ve had and the education aspect of it. But also, after I lost my dad, being in Austin kept me together because it was the lowest point of my life. And I think local politics is extremely important. It’s not necessarily the sexiest race. But local politics affect you and your loved ones on a day-to-day basis. I wouldn’t run for anything else truthfully.”
I’ve read a couple of reports on the housing affordability crisis right now in Austin. What are your thoughts on it and how do you plan to fix it?
“I love this city. I tell my mom all the time if I wasn’t living in Austin I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Texas. That being said, the city is extremely unaffordable. I’m a renter in Austin and it’s expensive to rent, let alone own a home. I have a lot of classmates of mine who graduated from UT and live in Austin and in the past few years have left because they can’t afford to live in the city as renters. I think we are truly letting our people and community down. We need to build more housing, and build more affordable housing for low income families. And one of the big things in Austin is how often our unhoused community is unfairly attacked by those high up whether at the state level or local level. I think it says a lot about a city and how we treat our most underserved and in that aspect I think we have failed. We need to make sure this city works for everyone. Because my neighbor across the hallway is as much as my neighbor as my unhoused neighbor outside of this building.”
For context, according to reports, rental prices in Austin are highest amongst all other major cities in the state, making it one of the most expensive Texas cities to live in and steadily increasing the number of homeless people in the area since 2019.
Moreover, Proposition B, a ballot initiative that criminalizes homelessness in the city, passed in 2021 with enforcement already pushing the unhoused community into areas away from resources.
So Qadri said the city should focus its resources specifically on the unhoused community. In addition to unaffordable housing, other issues Qadri wants to address are climate justice, public safety, and civic engagement.
If elected, how do you plan in the future to reform public safety in District 9 and the city?
“For me, more cops doesn’t equal more safety. Especially for a lot of communities. I’m not a fan of increasing the police budget. I don’t believe we need more cops patrolling the streets. I think there are a lot of things the city can invest in like safer streets, more lighting, better infrastructure, better roads, and better sidewalks that can lead to better public safety. I don’t think if there’s a mental health emergency and you call 911 that a cop needs to show up.”
In the 2021 legislative session, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed some bills that specifically target the LGBTQIA+ community in Texas. What do you plan to do to protect that community?
“I’ve actually reached out to some folks in the transgender community and what I said to them was I think it’s beautiful what Austin has done so far. I think a lot of it is symbolic support which is great. But I asked them: what can city council and county commissioners do in terms of laws that will protect y’all? So that’s something that I’m looking into because I want to make sure yes symbolically I support them, but also what can we do to put forward certain protections to make sure that discrimination is not something the community has to live with.”
If elected, I know you’ll be the first Pakistani American ever on Austin City Council. What does that mean to you?
“Yeah, I would be the first Pakistani, South Asian, and also Muslim on city council and it’s kind of ridiculous that we’re going into 2022 and that has to be said. But I didn’t run with the intention of ever being the first of anything. I’m running because I truly care about the city and the issues. When I was a kid, if I saw someone who looked like me on TV or the movies, they were made fun of because of how they spoke. And then after 9/11 people who look like me were always either terrorist, blowing up a building, or blowing up a plane. And the effect that it has on a child is embarrassing. I always felt flustered like why can’t I be the superhero or the good guy. So I think representation is important in arts and entertainment, but also in government.”
According to Qadri, District 9 covers key areas in the city, including Hyde Park, the University of Texas, Downtown, South Congress, Clarksville, and more. Election Day for this local race is Nov. 8 2022.