What’s the deal with Center for Austin’s Future?

The Center for Austin’s Future, you may recall, is a group founded last year by Ward Tisdale, the former head of the Real Estate Council of Austin, with the support of a bunch of other business folks and former elected officials, including three former mayors.

The group’s objective is to train “future-focused leaders” to run for office. Channeling the tech ethos, the group invites people interested in sorta/kinda/maybe being a candidate someday to apply to an “accelerator” program. As Michael King explained:

The website summarizes: “The ATXelerator™, a tech accelerator-like entity, will seat its first class in January to attract energetic, future-focused political candidates for City of Austin municipal elections or leaders in other areas of city government such as board or commission members.” The corollary hope is to increase voter turnout, “relying on voter analytics, to expand the voting population, especially historically inactive voters.”

Potential candidates will spend eight weeks studying city government, from land use to bonds, and then compete for three positions in a mock election.

KUT’s Audrey McGlitchy described the group’s mission:

In the same way that organizations like Emily’s List prep Democratic women to run for office, ATXelerator is looking for a specific candidate – one who generally espouses the ideals of building environmentally friendly and walkable development through denser construction and a larger variety of housing types.

Indeed, part of the training involved an electric bike ride through the Seaholm district and past Plaza Saltillo –– to gain a sense of appreciation for mixed-use development.

If New Urbanism is their jam, then it totally makes sense that they tried their darndest to knock off Kathie Tovo in favor of CAF-trained progressive candidate Danielle Skidmore. Their support for Pio Renteria and Natasha Harper-Madison is similarly intuitive.

But what doesn’t make sense is that they are supporting Frank Ward, who said that allowing more density in single-family areas would “destroy the character of a lot of our existing neighborhoods.” Especially since Ward’s opponent, Paige Ellis, has emphasized her support for more density and transit-oriented development.

Reasoned one urbanist activist: “My gut is that there are a lot of business type Republicans involved and that they simply don’t align perfectly with urbanists, while still wanting to capitalize on urbanist energy. Also there’s that Ward/Ward name synergy.”

The funny thing is, despite the urbanist spiel that Tisdale fed the media about the organization earlier this year, the group’s website doesn’t really line up with that identity at all. The “issues” section says nothing about land use, environmentalism, affordable housing, public transit, walkability. It instead offers a few shallow talking points that could have easily been ripped from a Republican brochure:

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Besides perhaps the last bullet under Accountability, there’s nothing on that list that Don Zimmerman would disagree with.

I got Tisdale on the phone and he tells me not to put too much stock in the website, which he said he plans to update soon. He also says that he believes that Ward’s position on development may have been misunderstood and mischaracterized based on one quote he made in a KXAN interview (that is indeed where I drew my conclusion from).

Asked why they prefer Ward to Ellis, Tisdale emphasized that the group aims to support centrist government that includes a variety of political perspectives that better-reflect the community. To that end, he thinks it would benefit Council to have at least one right-of-center voice.

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