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Council Member Greg Casar and Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak have been at odds since 2019. (Laura Figi)

When City Council Member Greg Casar announced a run for Congress in early November, few were more outraged than Travis GOP chair and Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak.

Fresh off a Save Austin Now defeat at the polls, Mackowiak and co-founder Cleo Petricek had some choice words to say for their perpetual political enemy.

"He's destroyed our city with his radical agenda, especially as he led the effort to pass the homeless camping ordinance and then defund the police," Mackowiak and Petricek told Austonia. "He has made life in Austin measurably worse for families and all District 4 residents. He should resign in disgrace, not seek a higher office."

The dueling figureheads, both beloved and hated by different sects of the Austin community, are now 1-1 in the ring—Save Austin Now won the reinstatement of the homeless camping ban in May then lost the police department reforms initiative this month—as Mackowiak and Save Austin Now look to thwart Casar's congressional efforts.

Petricek, a Democrat, most recently endorsed Democrat Eddie Rodriguez, the only other prominent political figure up against Casar so far for Congress' District 35 seat. Casar immediately countered the move by saying he wouldn't accept donations from any organization that receives donations from SAN or corporate PACs, requesting that his soon-to-be opponent do the same.

"We're calling on Eddie Rodriguez and every other Democratic candidate in this race to take this same pledge–to reject contributions from major donors of the Republican-front group Save Austin Now and reject contributions from corporate PACs," Casar's office said. "This should be a Democratic primary, not one influenced by divisive Republican groups."

The fire-and-ice opponents have had beef since long before Congress. Back in 2015, a then-25 year old Casar made waves in Austin's city politics as the youngest to ever be elected to a City Council position. A left-leaning activist, Casar championed paid sick day policies, 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.

But the Casar vs. Mackowiak saga truly began in 2019, when both Mackowiak and Petricek formed an unlikely alliance and created Save Austin Now after both passionately spoke out against the city's repeal of the homeless camping ban in a City Council meeting.

Casar, who championed the vote, said he knew changing the ordinances would be unpopular with some but said the city could "take on those challenges in a better way."

"We can house people. We can serve people. We can address the core issues. We can improve all of our safety, rather than perpetuating instability and insecurity," Casar said.

Once on the fringes of Austin's politics, Mackowiak captured the growing fears of certain Austinites as the city's homeless population became increasingly visible, leading some to believe that public safety was at risk.

And by May, Mackowiak and Save Austin Now celebrated its first underdog victory after raising a near-record $1.9 million to reinstate the ban.

1-0 Save Austin Now.

An ever-more-confident Mackowiak continued his initiative to solve Austin's issues with a policing bill set for the upcoming November election. Once again, Casar—who became a figurehead for police reform in the wake of 2020's police brutality protests—found himself on the opposite end of the fight.

Casar crafted a three-tiered plan to cut and reallocate $150 million of the police budget, move certain branches out of the policing umbrella and halt cadet classes last summer.

But as homicide numbers broke records in 2021 and APD lost employees and struggled with quick responses, Mackowiak argued that the fight was far from over. SAN instituted a new ballot measure—Prop A—to increase police staffing to just over two officers for 1,000 residents, a measure that some said would take millions from other city departments.

And to Mackowiak's chagrin, Casar, APD police chief Joseph Chacon, and Austin voters were resoundingly against the measure as Prop A lost by 37 percentage points in November.

1-1 Casar.

So what's next for Austin's biggest political enemies?

Casar's campaign announced that it secured more than $100,000 from over 700 individuals in its first 72 hours, gained over 1,000 volunteers and celebrated three kickoff parties over the weekend.

But even with a recent loss, Mackowiak said SAN's "resolve has deepened"—including possibly bringing a Casar opponent into the congressional race.



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