The “traveling circus” (as David Kunkle describes it) entered the ring yet again for another debate on who’s best fit to be the next mayor of Dallas.
All four candidates — Mike Rawlings, David Kunkle, Ron Natinsky, and Edward Okpa — attended last night’s mayoral forum at Vickery Towers in East Dallas, hosted by a long list of surrounding neighborhoods, including Vickery Place, Belmont Heights, Cochran Heights, Greenland Hills (Kunkle’s ‘hood), Henderson, Hudson Heights, Lakewood Heights, Lower Greenville, Lowest Greenville West and Munger Place.
After the Observer’s Jim Schutze billed a previous performance as “a thing so dull they should have posted warning notices, ‘Do not operate heavy equipment immediately after attending.’ What I wouldn’t have given for a Red Bull.”
Well, moderator and long-time Vickery Place resident Bruce Thomas was determined to liven things up on this round, channeling his professor persona complete with visual aids. And a Red Bull sign to signal each candidate when they’ve rambled on too long.
Read the highlights after the jump:
Thomas began by exhibiting the property tax rates from 2009 and 2010 (about 74 percent) with a question mark after 2011, asking each candidate how important that number is to them. He then offered the Highland Park contrast (about 22 percent), which the candidates argued is irrelevant since all Dallas residents don’t live in million-dollar homes spread across a much smaller area. But, you’ve got to hand it to Thomas for at least trying to make the forum a little more interactive.
The major issues discussed were capital projects vs. basic services, education and a problem specific to East Dallas — entertainment intruding upon neighborhoods.
You can hear from the candidates themselves about the major issues through video podcasts on our Dallas Elections page. Here’s a quick and paraphrased play-by-play, starting with some of the more small-scale things that mean a lot to neighborhoods:
Why does it take up to six years to have an alley put in behind our street, even when homeowners are the ones paying for it?
The candidates gave abstract answers about how unacceptable it is while Natinsky, the inside guy who should know the answer, offered this: “We have $10 million worth of improvement projects. There’s a long list, you can look at it online. It’s the prerogative of the city to decide what comes first and what comes last. Four years is the general timetable. Somebody has to be last. Now, you’re paying the money, so that’s not right. That’s why I would develop a fast-track program to get it done in 30 days.”
How do we keep the entertainment district on Lower Greenville from intruding on our neighborhoods?
Kunkle: “We need to protect the residential areas. The valet on Henderson is a mess, and we need to change the city ordinances. I’m really worried about Terilli’s re-opening. I’m concerned about the roof-top patio, and I anticipate issues.”
Natinsky: “My plan for West Dallas is a good example of stable neighborhoods and commercial development. They worked out a plan that they all agree on, and I think the same model can be used on Greenville.”
Okpa: “It’s an issue of zoning. We need active neighborhood associations that are informed. You should never have a rooftop patio overlooking a private residence.”
Why would any serious candidate dilute the campaign with education, an issue the mayor’s office has never addressed?
Rawlings: “To have strong neighborhoods, you have to have strong schools. The tax base is down, and the tax rate is up. Real leadership is not saying, ‘That’s not my job’.”
Kunkle: “I think the mayor should have a very limited role. Significant progress has been made, and that has continued.”
Natinsky: “My education plan was on my website long before I got Rawlings’ flyer in the mail. I think the mayor should use the bully pulpit to help solve the problem.”
Why do we keep spending money on capital projects when we can’t afford street repairs, etc.?
Natinsky: “There is a separate general fund for capital projects. They don’t really cross paths (with basic services). The convention center hotel is not being funded by taxpayers, it’s being funded by revenue bonds. It’s a $2 billion-a-year industry. That’s out-of-town money that translates to sales tax dollars to pay for firemen and police. We wouldn’t be the Dallas we are today with visionary projects. Thirty percent of the tax base is used to pay for debt services”
Rawings: “And that has doubled in the last 10 years. I wouldn’t have spent money on the esplanade fountain at Fair Park without the funds to operate it. I will have no more big-ticket items on the table (if elected). But, there’s a benefit to having things like the arts district. We need to leverage private dollars in the best way. We need to use other people’s money. We’ve got to be frugal.”
Kunkle: “We’re continuing to commit to larger and larger public expenditures, and that’s costing the city basic services. I think the facts get misrepresented to the public. Instead of encouraging debate on the city council, dissenters get completely shut down.” (alluding to Angela Hunt’s opposition to funding for the second Calatrava bridge earlier this week).
Okpa: “Citizens deserve better information. Besides the aesthetic, I don’t know how the second bridge will benefit the city.”