Monday Night Politics – Meet the Candidates: Forum features candidates for Dallas City Council District 7

Monday Night Politics  Meet the Candidates 03.25
Monday Night Politics Meet the Candidates

The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics – Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner at the African American Museum on March 25, featured candidates running for Dallas City Council District 7 in the May 4 general election.

Each candidate was given two minutes for opening statements, followed by a Q&A session where audience members could present their questions for the candidates to answer. Sade Johnson was not present.

Opening statements began alphabetically by last name, starting with Adam Bazaldua, a culinary arts teacher from Skyline High School. He is also chair of the Enclave of Grove Hill HOA Crime Watch, vice chair of the Davis Garden TIF Board, and an appointee to both Dallas ISD’s District 9 Community Task Force and Police Chief Hall’s Community Task Force.

“I’m running on three big priorities – affordable housing, building coalitions, and increasing transparency and accountability in our government. The affordable housing aspect is something that is not only a plague for District 7, but also throughout the city of Dallas. The coalition building, I have a plan to have two prongs – one that’s internal and external. Internal coalition building looks like creating an advisory board, essentially, throughout the district with the stakeholders and the movers and shakers already that are doing the work. Then the external component is to make sure we can seek eight votes to get anything done and work with the neighboring elected officials to get anything done for the people. We need more accountable and transparent representation at City Hall as a whole, and District 7 specifically. I’m tired of seeing our district at the forefront of the news, and I would like for that news to be in a positive light for the constituents and progress of our district.”

Next was incumbent Councilman Kevin Felder, the district representative for the past two years. He has served on various city commissions and boards, such as the Industrial Development Corporation, Southern Dallas Development Corporation and Vickery Meadows TIF. Felder is vice president of the NAACP – Dallas and owner of Felder and Company Realtors.

“I’m running on my track record. Less than two years in office and we’ve done quite a bit for this district. First thing we’ve done, we created a district office in the MLK Center. We put $250,000 of renovations in the MLK Center. I’ve heard over and over again that it’s going to close … it’s not going to close. We passed a $50 million bond package for Fair Park – of that $50 million, $2 million came to this museum to upgrade this museum. I’m very proud of my track record. I’ll speak about that more later, some of the things that we’ve done. We’ve created a new standard in District 7. We have had 50 town hall meetings in the last 22 months. That is unprecedented and I’ve been at all of them. … There are many candidates running in this race, none of them can say they have a track record of achieving anything in this district. That’s the truth.”

Calvin Johnson, local attorney and owner of the Law Offices of Attorney Calvin D. Johnson, took the podium next. For Johnson, alongside the decision to do business in the district, he grew up in the district and encourages people to realize the importance of spending their dollars at home.

“I was raised here … and the first thing I did was I came back to my community and opened my first law office on MLK back in 2001. … This community took care of me and I’ve been practicing law for the last 16 years. … One of the things I did when I decided that I was going to run for Dallas City Council is, I went around and talked to the stakeholders. I talked to Commissioner Price who’s going to endorse me, I talked to Craig Waters who’s going to endorse me, I talked to some of the other business owners in our community, and I want to make sure that we change what’s happening at City Hall for us. I want to make sure we get those bond dollars moving. … In addition to that, I want to make sure that our initiatives are put out there on a BetterDistrict7.com or whatever to find out what the community needs. And also, buy local, District 7. That’s a business hub where we’re gonna figure out what businesses we have so that people can spend their money in our district. That’s the kind of thinking we need – we need to help our community and our businesses.”

Next up was Korey Mack, the owner of Start the Party Entertainment LLC. He is also an admissions officer at St. Mark’s School of Texas, the director of Government Affairs and Community Advocacy for Uplift Education, a board member for Smile for a Lifetime Foundation, and has served as a city planning commissioner for almost two years.

“I was raised here in Dallas/Fort Worth in the Cedar Crest neighborhood of Oak Cliff … and the reasons I’m running is to revitalize communities and make sure that we have a proactive defense against gentrification, to build coalitions the same way that I have at Buckner Terrace as their homeowners chair for the past four years, and to engage and empower citizens. … We need to be engaged. The democratization of information makes it easy – I don’t have to go down to 1500 Marilla to attend a City Council meeting, but if I don’t know that I can get that access online, I’m still foreclosed to that type of advocacy.”

Following him was Joseph Thomas, who has been involved in City Council as the city of Dallas’ audio video specialist, responsible for recording all council meetings. In turn, Thomas played a huge part in implementing the Virtual Town Hall Meetings that have increased transparency and clear communication from the city of Dallas.

“I’ve been working for the City of Dallas for the last eight years. My actual job is recording council meetings, so, when you say inside man, I’m your inside man. Over 200 council meetings, over 50 City Planning Commission meetings. … I’m right here in the community – my daughter just graduated from Lincoln, my son’s at Lincoln now. I’m all about strengthening our schools, strengthening our labor use, and getting District 7 to be the best district in the city of Dallas. I’m not one that’s here to talk, I’ve been working and serving since I was a young man. … So, when you say service, looking for our future, trying to create opportunity for the next generation coming – that’s what I’m all about because what good does it do District 7 just to be just for us, and then that’s it? We have to continue to look forward… we have a lot of work to do. I’m not a politician, I’m a public servant, and we’ve had enough politicians. What District 7 needs is a public servant. … I’ve been working and am ready to work – let’s go to work.”

Tiffinni A. Young spoke next. Young is a former district representative. During her time as a councilwoman, she assisted as vice chair of the Quality of Life and Environment; Ad Hoc Judicial Nominations and Domestic Violence Task Force Committees; and has served as a member of the Public Safety, Housing and Legislative Ad Hoc Committees; the Council on Youth, Education and Families; and the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee for the National League of Cities.

“I too am running on a track record. … I started my service in 1992 when I volunteered on a campaign … but while volunteering for a woman that’s running for City Council in District 7, I talked about the gang violence that we were experiencing in South Dallas in Pleasant Grove and I said nobody listens to us, we need our own council. And she said, ‘When I win, I’m going to start one.’ She did that and I was appointed to the inaugural commission in 1992. I went on to serve on the Park Board and was able to find funding for many of the new features throughout District 7. … Then also went on to serve as a councilmember – I was the first councilwoman, the first person in the city of Dallas to bring an expunction expo to Dallas.”

Last was Yvette Gbalazeh, a community artist and activist who has led the charge for medical marijuana reform in Texas through her “Will Rap 4 Weed” moniker in hopes of helping to change the local cite-and-release laws, HB 2391 policy. She also represents some 40,000 citizens in a class-action lawsuit against the city of Dallas over panhandling.

“Part of my campaign is transparency. … Right now, is the most important time to find out the facts about the people running. All of these people up here want to have 80,000 people’s lives in their hands and the majority of them have not even been involved with changing any kind of law. The majority of them, their jobs have nothing to do with taking care of us. Long story short, I changed the law – making four ounces of cannabis a ticket with no jail time here in Dallas County, and I also led that in Harris County. I’m also representing 40,000 minorities in federal court against the city of Dallas for first human rights violations. I also removed the swastika flag from Main Street and then today, I would also like to acknowledge the incident that happened this past weekend.”

The incident she referred to was the Dallas City Hall protests that took place in response to Austin Shuffield’s recent assault of L’Daijohnique Lee, in which he was charged with Class A misdemeanors for interfering with an emergency call and causing her bodily injury, as well as public intoxication.

Next was the Q&A portion of the forum, where the questions covered topics such as zoning policy, Amber Guyger and whether or not candidates would accept funding from the Dallas Police Association, the issues surrounding Jim’s car wash, and thoughts on the city’s new Comprehensive Housing Policy.

Sandra Crenshaw arrived late, shortly after the Q&A session began.

Question: The car wash on MLK. Is it going or is it staying? And if it’s going, what are you going to do with the pimps, hustlers? If it’s staying, what are you going to do with the pimps, hustlers?

Felder: That’s an easy one for me. … The car wash has to go. The Board of Adjustment has decreed that they have to go. The next meeting will decide when they have to go. That’s all there is to it. This has been an albatross around this community’s neck. I have met with many business owners, I have met with the community, and it is clear this has to go. … The pimps, the hustlers, the drug dealers – they have to go too.

Young: As a representative, I want to make sure that I am focusing on what those basic needs are. We’ve got to get back to the root causes that are plaguing us – the issues in our community that are plaguing us. So yes, we have to make sure that we have a program to deal with the substance abuse or some of the issues and drug use in our community.

Thomas: You know the saying … you don’t gotta go home, but you gotta get up out of here. It’s time for us to have District 7 be a safe and clean district. … We’ve gotta deal with mental illness. … We’ve got to strengthen our public-private partnerships. … We have to use our police. We have to use property owners and make sure they’re taking care of their properties, but … they have to be good stewards as well, because if you have a house and vagrants break into it, you’re still responsible for that house. … They don’t gotta go home, but they’ve gotta get up out of District 7.

Johnson: First, I want to break something down about it. Do y’all mean to tell me that we can’t run a car wash in our community? Do you know what that’s saying to us? That we can’t control our own community. … We have the police headquarters 15 blocks away and you mean to tell me we can’t figure that one out? We have to be fair to everybody. I don’t even know if they even sat with the owner of the car wash in one room with everybody to talk about things. We’ve gotta start being smart about things, and we have to learn how to really problem solve. … We have to create good opportunities to where people won’t be pimps, prostitutes or pushers.

Gbalazeh: I can tell you how to shut down organized crime and none of these people can because I’m the only one who’s dealt with those skinhead Nazis recently over there in Deep Ellum and gotten their officers to be part of that organized crime. … But the main thing is, and people might laugh at the “Rap 4 Weed” thing, but the “Rap 4 Weed” thing gives a lot of those young people that are rapping out there, selling dope – you get some hope. They see another way out. They see another opportunity through arts and creativity. That’s really what they’re out there for. They just want to be noticed and recognized and be somebody.

Crenshaw: When I tell you that closing that car wash has been a 30-year issue under at least eight council leaders, there’s a legal reason why they haven’t been able to shut it down. And I do commend Mr. Felder for at least he did that, but I can also recognize when you do one thing, sometimes it causes a problem someplace else, and that addresses that gentleman’s problems. People do deserve to have recreation. … You shouldn’t have to close down a business because there are people. The problem is, the people in South Dallas don’t have enough parks and recreation.

Mack: So, there’s a difference between closing the business and forcing it to comply with the underlying zoning. Right now, the business is not closed; it has a date by which they have to comply. I would … sit down with the business owner and say, “You’ve got other people from PD595 that want to open it up.” They may not be willing to foot the bill on the application to open it up, but if you want your SUP (specific use permit) for your car wash, or you want a certain use, the challenge I think with this particular business is it’s not staffed 24/7 when it’s open. A lot of businesses that do have staff, they can call when they have behaviors going on that they don’t want to see. … You don’t have to be there for the carwash to be in operation, so when we have that we don’t have people who can monitor and be vigilant in the community.

Bazaldua: I think that the first thing is thoughtful leadership that we are lacking. Mr. Davenport at the hearing last week said that he has not sat down with our councilperson, that he has not been told any demands, and a part of leadership is making sure that you sit down, and you figure that out. I am all for what’s best for the community, but there’s a balance that has to be right because there’s also rights by the business owner and we need to make sure that we are not going to put the wrong message to the business owners that we want to attract over here.

Question: Can you be very specific and tell me one thing you like about the housing policy and one thing you dislike?

Felder: The first thing I don’t like about the affordable housing policy was the way it was constructed. The MVA, market value analysis – they used Zillow to build the affordable housing policy. … What I do like about it is it addresses the fact that we don’t have enough affordable housing in the city of Dallas. We’re 20,000 units short; we need to work on that. … Only 25 percent home ownership in South Dallas – this is a perfect storm for gentrification. Pay attention to that; that’s the way it was when I inherited this position.

Young: I dislike … how it rushed, how it was constructed and put together, and also the fact that it doesn’t afford for enough opportunity for affordable housing units. … One of the things that I like about the policy is the fact that there was an attempt to include more community input than what we’ve seen in the past.

Thomas: One thing that I do like about it, in which it started kind of moving itself a little … it tried to create opportunity to move it north. But in doing that, it goes back to one thing that I don’t like about it – it stifled some of the development south.

Johnson: The thing that I like about it is that they tried to pass it. The thing that I don’t like about it – it’s not affordable. … It’s not affordable enough, and we don’t have enough quality housing. … We need to have more community engagement. We actually have to talk to the people before you pass a law that’s going to affect them.

Gbalazeh: As far as things being low quality and not affordable, maybe we need to find out why that is. And part of the reason is because we have had individuals in the past that are over these situations that lose $29 million. … We gave you $29 million to make 20,000 affordable housing units and you came out with 100 units. Here we go back to transparency.

Crenshaw: This does not make sense. Thirty and 40 years we have been going to the same City Council, city government, asking for affordable policy. We don’t pay property taxes on big momma’s house when she dies, so some of this is of our doing. Now, we all know that we planned 40 years ahead of time and with White flight and Black flight, we’ve got to have property taxes to pay for these polices officers’ lives … and all of these services. We don’t get any property tax and generate any operating expenses off of an empty house that you pass by that big momma used to live in because we don’t pay her taxes on it. Put your money together, you guys that are out there in DeSoto and Duncanville that moved there, put your money together and come over here and buy some of this property and develop it.”

Mack: I like the fact that there is a policy. … Two things I’m going to mention that I don’t like about the policy. The first one is, it does not hold developers accountable. It gives them incentives; the development gets a few bonuses that adds to the perpetuity. What I mean by that is, you can build higher than the zoning says, and that building can stay forever. In exchange, developers give affordable units, but they give them for a short period of time. Currently that time is 20 years, and the thought behind that is that after 20 years those will all be affordable. That’s not right. I will fight for parity. Second piece is that the affordable housing policy does not focus on all income families and focuses solely on extremely low income. I would want to make sure that the policy has a place for low- to moderate-income people.

Bazaldua: One of the things that I do not like in the policy is the home restoration and repair program, and I think that it is a nonsustainable program. I don’t think that we have the funds for it to actually be used in the communities that need it most, which a lot fall in our district. One of the things that I am a fan of … is the first-time home buyers’ program that was brought in there. I think that is a great tool.

The next Monday Night Politics – Meet the Candidates forum, will be held April 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the museum, located at 3636 Grand Ave.

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