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Three terms later: Congressional hopeful Greg Casar leaves City Hall, but his progressive legacy will remain

Greg Casar had his last city council meeting this week as he runs for U.S. Congress. (Greg Casar/Facebook)

Gregorio "Greg" Casar, Austin's City Council member with the most celebrity status—and maybe the most sway in city affairs—will no longer be hanging his hat in City Hall come Monday.

Casar, who announced his bid for U.S. Congress representing Texas' District 35 in November, had his three-term tenure come to a slippery end as Council met for his final meeting in icy conditions Thursday. He'll have his last official day Monday before devoting all of his time to the campaign trail.

His new campaign amassed more than $100,000 in its first 72 hours and now has big-name endorsements like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in its repertoire. But it wasn't so long ago that Casar was an outsider at City Hall.

A decade ago, Casar first walked into City Hall, representing the Workers Defense Project in front of council for a soon-to-be-passed bill requiring rest areas at construction sites. At 25, Casar became the youngest-ever Council member in 2014, was reelected twice, and earned a reputation as the voice of City Council—for better or for worse, depending on who you ask.

He'll leave the post to mixed reviews. But Casar's outspoken progressive activism has further cemented Austin as the most liberal stronghold in Texas politics, earning him both praise and ire from community members and state and federal politicians.

With City Council, Casar continued to champion his previous efforts on workers' rights, helping to implement paid-sick-days laws that passed in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas but was thwarted by state governments. Arguably the most progressive Austin politician to date, Casar helped clear the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits within the Austin Police Department, fought for affordable housing and immigration policies and worked to decriminalize certain nonviolent crimes.

Casar became the face of many movements, including pushing for police budget cuts and reallocations during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. He found a strong opponent to his policy in Save Austin Now's Matt Mackowiak, who successfully dismantled Casar's 2019 reversal of the city's homeless camping ban in May 2021. Casar, who would represent the opposing side to SAN, won the battle against Mackowiak's proposal for increasing police staffing in November 2021.

His supporters admired his outspoken political strategy as much as his detractors viewed it with contempt; enemies, including Mackowiak, often criticized Mayor Steve Adler for following Casar's whims too closely. Highly-publicized spats with state government, often with the help of Adler, drew both positive and negative publicity to the city's policies.

But even when his relentless pursuits lose out, or opponents label his policies divisive, Casar has been undeterred, and his work has gotten the attention of Democratic politicians including governor hopeful Beto O'Rourke.

His work likely won't be lost anytime soon: at least some of Casar's policies should bleed into the tenure of Jose "Chito" Vela, a Democratic immigration and criminal defense attorney who will take Casar's seat after a January Special Election.

Meanwhile, Casar will take his ever-growing following to San Antonio on Saturday, Feb. 12 alongside Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros as the campaign race continues ahead of the primaries in March.


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