Phil Brual, the UT Austin student running for mayor
TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2022
BY SEAN SALDAÑA
On Nov. 8, 2022 Austin will elect a new mayor, and already a number of high-profile candidates have entered the race.
And among those candidates is Phil Brual, a 21-year-old University of Texas student born and raised in Austin.
In many ways, Brual’s campaign mirrors that of his competitors – focusing on issues like affordability, public transportation, homelessness and public safety. One important place he differs: notoriety.
Candidates like Kirk Watson, Celia Israel, and Jennifer Virden have years of experience in politics, business, or both. Phil Brual is a newcomer, something he’s keenly aware of, telling the Austin Monitor, “though my lack of a resume seems to show inexperience, it’s as far from the truth as it could ever be.”
Brual is confident in his abilities to lead the city for a couple of reasons. In addition to being a regular at City Council meetings where he’s learning the ins and outs of local government, he’s an intern with Texas Rep. Ryan Guillen. Perhaps most importantly, he feels like he relates to the issues facing Austinites.
“I’m living in a building with four other roommates and we share a bathroom, pay high rent, and I’m able to understand the daily struggles of people in the city, so my lack of experience is not an issue that exists,” says Brual.
With the election a few months away and still out of focus for most Austinites, Brual is still in the process of building momentum.
One place he’s cultivating support is Austin’s deaf community. Raised by deaf mothers who teach at the Texas School for the Deaf, he’s aware of the barriers that can exist in local government.
Phil Brual is a progressive. After the Dobbs decision came down, he made a point to come out in support of women’s right to choose. He uses hashtags like #lgbtsupporter on social media, and even made the effort to announce his campaign in sign language (his first language) on Instagram.
At the same time, his policy views are based in pragmatism.
For example, he’s a strong believer in police oversight and reform, but the method by which Austin has tried to achieve that – via budget cuts – he’s not so sure about, saying “they have a very big budget but they’re still struggling. They’re working overtime hours consistently. They don’t have task forces to help them deal with specific issues … and it’s very upsetting that the police department doesn’t have the resources that they need.”
Increasing the efficiency of public transit is a cornerstone of Brual’s campaign, but he’s not thrilled about Project Connect, the light rail system Austinites overwhelmingly voted in favor of in 2020.
Initially the project had an estimated price tag of $7 billion, but that estimate has now grown to $10 billion and its planned routes could involve the eminent domain acquisition of many businesses around the University of Texas – the Ballroom at Spider House, Halal Bros, and Dirty Martin’s, to name a few.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if (the cost of Project Connect) went up to $20 billion by the end of the project. I love the theory of the idea but when it came down to planning and looking at what we’re doing, it was planned horrifically in my opinion,” Brual said.
Still though, he would one day like to see Austin turn into what he calls “a non-car-commute city” with a robust system of buses, a greater emphasis on creating bike lanes, and a gradual relaxation on parking requirements for buildings – all with the goal of allowing more people to live in the city.
More than anything, he feels like what Austinites are looking for is “stability” – incremental changes that will ease the problems facing people most. He’s campaigning on a regression to the mean: making Austin a safe place to raise families and build community.
Right now, he’s primarily funding his campaign with three part-time jobs – working with veterans under a doctor in North Austin, picking up shifts at a tech company, and driving Uber on weekends – the rest of his time is dedicated to the campaign and familiarizing himself with local politics. According to his latest campaign finance report, Brual has raised $250 in campaign contributions so far, putting him far behind the front-runners.
Kirk Watson has raised nearly $1 million, shattering the previous record of $366,000. Celia Israel has raised $253,305 and Jennifer Virden has raised $131,177.
Phil Brual is a long shot for mayor and he knows it.
He has yet to receive any major endorsements, his campaign’s Twitter account only has a handful of followers (though his Instagram account has more than 450), and most of his supporters are – like Brual himself – younger millennials and members of Gen Z looking for something different.
But long shot or not, he intends to see the race through, saying, “Even if I am the only person to vote for myself – if I come out with a final count of one vote – I do not care. My name will be on the ballot in November.”
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