Familiar face

Former Texas Sen. Kirk Watson wants to return as mayor of Austin

Former Texas Sen. Kirk Watson wants to return as mayor of Austin

Kirk Watson
Austin's former mayor has joined the city's mayoral race.  Kirkwatson.com

Kirk Watson, who was mayor of Austin more than 20 years ago and is former state senator, once again wants to lead the Capital City.

Watson, a Democrat who’s an attorney, announced Tuesday, February 22 that he has joined the mayoral race.

“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 tweeted

In an email announcing his mayoral candidacy, Watson spelled out priorities such as:

  • Tackling the rise in Austin’s cost of living.
  • Taking on homelessness.
  • Combating systemic racism.
  • Improving public safety.
  • Beefing up transportation.
  • Managing the city’s success.

“I’m running for mayor because there’s more to do. I want to ensure that our city effectively addresses the range of issues that will define our future,” Watson says in the email. “Austin should be thinking big. We should be setting and achieving aspirational goals. And we should be able to do those things while still providing basic day-to-day services.”

“With optimistic, common-sense leadership — leadership with a proven track record of success — we can assure that Austin seizes the enormous opportunities on its horizon and enhances the life of every Austinite,” he adds.

Other announced candidates for mayor of Austin include state Rep. Celia Israel, a Democrat; Jennifer Virden, a conservative who’s a real estate broker and former Austin City Council candidate; and Erica Nix, a “body-positivity ambassador” and former Austin City Council candidate. Potential challengers include Austin City Council member Kathy Tovo and personal-injury attorney Adam Loewy.

The winner of this November’s nonpartisan mayoral contest will succeed Steve Adler, who’s prohibited from running for a third four-year term.

Watson served as mayor of Austin from 1997 to 2001, a period highlighted the devastating dot-com bust. During that time, “he won praise for bringing different political sides together around transformative environmental and economic development initiatives,” according to an official Watson bio.

Watson went on to become the 2002 Democratic nominee for Texas attorney general but lost to Republican Greg Abbott, who’s now the governor.

From 2007 to 2020, Watson represented Bastrop County and parts of Travis County in the state Senate. Perhaps his most notable achievement as a senator was spearheading the effort to build the $436 million medical school at the University of Texas.

“After an unprecedented show of support by local voters, the Dell Medical School became the first medical school in nearly 50 years to be built from the ground up at a top-tier research university,” the official bio notes.

In 2020, Watson became the founding dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. However, he left that post in 2021. Watson’s departure from the university raised speculation that he was gearing up to seek yet another term as mayor of Austin.

At the time, Watson denied he was preparing to run for office. Rather, according to The Texas Tribune, the COVID-19 pandemic and a year of remote work had “changed his perspective on and enthusiasm for the job.”