Candidates talk policy

Field of eight vies for Dallas mayor’s post

Eight Dallas mayoral candidates gathered at Scottish Rite Hospital on April 3 to discuss policies, distinguish themselves from opponents and win the support of voters.

Mike Ablon, Albert Black, Scott Griggs, Eric Johnson, Lynn McBee, Regina Montoya, Miguel Solis and Jason Villalba are all running for mayor. Each has a distinctive background ranging from childhood poverty in West Dallas to Ivy League educations and vastly different experiences, ranging from attorney to biochemist.

Ron Chapman, former district, state and appellate court judge, moderated the 90-minute Dallas Mayoral Candidate Forum, asking nine questions after each candidate gave an opening statement.

“Each candidate will have the opportunity to answer the question[s],” Chapman said. “Notice I said ‘answer the question,’ not ‘address the question’ or, even worse, ‘talk around the question.’”

Miguel Solis speaks at the Dallas Mayoral Candidate Forum April 3 at Scottish Rite Hospital.

Miguel Solis speaks at the Dallas Mayoral Candidate Forum April 3 at Scottish Rite Hospital.

“I think you can assume that everyone in this room supports road improvements, public safety, affordable housing, thriving neighborhoods, improved education and ethics in city hall,” Chapman said. “So you can take your generic talking points and save them for the next forum. This crowd already supports those things. I urge you to address two specific things in your responses: how specifically are you going to accomplish it and how specifically are you going to pay for it.”

The questions were pointed and specific: “What is one opponent’s policy with which you disagree?” “If Amazon offered its HQ2 to Dallas on the same terms it offered Crystal City, would you accept?” “Where will you get more money to improve infrastructure?” “Will you move municipal elections to November in order to increase turnout?” “Do the recent corruption scandals at city hall imply widespread corruption or better enforcement of anti-corruption laws?” “Of what endorsement are you proudest?” “How will you repair development inequality between North and South Dallas?” “What will you do to improve the education system?” And lastly, “How are you different from other candidates?”

No candidate swept the field, however, certain candidates did appear stronger and more consistent than others.

McBee championed investment in the basics – education, economic growth and public services – as a viable solution to many problems. For instance, she proposed greater funding for roads, police, code enforcement and the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) and DCCCD to combat development inequality.

To improve DISD she suggested private dollars put to public use, internships and mentorships. When asked about increasing funds for infrastructure, she said that it is not insufficient funds, but inefficient usage.

“Right now we have $550 million in bond and general fund money. We have an infrastructure maintenance plan that the city council, I believe, adopted last fall, and so if we stay on that plan then we can push those dollars out,” McBee said. “We’ve got to get the basics right. We’ve got the money; we’ve got to push it out.”

Corruption in city hall was a major theme of the forum.

Villalba described city hall as a “rat’s nest” that must be held accountable. Montoya cited corruption and scandals as a reason for low voter turnout in municipal elections. Both Ablon and Johnson spoke of the need for an independent watchdog – such as the city attorney – overseeing the city council.

Another theme was opposition to Griggs’ plan for attracting businesses and investment to Dallas. Villalba, Ablon and Black claimed that his plan has too many requirements and will hamstring and limit companies.

“The policy position that I would disagree with most relates to economic development and its fettered and restricted measures. Mr. Griggs, a wonderful, genuine public servant, has talked about what his economic development plan would look like. It is limited. It is hamstrung and it is restricted,” Villalba said.

The Dallas Mayoral Candidate Forum can be viewed in its entirety online at www.richlandstudentmedia.com.