After 10 years representing District 1, Waco Councilman Wilbert Austin is hoping to fight off yet another challenger who questions his effectiveness in turning East Waco around.
His opponent, business manager Mark Shaw, is hoping voter dissatisfaction will propel him to victory in the May 7 local council elections.
“We have not had enough positive change,” said Shaw, 55, who works at the Johnson Group. “We can’t say things are much greater than they were five years ago. I can’t see it. I think we’re still behind the city of Waco as a whole. People still have a stigma about East Waco.”
Austin, 76, a minister, said Shaw is wrong about progress in his district and that Shaw lacks a track record to show he would do better.
“If you run for some position, you need to have done something in the community,” Austin said. “It’s that simple. I don’t think you can name anything he’s done in the community. He doesn’t know what goes on in the community. . . . He’s never been involved in civic affairs. I’ve been involved over 50 years.”
Shaw acknowledged that he doesn’t serve on any civic boards, but he said he has been involved in the community as a longtime resident and businessman and owner of several properties. He said he would work to bring more business to the east side of the river, such as a sit-down restaurant, law offices and a dental office.
”Let’s find out what businesses will work, and let’s go recruit them,” he said.
District 1 encompasses not just East Waco but the Timbercrest neighborhood, parts of far South Waco and neighborhoods around McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College.
Shaw said residents in those areas have told him they don’t feel represented at city hall, and he wants to change that.
“I’d love the Timbercrest and Cameron Park areas to be a model for all East Waco,” he said. “I hope I can help to bridge that gap.”
Shaw, who lives in East Waco’s Riverside neighborhood, said he would like to improve East Waco’s attractiveness to residents and businesses by boosting police presence and improving parks.
He said he would like to see restrooms in all city parks, including East Waco Park on Hood Street, an idea Austin has opposed on grounds that it would bring more illicit activity to the park that the city has begun turning around.
“That park is for our kids, and we are taking it back,” Shaw said.
Austin said the city is preparing to make major improvements to East Waco Park, including new curbs and sidewalks, better lighting and playground improvements.
He said that’s just one example of East Waco’s steady improvement in the decade he has been its representative. He noted investments by Rapoport Academy at Quinn Campus and the city’s new fire station and renovation of the East Waco Library now underway. He said Baylor’s creation of the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative research park and McLane Stadium are also having a long-term effect on East Waco.
Shaw said the pace of change has been too slow, and East Waco’s reputation needs to change.
“He’s saying he’s more qualified to be on the council,” Shaw said. “I don’t see how the community has benefited from his experience. . . . I see this is as a volunteer deal. If I can’t make a difference and bring about positive change, you don’t have to worry about me running again.”