AUSTIN — Amid record violent crime on the streets, a “dire situation” at the defunded local police department, and an ongoing homelessness crisis throughout the city, Austin Mayor Steve Adler says the state of Texas’ capital city is the “strongest in the country.”

On Monday, Adler delivered his annual address at city hall, speaking for 45 minutes and spending much of the time aiming at citizens who disagree with him and have criticized him for a tumultuous two-year saga.

The Recent History

The story began in 2019, when Adler and the Democrat-run Austin City Council first legalized open camping in nearly all public spaces across the city (except city hall, notably). The decision provoked a swarm of tent cities along sidewalks and neighborhoods, a drastic surge of homeless individuals in the city, a wildfire of public outcry, a more dangerous public environment (including record numbers of violent crime and homicides), a citizen movement and petition campaign, and finally this year, a May election where Austinites of both political parties overwhelmingly voted to restore the city’s original public camping rules.

During that time, Adler and the city council unanimously voted to defund the Austin Police Department by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget) and cancel three police cadet training academies. Since then, APD has been forced to disband numerous units, homicides on the streets have broken records (52 so far this year, compared to a record 42 from all of 2020), and APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon has said the department is in a “dire situation.”

And that doesn’t even mention the city council’s runaway property taxes and spending, with billions of racked-up debt contributing to an affordability crisis for working families and two credit rating downgrades in the past year, or their “D” fiscal health rating by the nonprofit Truth in Accounting.

The Mayor’s Perception

However, Adler characterized the city in a much different light on Monday.

“The state of our city is not only strong, but the strongest in the country,” Adler said. “We should pause and celebrate this achievement.”

Adler then decried what he called “misinformation,” aimed at citizens who have organized to stop some of the city council’s decisions.

“Despite all that is good around us, there are some who want to polarize and divide our community with misinformation. While we should be celebrating our shared successes, there are those who seem to seek out ways to foster fear and engender hate,” Adler said. “It’s almost as if creating a climate and a movement that seeks to separate and divide us from one another has become a pastime or a sport.”

“No longer do we find ourselves just disagreeing with each other. There is a corresponding and almost inherent need to dislike, distrust, and even demonize those with whom we disagree.”

Adler then went on to demonize what he called “hyper-partisan outlets and right-wing alternative news sites,” calling them a “danger for Austin and for our country.” Several months ago, Adler tweeted that voters in the May election were “much, much older and much, much more Republican,” although a majority of Democrats voted against the mayor and council’s camping decision.

Adler’s attacks on Monday also seemed to mostly target citizen group Save Austin Now, though he didn’t mention them by name. The bipartisan coalition was formed in the wake of the council’s 2019 homelessness actions and led the successful May petition campaign as well as a current law enforcement campaign for the November election.

Adler also discussed several other topics, including the coronavirus and vaccines mandates (which he said he’s working to force on city employees) and the city council’s planned “Black Embassy” (a city facility only servicing citizens of certain skin colors).

Austinites’ Response

“By strong you mean a city government that constantly raises taxes and pushes a failed progressive agenda while ignoring citizens wishes,” one individual tweeted in reaction to the mayor’s remarks.

“As mayor, a divisive figure (characterizing disagreement as misinformation) whose legacy will be tent cities, police hostility, rising crime, and mask mandates,” another wrote. “Thankfully the [state legislature] and [May camping vote] forced course corrections.”

Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek also responded.

“Steve Adler’s state of the city should have been a short apology for destroying standard of living in a thriving city in two short years,” their statement read. “His twin disaster of a homeless camping ordinance and an absurd defund the police budget cut have made life in Austin worse for everyone. After predicting a ‘close’ election in May, he lost 58–42. In November, a majority of Austinites will raise up and demand an adequately staffed police department.”

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.