The Dallas Examiner
Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner March 20, was the second forum held featuring several candidates running in the May 6 general election at the African American Museum in Fair Park. Invited guests included candidates for Dallas City Council in Districts 4 and 8.
The forum started with nominees competing for the Dallas City Council position in District 8: incumbent Erik Wilson, Eric Williams, former councilman Tennell Atkins, Moctezuma Seth Gonzalez and Gail Terrell. Gonzalez was not present.
Wilson began by elaborating on his current projects and accomplishments throughout his two-year run.
“I am a councilman who is serving out my first two years and what I started I want to be able to finish,” he said. “I started by creating economic development opportunities in District 8. I have created the opportunity for transportation, granting access for I-67 North. Shortly after that, we will have access to Red Bird Mall, off of I-20. We’ve broken ground on the new Singing Hills Recreation Center and the expansion of Witham Road. We will, also, break ground on a new housing development that will bring in the middle class starting at homes from $150,000 up to $400,000.”
Atkins followed and detailed the unfinished business that he would like to complete for the district.
“The things I am trying to come back to is the Singing Hills Recreation Center to finish that project and the DART Rail Line I promised you to get done three years ahead of schedule, so students will be able to go downtown and to the DFW Airport with a transfer,” he said. “There is opportunity in District 8 because we have grew the city 2 to 1. We have land banks, Southwest Center Mall, UNT-Dallas, an [upcoming] golf course, and upscale businesses coming in.”
Terrell then introduced herself and discussed her past work in District 8.
“When I moved to Dallas, there were no banks around Kiest and Lancaster,” she recalled. “Me and a team of others came together and said, ‘We deserve to have banks the same as any other area,’ and we worked tirelessly. The first bank to come was Nations Bank. I am someone who is a coalition builder. I am an independent candidate, and I would like to have your support to become the next Dallas City Council person.”
Williams concluded the introductions addressing the issues surrounding the district and local political figures.
“We have 51 percent of our students failing. We have 3,900 children homeless. We’ve got 9,000 loose dogs running around eating us up. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you all that everything is ok,” he stressed. “These people here are all the same. They in turn endorse one another. I’m not going to sugarcoat the issue. We’ve got problems here in District 8 and the Southern Sector, and I came home to clean up. I’m not here to play games. I came here to win.”
Audience members took advantage of the opportunity to ask the candidates questions about their ability to improve the district.
Question: What are your plans to create better education opportunities for all school levels?
Williams: Since returning to Dallas, I have launched my own educational district with my buses. I have buses that I have converted into mobile technology studios that I have purchased with my own money with Dallas ISD. We have to start looking at how we are going to address over African American vendors who help children, because the vendors are being left out as well. The question becomes how am I going to support these colleges. We need to get them involved in engineering. We need STEM development over on the South Side of Dallas.
Terrell: We need to identify corporate partners to work with the school systems so that the students will be able to get that type of support in the schools that they need to have. We need a base, and the base is elementary schools. Without the foundation, it’s unfortunate for you to be able to get any further to get the education that you need.
Atkins: You look at schools in the Southern Sector … How are you going to achieve getting your school uprooted if you don’t have corporate sponsorship? It’s about you going to the PTA meetings and demanding education. Demand. We’re not doing that because our community is divided.
Wilson: I’m already elected, so I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing. Prior to me coming in, Paul Quinn College, UNT-Dallas, and Cedar Valley College have never worked together. They’re working together now on recruiting students as well as what they are doing with the secondary level of high school. Right now, UNT-Dallas has a program for urban education where they’re going into J.N. Ervin Elementary school and Kennedy-Curry Middle school to train teachers in an urban environment. I will continue to work with that and serve on STEM programs. We must create the pipeline for our universities.
Q: What are your plans to enhance economic development and job placement in the district?
Terrell: Unfortunately, one of the things that have happened to District 8 is that we’ve lost a lot of our residents to the suburban area, and that is because we don’t have the type of housing to be able to move from to. We have a lot of starter homes, but we need to have more upper and middle income and retail. With having housing come in, we will begin to see more schools and businesses come in. We need to work together in order to build that retail, but we have to be able to have the residents because the schools aren’t going to come without the residents.
Wilson: What we will do is continue to create entrepreneurship opportunities. We talk about what’s lacking in our community. I’ve always said if we can’t bring in businesses, then we grow our own. What I’ve done is bringing into Highland Hills the entrepreneurship series. I brought in The Brain and The Deck. The Deck will have three different locations: Southwest Center Mall, Paul Quinn and UNT-Dallas.
Atkins: We got to have the right transportation to get to work. You also got to have housing and the city to find a way to reinvest into District 8. Remember, [District 8] outgrew the city of Dallas 2 to 1. We’ve got more economic opportunity in District 8 than anywhere else in the city of Dallas.
Williams: When we talk about jobs, we have youth out here who are felons that can’t get a job, and I know first-hand because I had to collect over 2,000 signatures and most of the time when I went up to them they said, ‘Mister, I can’t sign your petition because I have a felony.’ We’ve got invisible jobseekers that can’t even get a job, so we have to help the felons get from that point so they can get to the next point and get the job. In addition to that, we need to do it simultaneously. We need to bring high-tech jobs, not warehouses. Slavery is over. We need high-tech jobs.
Q: Two teens were shot [March 19] near the district [on Dunbar Road]. How would you respond in 24 hours to something like that, and how will you stop this crime problem and bring the community together?
Wilson: I’m reaching out to the individual groups who are interested in sitting out and talking about what are the true issues behind that. It’s more than just a shooting that started that; There’s underlying conditions. That’s how we’re going to be able to address that, in addition to bringing community policing. I know there were multiple shootings [the other night], but we have to first figure out what was behind that and then talk to those individuals in the community to figure out what are they missing. How can we get them involved in programs that will hire individuals with records?
Terrell: I didn’t hear anything about that particular incident. However, what I would do is I will get whatever the substation is that is handling that case, and they will be able to give me what their overview is of what it was and the facts of what happened. Then, in addition, I would meet with the family to find out what it is, and I would go in the neighborhood. I’m not afraid to go in the neighborhood and talk with the people that were affected and any potential witnesses we have.
Williams: This is systematic. I think this goes back to lack of jobs and lack of hope. There are problems. There is serious problems within our community that need to be addressed. I think we’ve taken God out of the situation, and we need to put prayer back into the situation. My condolences to the teens that died. We as a community have got to come together.
Atkins: There is something missing. We don’t know if people are really telling us what’s going on. Are people scared to tell? There is a problem in our community. We don’t even know the person that lives on the right of you, left of you or in front of you. When those crimes are committed and no one speaks up, they will continue doing that. We do not have an answer, but we need to speak up.
The forum concluded with candidates aiming for a Dallas City Council seat in District 4: incumbent Carolyn King Arnold and former councilman Dwaine Caraway. Caraway was not present.
Arnold reintroduced herself and discussed her experience as councilwoman over the past two years.
“I am very happy to be here to see this type of engagement because it only empowers us as a community,” she said. “Arriving at City Hall, it’s not all about sitting at that horseshoe and speaking on the mic. I had challenges, so I want you to know that when I arrived at council that it was a challenge.”
The audience then asked Arnold about her future plans for the district, if re-elected.
Q: What are the top three platform issues you want to tackle?
Arnold: We’ve already started tackling those. I tackled them on the first day. The first one was code. We immediately took a tour, around a week of me being inaugurated, because I need to make an assessment. We’ve accomplished a number of code crawls and shutdowns in a number of neighborhoods with the crack houses and old alleys. The community has asked for the following three initiatives: strengthen public safety, infrastructures and code. Those are the top three, and we are going to continue the commitment there, but this is all about we. It is not all about me and I. I am people-centric, not egocentric.
Q: How can you fix to where it is more homeowners than rentals?
Arnold: I am on the housing committee, but the challenge, in terms of affordable housing and housing development, is sometimes economic development and housing are together, so you really can’t tell how the project, either one of them, came into fruition without going through open records and some other things, which is what I do to get down to the truth in some instances. I can’t speak on all the figures you have, but I can tell you once again that it’s going to take this community. We’re under a lockdown, if you will, for affordable housing in the Southern Sector. Many of you keep talking about ‘We want more housing,’ but the courts told us we could not build these affordable houses in areas that are saturated with poverty. So, what do we do? If we build on a 4 percent tax credit from the state, we’re going to get push back because we are accused of saturating and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Q: What initiative would you be open to enforcing to eradicate poverty in District 4?
Arnold: Now is not the time to turn back. I need to remain in this position, because one of the greatest equalizers of mankind is education. Education is empowering, and it’s empowerment. In order for us to move forward, it’s all about the people, and I’m true to that by moving forward in the steps of task force and meeting with the homeowner associations. I’ve also started an association for those individuals in the community because they need to know how the system works. You must be educated, so when I move on after eight years, we pass the torch, and that’s very important to me.
Q: How is the police pension problem going to be solved in the near future?
Arnold: We made a decision to try working through the pension plan. The proposal is going to take citizens’ input, the councilmembers and the councilmembers who sit on the pension board. Most of the public doesn’t realize you have three or four members from the pension board, and we treat them as separate entities from the council and the decision-making process. You also have some partnership through the state representatives, so it’s going to take work from the citizens, city council members, members of the board as well as the state representatives to resolve this issue along with the police associations. It’s not something we’re taking lightly, but you’re dealing with the wealth and health of the families, their monies, and their financial securities.
The next forum will be held March 27 for Dallas City Council Place 1 and Place 5 and Dallas ISD Place 6.