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Cunha, Wright focus on future in City Council Place 4 race

Cunha, Wright focus on future in City Council Place 4 race

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Relationships and connections with College Station residents and businesses are important aspects to City Council Place 4 candidates Elizabeth Cunha and William Wright, and their focus is to make College Station a place for the next generation.

Cunha, 52, is running for re-election after serving 11 months in the seat. She was elected in 2020 to finish the unexpired term of Elianor Vessali, who resigned to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Congressional District 17 seat.

William Wright, 32, is a first-time candidate for City Council. A graduate of A&M Consolidated High School and Texas A&M, he grew up in College Station and serves as a production supervisor at Reynolds and Reynolds.

Early voting begins Monday and Election Day is Nov. 2. For more information about the election, voting locations and a sample ballot, go to BrazosVotes.com.

Elizabeth Cunha

Cunha, a credit recovery teacher at A&M Consolidated High School, said she feels like she just started as a City Council member and wants to continue the work that began in the last year.

“I ran because I don’t think governance works best in an echo chamber, and we have a super like-minded city council right now,” she said.

As the youngest City Council member and one of two women, she says she brings a different perspective and opinions that can lead to better and deeper discussions with fewer blind spots.

“What that looks like over the last 11 months is quite a few 6-1 votes, 5-2 votes, but what I hope it also does is invite people to just broaden their thinking a little bit, or deepen their thinking a little bit, and say, ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought of it that way before,’” she said. “So I’d like to continue that conversation.”

Cunha, who has lived in College Station for 30 years, said she has “kitchen table” access to the young professional and Texas A&M viewpoints through her children. She has one son living, working and raising his family in College Station and another son enrolled at Texas A&M.

“There’s a lot of personal skin in the game for me as far as making sure this is a place for the next generation to grow because it’s family,” she said. “… I know we’re getting bigger, but our heart can stay the same. That’s kind of my goal is to keep the heart of College Station true.”

She has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation board, the Planning and Zoning Commission and is currently chair of the Bicycles, Pedestrian and Greenways advisory board, focusing this chapter of her life on civic service.

She says she has tried to generate more community engagement by letting people know when topics that might interest them are on the council agenda, such as issues pertaining to micromobility.

Many times, she said, people’s frustration stems from not knowing that their frustrations are in the process of being addressed.

“Part of what I’ve tried to work on over the past 11 months is just connecting more people with what’s already happening; what’s already going on the ground, and that’s something that I’d like to continue,” she said.

Looking ahead, she said, the city’s need to expand its energy and emergency services have to be addressed. The council, at Cunha’s request, is expected to discuss placing solar panels on city buildings during its Oct. 28 meeting.

“I think Snowmageddon highlighted some places where we need some serious attention,” she said. “Is it going to solve everything? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes, I think it is. And one idea that somebody kind of put together was the old landfill. We can’t do a whole lot with that because it’s a landfill, but we could put solar panels on top of it and just provide an alternative energy source besides just depending on ERCOT.”

On emergency services, she said, the city’s growth to the south has outpaced its infrastructure for fire service.

“The national standard for response time for firemen is six minutes. There are places in our city that the that the average response time is 12 to 15 minutes just because we don’t have a fire station anywhere near those homes,” she said. “… We need that seventh fire station. That’s a place that needs to be fixed, and so I’d like to be one of the people pushing that through.”

She also said the city needs a sixth ambulance, and then a seventh when the next fire station is built.

“The basic function of a government is safety, so that fire piece is going to have to come in,” Cunha said, emphasizing its importance whether she is re-elected or not.

She is also concerned about the city’s debt and traffic congestion. She would like to see more mobility options, rather than just building more roads, and then consider general obligation debt that is voted on by citizens rather than certificates of obligation the City Council approves.

“I spend a lot of time worrying about things that I used to take for granted,” she said. “I think when I was younger, the city just magically ran, and now that I’m older, I just would like to steer really conservatively.”

William Wright

Wright, who will turn 33 before the end of the month, said running for City Council was the next step for him after serving on the Historic Preservation Committee and the Planning and Zoning Commission.

He attended the city’s Citizens University in 2018 and was compelled to serve the city.

“It goes through every part of how the city functions, and I fell in love with that,” Wright said.

He compared the city to a business. In his supervisor role at Reynolds and Reynolds, he has about 30 people report to him daily and is responsible for responding to their needs and trying to make sure they put out quality products as efficiently as possible.

Wright said someone asked him what made him mad enough to run for the Place 4 seat; however, his campaign is not out of anger. He said he wants to represent the young professionals such as himself that he does not see on the current City Council and feels he can bridge the gap between what the city was and what it will be.

“There’s nothing that made me mad, to be honest,” he said. “I feel a sense of civic duty in a way. This is just an expression of how I care about the city, and I want to give back to the city, and I want to make my stamp on the city. It’s not necessarily running full of anger or vigor or against anything as much as I want to help lead the city into the future.”

One of his focuses is helping College Station establish its business identity and make it easier for local businesses to open and succeed.

“I think that last year, especially with COVID, I think the city itself, in my perspective, got exposed to the fact that if A&M is gone, how many businesses suffered? A lot did. A lot of our local businesses suffered,” he said.

Wright said he wants College Station to establish its own identity through local businesses.

“One of my first big goals would be to make sure that we have a good working relationship with local entrepreneurs and people that want to do business here,” he said. “As part of my running, I want to talk to different business owners, local business owners.”

He wants to see a faster, more efficient timeline for businesses to get permits and open.

“I think that pipeline can probably shrink down a little bit, but I really want to focus on helping local businesses get started and thrive, so that we can get a bit more of a College Station identity about ourselves and not just you know, home of Texas A&M and Costco and Chili’s,” he said.

Looking ahead, Wright said one of the city’s greatest challenges is housing.

While he wants to see neighborhoods keep their established culture, he says high-density housing can be constructed to meet the need of the city.

Down payment assistance programs help homeowners, but Wright said more people of his generation are choosing to rent rather than own. As more businesses and people move to College Station, the need for housing will increase. The question, he said, is how the city addresses that need, saying single-family homes likely will not be the answer.

“The answer is more than likely, 100%, you have to build density somewhere; you have to build apartment complexes, but I think that with that idea, it can scare people,” he said.

Renters scare people, he said, because some equate renters with ”bedlam,” forgetting renters can also be young professionals and young families like his.

“We are moving into a different generation that has disposable income, and it might not be the single-family homes for everybody anymore. It’s opening up sort of our minds and our ideas to, OK, apartment complexes are going to be twofold,” he said. “It’s going to help with the population that’s going to keep coming in, and it’s going to cater to that population that actually wants it.”

Wright added he is not focused on previous battles, but is focused on moving forward together.

“Otherwise, I think that College Station will stutter, and I don’t think that’s what’s in the best interest of the citizens, either,” he said. “I think the citizens want to see unity on the council and sort of like-mindedness and willing to compromise. I don’t think citizens necessarily want to see just contrarian votes for the sake of being contrarian. I think people want to see each other try to work what’s best for just the everyday citizen.”

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