The Dallas Examiner
Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner, was held May 22 at the African American Museum in Fair Park for the June 10 runoff elections. Candidates seeking the seats for Dallas City Council District 7 and District 8 were invited to participate.
The discussion began with District 7 candidates incumbent Tiffinni Young and Kevin Felder.
Young started off with a brief explanation for why she wasn’t in attendance for the previous forum.
“First off, I would like to apologize to those who were here the last time,” she said. “We had two previously scheduled community meetings that night so that is where I was, and I did inform the host about that.”
She followed up with a brief summary of her contributions throughout her first-year run.
“It has been a year and a half of much progress with District 7,” she said. “I am proud of the progress we have made in District 7. We have completed many gains such as the first Southern Dallas Public Improvement District – South Dallas-Fair Park PID – and an entrepreneurship center coming to the area; I was the leader for the first ever expunction expo in Dallas that got those with arrest records cleared of their records so that we can make sure they got housing and jobs. I look forward to working with many more of you throughout District 7 and the city to continue that progress. I could not get to that progress by myself. It’s going to take you working alongside with me and the rest of the community to achieve even more progress in District 7.”
Next, Felder introduced himself to the audience and shared why he is running for council.
“The reason that I ran is because it is not about me, it’s about the community,” Felder said. “South Dallas/Fair Park is at a crippling tipping point, and someone needs to grasp this district and this area and lead with knowledge and experience. The bottom line is I go out and knock doors, [and] the community tells me that they don’t feel like they have a representative. They don’t get their phone calls returned. They can’t meet with their representative. That wouldn’t be me. You deserve a representative that when you call you get your calls returned. When you ask for a meeting, you should be able to meet with your representative. That’s not happening, and that’s why I’m running.”
Audience members were given the opportunity to ask the nominees more about their platforms and solutions to issues plaguing South Dallas.
Question: What is your take on the economic development changes in South Dallas, and how would you fix the gentrification problem?
Young: While we know we need new development out the district and the support of the new development, I’ve been very public and on the record that displacement of residents is not good, and I do not support the displacement. I serve as a member of the housing committee for the city of Dallas, and we have been working on a number of initiatives. One of which that I have raised in the Fair Park discussion is the preservation district. We’ve been working with the city attorney as well as the economic developers figure out how we can do that here in the city of Dallas.
Felder: It’s very obvious what is not being said. When we talk about housing and opportunities, Hatcher Station was killed by councilwoman Tiffinni Young. That would’ve brought 100 new units and a grocery store at the bottom of the units. Also, when we talk about gentrification, it was in this room about two months ago where we had the hearing in regards to Fair Park and the public private partnership. It was in this room everybody had an opportunity to listen but not to speak, and that was at the direction of councilwoman Tiffinni Young. When you talk about gentrification, it was giving South Dallas/Fair Park a way to the friends of the mayor without any void. I was one of the people that challenged councilwoman Young in the hallway, and she said that a RFP was not required. It is required.
Young: [I] did not kill that project. That project did not come forward to me for me to vote on. That went through a process where there was a separate independent committee that reviewed those projects, so it never came forward to me to take a vote on Hatcher Station. There was no grocery store included. There were about 2,000 square feet of space, which we’ll be voting tomorrow [May 23], and I have been working with the partner that was named in that project to put a grocery store down in their area by Bonton Farms.
Q: How many members for the board are you able to appoint, and how many seats are empty currently?
Young: I believe it is somewhere between 20-something boards and commissions that are eligible for individual district appointments. I believe, at this point, we have all of them filled. There may be one if the person hasn’t gotten through the appointment process, but I believe they are all filled, and most of them are District 7 residents, which is not a requirement.
Felder: The community needs to be aware that the top board position is the planning and zoning commission, which Ms. Young let stay vacant for 18 months. The second top position is the park board. That individual does not live in District 7, and he has business connections to certain people inside of the park board, the State Park, and Citizens Council. Everyone needs to know that.
Moderator: I do want to make a verification because [the position] being vacant isn’t the most accurate. I represent District 3 on the planning and zoning board, and I was filling for District 3 and District 7 while she [Young] was looking for a District 7 representative. I know that there was a process that several members couldn’t for whatever reason during that time. You can have that for what it’s worth, but I wanted to let you know that it’s not necessarily vacant as much as it was.
Q: What is your plan to act aggressively on the crime in South Dallas?
Young: We’ve discussed that, and you can review the public safety committee meeting today where I challenged Chief Pugh. I have met with Chief Hill and the urban specialist, and we are working on a couple of initiatives together to take place this summer. There certainly is, and that’s what I called out today at the public safety meeting about the number of murders that have taken place in that particular corner. I’ve been told for a couple of months, and it was said publicly at the public safety meeting that there has been coordinated effort by Dallas PD. I’ve said very publicly that we don’t see that public effort, and we got videotape where police were in the area and still drive past it. So, I will continue to work with the police and the police chief and the community to establish more crime watch groups and VIP patrol groups to work together and fix that.
Felder: I received an email in request to visit with the urban specialist. I met with the urban specialist – Rev. Omar Jahwar – this past week, and we talked about the situation. One of the things that I found out is that something that councilwoman Young can do something about is that Little World is open 24 hours a day. Why is that? All you have to do is put a special use permit on that store, and that will stop the crime. I understand that drugs are being sold in and around Little World. So, a special use permit by the councilperson would help to alleviate that. [Secondly], the community has to get engaged and involved in the program. If you see something, say something. Somebody knows. Somebody has a name of who shot these people. That is what has to happen.
Q: Has there been a thorough investigation if the crime is associated with area surrounding Little World, and if you met with a representative from HUD, what would you tell them is needed in this district for affordable housing?
Young: With each of these incidents, there has been something different, and a lot of it has either been in the parking lot or surrounding the business. I think that the investigation has taken place to that end. Councilmembers can not just put a SUP on a particular type of piece of ownership status. To your second question, as it relates to HUD, what I would say to that director is that we need to figure out a way in the city of Dallas, in particular in District 7, to get mixed-income housing. Certainly there is a shortage of affordable housing. Right now, in District 7, there is a brunt of affordable housing, so now can we spread that affordable housing throughout the city but, then, get some mixed income housing in District 7.
Felder: First thing is the city of Dallas has to do its part. HUD operates off whatever they have from the city of Dallas to the extent that the city of Dallas doesn’t have an affordable housing program. HUD can provide the dollars, but the city of Dallas distributes and disseminates that money based upon the program that the city has. We have to start first with the city and, then, with HUD. HUD has been giving money, and I think there’s 30-something million dollars missing. The city of Dallas has been promulgating and promoting segregation in the city of Dallas. There’s some of 20-something odd tips in the city of Dallas. I defy you to find affordable housing in any of them. So, when I did meet with the secretary of HUD, that is what I said to him. That has to be investigated. That has to stop.
The second portion of the forum included District 4 candidates: incumbent Erik Wilson and Tennell Atkins.
Wilson began by discussing the projects he has been involved in for the district.
“I am running for re-election because I love my district, my city, and the work that I do,” he said. “I’m running because District 8 is already great. We do not need to look back in order to look forward. We have assets such as Southwest Center Mall, UNT-Dallas, housing development in Pleasant Grove, a new golf course, the Audubon and we have land. I want to continue to grow those things that make Southern Dallas the place to be.”
Atkins then introduced himself and detailed his past works as councilman.
“They always say do not look back, [but] history repeats itself, so you have to look back. You have to look back to make sure that foundation is strong,” he said. “You look back at a rec center that you – the community – designed and built. You look back and look forward at the DART Red Line. [It’s] three years ahead of schedule, but we had to go all the back to Lancaster when DART Rail first came. You have to look back to see what mistakes they made, if some were made, to move forward. You always have to look back. If you don’t, then who are you.”
The forum ended with a Q&A session between the audience and the candidates about their future plans for the area.
Q: Go into detail about your plans for the district.
Atkins: Our first plan is to have communities meet [in order] for all communities to get involved. Listen to you and tell me what you want in your district. How can I help you? How can I change my policy and the city’s policy? With that, I still have to go back to the other several councilmembers to make sure we have eight councilmembers to get that. I want to listen to you. I’ve been talking a lot the last eight years. I want to listen now to see what you want, and how can I serve you. Can I solve your problem, and, if not, how can I go back and have someone else solve your problem.
Wilson: What we’re having in the next couple weeks will be an opportunity to introduce what the current plans are for Southwest Center Mall – unveiling in the next couple days a major development in the mall, which will move it from the mall to one of the development stores through RedBird. From there, we talk about the logistics corridor. We have a bunch of warehouses here, but we don’t have any support systems in terms of small office spaces and opportunities for restaurants in areas. That is the push for growth in the area. We have structure for the logistics corridor, but around Southwest Center Mall you will have a opportunity to work, live and play. That is the goal. As far as the entrance ramp, that has already been paid for. TxDOT has already given us the go-ahead in terms of the design we will be bringing in the next couple of months and showing and asking the community for their input on what are the options you want to see and how we can improve those entrances and exits off I-20.
Q: The city, at the time McCommas Bluff landfill was built, received $20 million, and they only gave the community $1 million. How was the $1 million from the recycling plant being dispersed, and how many residents are being hired at this plant?
Wilson: That $1 million was from a previous recycling effort that the city was sued for because what it mandated was all connecting cities had to use the city dump. That was struck down. It was an agreement that was made – that $1 million was part of it – that my opponent was part of. As far as the jobs that are down here right now and the 30 jobs being made, they were fired from sanitation first and then continue to go out and reach out to the community to hire individuals. They’re going to go up three shifts, so, in total they will have 90 positions that they’ll be able to offer. Currently, they have one shift. Later this year, they’re moving to have two shifts, so within the next year, they will have three shifts. They will have 90 positions they will constantly advertise for individuals to be able to have jobs in the community.
Q: When we talk about job marketing and business we say “minority,” but Texas White women have 45 percent of minority job benefits. When are we going to go into the job market for Black people and not just the generic term “minority?”
Wilson: Southwest Center Mall has all African American construction. AT&T is all African American and so are the architects and the designers.
Atkins: I had a major problem with getting most of the African Americans bonded for $300 million. We have a rec center we’re trying to get built [but] couldn’t get it built. Couldn’t get it bonded. I have not seen an African American contract. I can’t say that they showed me African Americans are going to build this or going to finance this. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. I have not seen it. The city of Dallas got to put in infrastructure.
Q: What are your plans to decrease segregation in Dallas?
Wilson: That is the reason why we’re starting our comprehensive transportation plan, because what we have is a development plan for the city of Dallas in terms of what we anticipate or would like for it to look like, but we don’t have any idea in terms of how it relates to transportation. We have multiple transportation planned, but none of them co-exist. They’re all individualized. So, the idea is to group all those transportation options together to be able to understand how we can connect neighborhoods that were once divided by I-45 and I-30. The idea is to make it affordable and beneficial for not only mobile transportation within the city but also for quality of life.
Atkins: Most of our leaders and their fit income don’t live in Dallas. They live in the suburbs. When they live in suburbs, they come in and try to tell us what to do. You may have a few North Dallas people try to tell us what to do in our own district. That’s the problem. It’s not us. It’s the people controlling it.