By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates has returned. The Dallas Examiner presented the forum online March 8, featuring candidates running for the Dallas City Council District 3 and District 4 seats.
The evening started with candidates for Dallas City Council District 3: incumbent Casey Thomas II and opponent Irby Foster.
Thomas has served for three terms since he was firsst elected in 2015 and is seeking his fourth and final term.
“It has been an honor and pleasure to serve and represent the city of Dallas,” he said. “At this time, we need experienced, competent leadership to lead us through this crisis. I have had the opportunity to lead.”
Thomas said he has led the city by being on the COVID-19 ad-hoc committee which he chairs.
“The most important thing right now is individuals who want to get the vaccine have an opportunity to get the vaccine,” he said. “I have been fighting day and night to make sure residents of District 3 and throughout the city of Dallas have an opportunity to get registered and get the vaccine. I am partial toward our seniors and it has been my honor and pleasure to bring the only senior center in District 3 to Redbird in Oak Cliff where we have over 300 seniors that we accommodate, and those same seniors are able to receive free lunch when they are there. I was able to help WellMed get 400 vaccines so they can vaccinate our seniors and make sure the vaccine is given in an equitable manner.
We are in the middle of a pandemic. We are seeing the beginning of the end by getting vaccines available. You need experience, competent leadership. Equity in how you live your life has nothing to do with systemic inequity. We are talking about policies. Policies that need to be changed so we can create opportunity for people who have not benefited from the city of Dallas. Service does not start when you run for office. Service begins when you get involved in your neighborhood association. Service begins when you serve on your crime watch. Service begins when you serve on the city board or commission. Experience matters, leadership matters. I have the honor of being the District 3 councilman and city council member for almost six years. It has been an honor and pleasure. We have not finished and we still have work to do. But we cannot go back. We do not need on the job training. We need someone who has knowledge, experience, and the respect of business and city leaders at this time to move us through this pandemic and to lead us forward into the future.”
Foster is a maintenance company owner and facilities manager.
“I do agree that we need experienced leadership and that is why I felt that I needed to run and challenge Casey’s candidacy,” he said. “I have also worked for the city of Dallas for 12 years and I am not naive about how the city operates, how they fund their budgets, where they hide money. In fact, when I was an employee, as a manager, they taught me about the budgets, how to build it and how to stuff money. I am not naive about how they budget the money and how the city operates. I worked in human resources, worked in safety. I also worked at the Dallas Executive Airport. I also lived in the district for 20 years and own a house here, and raise my children here. So I am not naive to the problems in our district. Not only is COVID right now that is a problem but making sure that everybody gets vaccinated. We also have so many other problems. Our seniors need better services, we have a lot of poverty. One in five people in our district are under the poverty level and that has not changed under Casey’s leadership … I would like to see more affordable housing, not necessarily more below poverty level housing, for example, having more mixed-use projects and that type of thing.
“I think what is happening in this district where Casey has been here for six years, and in six years time, many of the major crime numbers have doubled. Homicides have doubled, assaults have doubled and I don’t see them moving in the right direction from a crime standpoint. It is getting more unsafe to live in District 3. We are tired of gunshots. We are tired of street racing. We are tired of warehouses being built. We are tired of these low-income housing units being built and they are not mixed-income housing units. We are tired of being promised a HEB grocery store and it never comes. We get an Aldi’s instead. I don’t really see those are the things we have been wanting for Black, White, Hispanic. We want to be safe in our homes, we want our taxes to be reasonable and we want the services to be stellar. Every time I go to a door in District 3, I am hearing about mediocre services. … Finally, I think faith and values is very important. As a person who believes in the Lord Jesus and I have made him Lord of my life, I want to tell you that God is a God of law and order. He is not a God of cutting police budgets. He created government, he created law, and he is a God of law and order. …”
The second half featured candidates for Dallas City Council District 4: incumbent Carolyn King Arnold and her opponents Johnny Aguinaga, Matthew Canto, Maxie Johnson and Lelani Russell.
Arnold was first elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019.
“I am extremely excited that I have an opportunity to come back and we are in the great midst of I think a Renaissance,” Arnold said. “We are doing a lot of big things here in this district. I am working with our leadership, community leadership and none of the candidates that are here tonight can boast and be proud of the fact that you have an investment of community leadership as well as business partners. So we are continuing and we are very happy to continue to take the lead when it relates to the pandemic, the storms, we are continuing to fight for improvement in business and business infrastructure. We are taking care of basic services for communities where the sidewalks, alleys and providing services to our seniors. We are providing services to our youth and we are taking care of the environment. I am just happy to share that report and we are going to continue to do great things and big things for this district and for this city as well.
“I am very proud of the fact that I was a part of the conversation and around the horseshoe 15-0 acceptance of that $134 million with the corp of engineers and we already started dismantling a portion of the tracks and the banks around Moore Park as we begin to cleanup to rebuild and build up those levies so we can reduce the flooding footprint. This city needs a leader who can build consensus. I have proven that. I work well with my colleagues around the horseshoe. It takes eight of us to make things happen and 15 to be great. I am the only one here with the most experience not just around this horseshoe but also in the community. I am an educator in the past. I am the only one that you can check the box off where I have addressed the issue of housing, creation of jobs, environmental issues, public safety initiatives. Just all around focuses on the one major element that will help us in District 4 is the introduction of a public safety initiative where we have partnerships where they are committing to working with District 4.”
Aguinaga spoke afterward.
“I decided to jump on this chair because we have seen that our District 4 in South Oak Cliff has not moved a needle since the last 10 years,” Aquinaga said. “I come as an affordable housing builder. I make sure that working families get a good, decent price for their home. I am a homeless rights activist. As you see, I am boots on the ground. I have been a Dallas County Deputy Registrar since 2018. I love to sign up people so they can have a voice, no matter what precinct or district. I am also from the neighborhood, I know the back streets, the front streets and I know all the neighborhood. I come to this chair to improve our district. There is a lot of misconception in that our city is making $52,000 in the area for income and that is not true.
“I am against gentrification. All this economic development that really doesn’t have a plan is their way of putting third parties on the outside to come in … we need to stay away from that as much as possible. I do believe in mixed-income building for low-income/medium-income, which the law states that we should do, and I am for that. Another thing about housing, the permit processing … we are losing around $240 million a year because we are not building and we used to build a house with a one day permit, now it is 15 weeks so what we have now is councils do not know the permit process, so how can they fix something that they do not know? They brought it down to 12 weeks but still it was one day so we are losing a lot of money there. … For crime, you see what I do. I am boots on the ground and I am doing what I am supposed to be doing: closing these drug houses down, I have talked to the chief, I have talked to different people and different organizations … and trying to run small Black owned businesses. Also, housing homeless is a big thing. …”
Canto spoke next.
“I am a product of District 4 in Oak Cliff and a proud product of Oak Cliff,” Canto said. “I attended the University of Houston and after graduating, I returned home to District 4 as soon as possible. I am home grown and I am from the community and the community helped make me who I am today so that is one of the reasons I put my hat in the race and decided to run. But more importantly, I decided to run because District 4 is at a crossroads. COVID-19 vaccines we need and we need public safety, we need better infrastructure, and economic development. With that being said I think it is time to send someone downtown who has the business knowledge to get things done and not just go downtown to be a representative of the people but that has to do the work for the people. What separates me from any other candidate is that I am not looking for a job. I am looking to go down and represent the people. With that being said, when elected, I would donate my whole salary back to worthy causes in the district to ensure that I am practicing what I am preaching.”
“I am not looking for a job,” Canto said. “I am looking to advocate for the people. I am looking to work with the people and most importantly be for the people. When elected, I will not accept the salary, it would be disingenuous of me to accept the salary from people in an area that I am trying to build up when I am doing okay for myself. I am going to donate that salary back to worthy causes in the district to make sure that I am putting my money where my mouth is. A vote for me is a vote for someone who is going to give you 150% of everything he has to make sure that District 4 is always put first and never forgotten.”
Russell spoke about her platform and goals.
“This is an opportunity that I am taking full advantage of,” Russell said. “I am very appreciative to be a part of it because our community deserves options. … I have been in the community for quite some time, in and around Dallas for the past 13 years. I am 27 years old and will be the youngest person on here. Since I have been working, I have been a community activist. I have worked on different projects in and around the city. I am for the people. I am not a politician. I have never done this before and I am new to all of this. But I am a person that cares about the people. I have done the work and I don’t do it for money. I don’t do it for fame. I have done it because it has been my heart since I was a child. I really want to be able to go in here and be able to work for the people. We need a better option and need someone who actually cares and that is not worried about whether you vote or you don’t, guess what you are, someone inside my community that needs someone to advocate for…
“I am a part of the community and have been a part of the community in and around Dallas as a whole. And I really know to fight and work for the people and of the community so what that means is not just stating things that sound good in front of your face and then behind closed doors voting behind your back. I want to make sure that my community is more involved in the city council meetings. That they understand what is going on, they know exactly what I am going to stand up for and what I am going to vote for. … While we are throwing out facts that sound good we also understand the bad that our city council has done. And that you guys are educated and that I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to everyday as your community leader.”
Each candidate also took part in a Q&A session, answering questions submitted by the audience. To see the entire forum with the questions and answers, visit DallasExaminer.com or https://www.facebook/thedallasexaminer.
The next Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates will be held March 22 at 6 p.m. visit https://www.dallasexaminer.com for the full schedule.
The last day to register to vote is April 1. Early voting will begin April 19. Election Day is May 1.