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Jose "Chito" Vela announced his run for City Council on Tuesday. (Jose "Chito" Vella/Facebook)

Jose Vela, a local immigration and criminal defense attorney, will run in a special election to fill the Austin City Council seat that opened when Greg Casar resigned and announced his bid for Congress.

Vela announced his candidacy for District 4 outside the Windsor Park public library Tuesday morning. He noted that libraries hold special significance to him, calling them a symbol of our shared resources and community spirit. Growing up, Vela's mother was a school teacher and librarian in his hometown of Laredo, Texas.

"With my mother's history, there's no better place to announce that I am running for Austin City Council District 4," Vela said, with chants of his nickname Chito following.

Vela outlined three priorities he has if he wins the special election:

  • the Project Connect light rail
  • the housing crisis
  • response to the February storm that resulted in the death of an estimated 702 Texans.

"We must make sure that Austin is a welcoming city for working-class people, not a playground for the wealthy," Vela said. "For too long people have been forced out. You see our writers and our musicians and our actors and our creative class—folks that used to come to Austin because it fostered creativity and opportunity for so many people, and they're struggling to remain in the city."

Vela moved to Austin in 1992 to study history at the University of Texas at Austin. Since then, his experience has included serving on the city's planning commission, working as board chair of the Workers Defense Project, which advocates for low-wage, immigrant workers, and as president of Blanton Elementary's PTA. Addressing his interest in prioritizing housing, Vela described his current neighborhood, which he moved to in 2005, as "humble."

"Now we've seen housing in this neighborhood—$600,000, $700,000 homes— that are out of reach for the vast majority of Austinites. He added that people renting apartments have similar concerns over affordability. "We have to get our housing situation under control," Vela said.

And when it comes to concerns over the grid, Vela said "we can't let that happen again." Since the February storms, the grid has still not been winterized. But Vela said that Austin owns its own utility and can create reliable spaces for people to go if blackouts happen.

Since the new City Council districts map does not come into play until fall 2022, only residents residing in the current District 4 boundaries will be able to vote in this election.

"Austin is a great city. It can be a better city, it can be a fairer city, it can be a more equitable and just city," Vela said. "And that's what I want to do."

The special election date has not been announced as of yet but is expected to take place in early 2022. The elected person will serve the rest of Casar's term, which ends in January 2025.

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