Austin’s mayor is again frustrating citizens after a controversial $350 million cancellation and his seemingly contradictory comments about it.
Last week, Austin Mayor Steve Adler canceled the massive South By Southwest festival due to coronavirus concerns. This year’s festival was estimated to bring roughly $350 million to Austinites and is a lifeline for many local workers and small businesses.
However, a day after the mayor made his announcement, Adler posted a video on Twitter where he, State Sen. Kirk Watson, and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told Austinites to go out in public and do all of the things they would have done during SXSW.
“We canceled ‘South By’ this week; there are a lot of people that are hurting because of that. Now is the time that we should be going to restaurants, going to clubs, buying musicians’ merchandise, helping one another,” Adler said.
“We want to be sure everybody knows it’s still safe and a wonderful thing to stand with Austin,” Eckhardt added. “So y’all get out and enjoy yourselves.”
Sen. Watson then solicited viewers to donate to an organization that is supposed to assist the businesses and individuals Adler just hurt by canceling the festival.
“You can make a contribution to help those people who are hit the hardest by this and are the least likely to be able to come out of it,” said Watson.
Adler said in a separate interview that public safety concern primarily drove the decision, even though Austin Public Health said last Wednesday there is “no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.”
Adler added that he thinks the disease will inevitably come to Austin and says closing down SXSW wasn’t intended to stop it. In fact, Mark Escott with Austin Public Health said “one concern is if we shut down SXSW, people will still continue to come here.”
Meanwhile, SXSW and the local community are devastated by the loss of a vital source of income. The festival announced they will be laying off one-third of their full-time staff of roughly 150 people, in what they described as a “necessary but heartbreaking step.”
“Due to the City of Austin’s unprecedented and unexpected cancellation of the SXSW 2020 events in March, SXSW has been rigorously reviewing our operations, and we are in the unimaginable position of reducing our workforce,” they said in a statement.
Scores of Austinites, including those in the hospitality and creative arts industries, lean heavily on the work from the festival to provide for their families throughout the year. Rachel Magee, who is involved in the live theater industry, said just the technicians and workers who were supposed to set up and tear down SXSW lost more than $157,000 in combined wages and benefits.
“The income that I’ve lost, I was either going to use to help pay for the tuition for my daughter who’s at college, or I could have used it to purchase three months’ health insurance premiums to help cover our family,” Magee said.
Adler’s Twitter video provoked hundreds of citizens’ replies, some questioning if the decision was really necessary.
“32 million cases of influenza and close to 20,000 deaths in the US since September 2019? Under 300 cases of coronavirus in US and it’s a natural disaster?” one citizen said. “Canceling the largest economic driver in Austin is just another terrible decision by this City Council.”
“We had more people killed in one tornado in Tennessee than have died in the US from the Coronavirus,” another wrote. “It is absurd to have sweeping cancellations of events.”
“50,000 UT students will be traveling next week on spring break and then returning to Austin the following week. Hello covid19,” another added.
Even national talk show host Rush Limbaugh commented on Adler’s decision, saying that after the mayor made people afraid, he’s now “begging people to go outside.”
“[Adler] set in motion a massive economic conundrum for the city of Austin by trying to be politically correct and cancels South by Southwest, but now he’s having to urge people [paraphrase], ‘Forget my cancellation of the big convention. You still should feel safe to go outside and mingle.’”