The Dallas Examiner
Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, the third forum presented by The Dallas Examiner featuring several candidates running in the May 6 general election, was held at the African American Museum in Fair Park, March 27. Invited guests speakers were candidates running for Dallas City Council District 1 and District 5, and Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees District 6.
The forum began with City Council candidates for Place 1: incumbent Scott Griggs and Stephen Winn.
Griggs initiated the discussion with a brief introduction about his commitment to District 1.
“I represent the areas south of I-30, west of I-35, north of Illinois Avenue, and east of Cockrell Hill Road,” he said. “I’ve been in office for six years, and the big thing that keeps me going is the people and being your voice at city hall. Whether it’s on the big policy issues like bringing a fair wage to garbage workers, raising the minimum wage that we pay at city hall, or even helping the service request on the weekend if your park needs to be cleaned, I’m there for you on all those things because I believe in our community; I believe in Oak Cliff and Southern Dallas.”
Winn followed and detailed his plans for improving the district and rebuilding the community.
“My goals are simple. I would like to make sure that I work with the Dallas Independent School District. I want to collaborate with them and make sure that the kids are getting a fair education,” he said. “Secondly, the streets and the sidewalks in our communities are in need of repair, so those are the things that I’m looking to get aggressive with and work toward. Thirdly, I want to also work with community associations to work with the individuals there experiencing difficulties with high increasing rental rates. Lastly, I want to improve the small business growth in our community and make sure that the development is there.”
After introductions, audience members asked the candidates a series of questions about the future of the district.
Question: District 1 has been a hotbed for economic development. What is your philosophy for what District 1 should look like in terms of economic development?
Griggs: District 1 needs to look inclusive; It needs to include everyone. We need to maintain the character in North Oak Cliff. The Bishop Arts District is a wonderful example. You can see so many types of business in a small area, and what’s great about it is the land is owned by people who live in District 1. The businesses are owned by District 1 residents, and the people who work there are from District 1. That’s how we build a community, and that’s what I look for – small, innovative projects like that [Bishop Arts].
Winn: One of the reasons that I decided to run is because of economic development. I feel that Wynnewood, which is located on the southern tip of District 1, has been neglected, and I would like to economic growth there. We need to see about getting the small businesses that are already there the support they need to maintain the business. I also want to see new businesses integrated into that area as well. Wynnewood is one of the first open-air malls in the city of Dallas. It has historical value, and I want to build on that.
Q: When are the resolutions and changes to housing policies that are hurting South Dallas and South Oak Cliff coming?
Griggs: For the first time ever, the city of Dallas has a housing policy. The way we’ve been working housing, previously, is it was just finding a piece of dirt and throwing a bunch of tax credit money on it and building on it where the dirt was cheapest without taking into account the school district’s plans and that were away from jobs, so trying to build a policy and put it in place that recognizes when we are building communities. The whole idea of our housing policy that we are getting put in place right now is to take the politics out of housing decisions and put the community back in it.”
Winn: I’m a firm believer in use of mixed-income properties. I currently work at the Dallas Housing Authority, and I work on the public housing sector. I had a chance to see how they [city council] implement the housing strategies in the areas and the locations, so to comment on that question, I would like to see that South Dallas, in particular, receives the proper fair and affordable housing that it deserves. I would like to make sure that not just in South Dallas but even in Lancaster that people are not suffering from the fact that they cannot pay their rent. That would be my goal to work closely with housing.
Q: What are you doing to bring revenue to the city?
Griggs: On a local basis in North Oak Cliff, we got a $80 million grant from the federal government to build streetcars. We grant that to the Convention Center hotel that has a 1,000 rooms, so when people come into town, they get on the streetcar down on Bishop Arts, and the numbers are 450 people per day. We generally pick them up, flip them upside down, empty their pockets, and put them back on the streetcar. The money goes into the Bishop Arts District where the people in Oak Cliff own the land, the businesses, and they work in the businesses. So, I work on the big picture by fixing the ingress and egress issues down on U.S. 67 and other places and work on the small things, which is bringing to businesses in the district.
Winn: That brought back what I was saying my vision was for Wynnewood – giving us another shopping mall area to bring in economic growth. In order to do that, we have to make it attractive. We have to make people want to shop in these areas and spend money at the stores and restaurants. We need restaurants. To do that, we also need to make it an easy commute for the citizens, so we have to start talking about the streets and sidewalks in that area as well. We need to do that throughout the city, but right now, my focus is specifically District 1.
After Place 1, nominees for Place 5 took the stage to discuss the issues revolving around the Pleasant Grove area: incumbent Rick Callahan and Dominique Torres. Callahan was not present.
Torres kicked off the second portion of the forum explaining her personal connection to the area.
“I’m running for this district because growing up in this district, I understood how it was often neglected,” she said. “I want to be a voice and fight for this district like I fight every single day for it. I want to make sure that we improve the streets, get sidewalks in parts of the district that don’t even have them, and improve economic development. Pleasant Grove is such a beautiful area. It is older houses with tree-lined streets, and we need to make sure we, as a community, put our force behind it and speak up and advocate for it.”
The audience took the opportunity to ask Torres about her thoughts on local policies and her plans for the area.
Q: What are your views on GrowSouth?
Torres: GrowSouth hasn’t grown south to Pleasant Grove. I believe there are better ways to implement GrowSouth in that district. GrowSouth may not be for Pleasant Grove, and the initiatives they have found may not be for Pleasant Grove. It is a community that has a lot of small businesses, and the businesses need to be given access to resources and opportunity. GrowSouth has so many parts to it that I don’t believe it may be best for that district.
Q: What would you do to put District 5 at the forefront for healthy economic development?
Torres: I plan on being very vocal down at city hall—making sure that we get resources in that area. You will also see me looking at rebuilding certain parts of the district and also talking to developers about what we can potentially bring in there that is not going to gentrify the area but provide supportive economic development and vibrant economic resources to that area.
Q: Do you have a plan to build a coalition amongst the community?
Torres: First and foremost, I want to talk to the neighborhood associations that are out there and engage and empower the communities that don’t have one. From there, I’ll work with the local nonprofits we already have in-house and those that serve the district, so make it a multi-tier level where we can all come together.
The forum concluded with the candidates running for the Dallas ISD trustee position: Trustee Joyce Foreman and Phelesha Hamilton. Hamilton was not present.
The discussion began with Foreman introducing herself to the audience.
“I’ve been on the board three years, and I ran for the position to make a difference and to focus on schools throughout the district,” she said. “The area I represent is Southwest Oak Cliff and a part of Southeast Oak Cliff. I am excited about being able to represent the community. Education is extremely important, and what I found is that many of our children have been left behind by public education. I am excited and want everyone to know that my job is to make sure that all children get access to an equal education.”
After her introduction, Foreman participated in a Q&A session with audience members about future projects for the district and the future of the students.
Q: What can you do as a trustee member, in terms of policy, to close the education gap?
Foreman: We don’t have the worst performing schools in the state. Houston has more low performing schools than we have. We actually have 23 low performing schools here. When Mike Miles was here, it was about 60 low performing schools, so we have cut that down year after year, and that’s by working together to try and change things. We need to work together to bring about change and make sure that the facilities are equalized. We need to make sure that the technology is equalized in our area, and we need to make sure that the young teachers that they are hiring don’t all get dumped on us.
Q: Are there any plans for children that have been suspended recently and to eliminate suspensions?
Foreman: We recently passed a policy that talked about suspending children from pre-K to second grade and eliminating some of the suspensions. One of the problems that we have with that is if you send the children home, they don’t learn. If you keep the children in the classroom, they disturb the other kids, so we’ve talked about how we find a space for those children to be able to work. Now, those are for the minor offenses. The children that create the other offenses will still be suspended.
Q: What are some revenue sources that the district can bring in to prevent tax increase?
Foreman: My position is that taxpayers already carry a heavy burden. Also, their taxes are raised every year just based on evaluation, so I’m opposed to that. One of the things you will see from me is that I am pushing the district to make sure we spend our money wisely because there are some areas of waste that needs to be addressed. I also want to make sure we go after all grants and those kinds of things that will be available to us, but a tax increase is not right.
Q: What is the date of the rebuild of South Oak Cliff High School, and where will the students go?
Foreman: I want to make it clear that South Oak Cliff is not my district, but I believe in working with all the districts. SOC’s greenfield is supposed to start in the summer just as Carter High School. They’re in phase one, and Carter is in phase one. Where SOC collected $52 million, Carter is at $21 million, so I need the SOC people to help me fight for Carter because we have to equalize this. The children are in the building, and my understanding is the children will be in the building because DISD does not have the facility where they can house 2,000 kids.
Before the forum concluded, Mollie Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner who organizes the forum, announced that Callahan said he didn’t receive his invitation and that he would be at the next forum to present his plans for District 5. The last Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates was held Monday with Dallas City Council Place 6 candidates.