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Transcript of January 4, 2002 Dallas Mayoral Debate

By KERA staff

Dallas, TX – Open: Dallas begins the New Year with a new mayor. On January 19th, voters will decide who will lead at Dallas City hall. Today, the frontrunners go head-to-head in this special Vote 2002 debate.

Marla Crockett, Moderator and Host, KERA 90.1's "The People's Agenda": Thanks for joining us. I'm Marla Crockett.

Sam Baker, Moderator and Host, KERA's "On The Record": And I'm Sam Baker. During the first part of the hour, Marla and I will ask questions in an effort to spark mini-debates over the issues that mark this contest for Dallas mayor. It's a special election called after Ron Kirk stepped down to make a bid for the U.S. Senate.

Crockett: Each candidate here will have the opportunity to respond during these free exchanges. And in our second segment, we'll examine the messages in the candidates' campaign ads.

Baker: And in part three, we'll have e-mail questions, in addition to phone calls from our listeners. The numbers are 214-871-9010 and 800-933-5372.

Crockett: The candidates appearing in this debate were invited without regard to their viewpoints, in keeping with KERA's standing debate policy, which considers such criteria as campaign organization, level of public support, range of public appearances, and news media coverage. So let's meet them. First, Tom Dunning - 59 years old, an insurance executive who resigned as Chair of the DFW Airport Board to make his first run for public office.

Baker: Laura Miller - 43 years old, a now-practicing journalist - a non-practicing journalist who resigned her City Council seat to run for Mayor. And Domingo Garcia - 42 years old, an attorney and State Representative who is trying for the second time to be mayor of Dallas.

Crockett: Two other candidates on the ballot include Marvin Crenshaw and Jurline Hollins. The three candidates with us today drew numbers to see who would get the first question. And it goes to Tom Dunning. Mr. Dunning, we want to start by talking about leadership styles, and the coverage has sort of portrayed you as quietly effective but not really a natural politician. So if elected, how would you make this transition from someone behind the scenes, to an out-front leader of the city?

Tom Dunning: Well, actually I've always been successful in the many endeavors that I've taken on, both in the city and the state, by bringing people together. I normally talk about "we" as opposed to "I." I know as a politician you're supposed to be talking about "I." But Dallas has a long tradition of having very successful mayors that have come out of the business community and who have come out of the civic community. And I'm very confident that what I've been able to do in the past, I'll be able to do in the future. And I will be an out-in-front - I will be out in front as mayor. But I think more importantly, I will be able to build the coalition on the council, and I'll be able to build all the citizens so that we can work together to make Dallas an even greater city.

Crockett: Well, a coalition to do what, though? Your campaign has been kind of short on specifics. Where do you want to lead the city?

Dunning: Where I want to lead the city - my vision is I want to have a vibrant downtown. I want to make sure our neighborhoods are even growing stronger, because to have a great city, you have to have strong neighborhoods. And they have to have a presence in dealing with city government, which needs to be fixed.

Crockett: Any responses to Mr. Dunning and what he had to say?

Domingo Garcia: Well, you know, I'm proud of the fact that of all the three candidates, I have more council members that are seated that are supporting my candidacy than anybody else. And one of the reasons is because as mayor pro tem, I've actually held the gavel of mayor of Dallas. I've run city council meetings, and I know that it takes consensus and coalition-building to make things happen. You can't do it by yourself; it takes a group effort. And now - whether it's a group on the council of eight votes or more, or whether that's a coalition-builder of civic and community leaders to get things accomplished. I have a big vision for a Big D of Dallas that works to bring everybody into the process that leaves no neighborhood behind, no family behind, and no child behind, and is inclusive of the entire city.

Laura Miller: Now, I think Dallas is ready for strong leadership. Everyone knows that I stand up for what I think is right. And my style - my leadership style - is to read the fine print; to ask all the tough questions at city hall; and then to bring people together and not take no for an answer. That's how we did the ethics code at city hall. You know, it's hard when you are trying to get Dallas City Council to regulate themselves more strictly, which is what the ethics code was all about. And we also started our first city ethics commission so that citizens could file complaints against city officials and elected officials. And that was hard to do. And that was a matter of standing up for what's right, being persuasive and persistent with my colleagues. And in the end, the council together - a coalition of us, a majority of us - put together the new ethics code. And so that's what leadership is. Leadership is being strong. Leadership is being honest. Leadership is going for what you believe in and then doing what you have to do to get it done.

Baker: Well, on that note, Ms. Miller, there are some who have been left with the impression, by the way you stand up for yourself, so to speak, that you're divisive. How do you overcome that impression?

Miller: Well, you know, it will be a lot of fun if and when I'm mayor, because I won't have to be under
the arbitrary rule anymore that I was under as a council member, where the mayor runs the meeting with an arbitrary three-minute rule; and when the red light goes on after three minutes, no matter what you're talking about or how complicated it is, I would have to - or other council members would have to - stop talking in mid-sentence. Which is frustrating if you're an elected official, a mature adult who represents 85,000 people in the city of Dallas.

Baker: But wasn't the point of that to bring more order to the meetings?

Miller: You know, my husband is the chairman of a state affairs committee in Austin that is just as big as the Dallas City Council. And he lets everybody talk. And I think it is good for a mayor to let his colleagues, who he or she respects, to talk. And to debate issues openly, because that's what democracy is. And that is what I will do as a council member - as a mayor. I will let people talk, and I will ask them a very important question that they don't get asked very often lately: "What can I do for you and your council district to help you get what you need done?" And that's my job as mayor - is to help all my fellow colleagues help their constituents, because their constituents are going to be my constituents.

Baker: Any responses?

Dunning: You know, I think the main difference, though, is that you tend to attack people. I mean, even in your opening - or even in your announcement, you said you no longer can attack people; you have to build a coalition. And I think that's why I have so many people who serve on the council and former council people supporting me, is because they know I will work with them to build the coalition so we can continue to move Dallas forward. And so I think it's key that you just weren't going after Ron Kirk, you were going after people who appeared - or citizens who appeared before the council, other council people, the staff. And that - I don't think that works.

Miller: You know, I never said that in my announcement, and I would appreciate it as the campaign continues, if you would accurately reflect what I do and what I say. What I said was, as a council member sometimes I was critical of the process. And I will continue to always, if I see something wrong at city hall, to stand up and say, "I think this is wrong; I think we need to do it differently." With the difference in being mayor is that you have to have a vision about where you want to take the city in the future. It's not about being a council member for one-fourteenth of the city. It's about being a mayor for all of the city, every council district, and bringing all your colleagues together to move forward with the specific vision, which I have.

Garcia: Well, I think this indicates one of the problems where Dallas voters are going have to decide who can best unify the city. I personally don't think you ought to berate veterans like Ms. Miller did. I don't think you ought to berate Christians who want to come and do a prayer before a council meeting. I think you need to talk to everybody and be inclusive. If a rabbi wants to come, if a Buddhist wants to come, a Christian wants to do a prayer at city hall, they ought to be allowed to do that. Building consensus takes leadership. Leadership means you don't berate people because you disagree with them. You listen to their views and you are respectful about it, and then you go on and you make your vote. With all due respect, Ms. Miller, Mr. Wolens stays until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning at those state affairs meetings down in Austin. I don't think the city hall should be meeting at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, because that creates problems.

Crockett: Well, Mr. Garcia, let's talk about your leadership style. You made "Texas Monthly's" list of 10 worst legislators before the last session - the implication being that some of your colleagues don't trust you, that you have alienated a lot of them. So what kind of leadership style would you bring to city hall?

Garcia: Well, that came from a travel magazine, so I don't know if that's really the best criteria. I'm proud to say the bilingual teachers of Texas said I was one of the best legislators, and that my constituents have voted for me over and over again. But standing up for empowerment and inclusion is what earned me that record. And I am proud to say I will continue to stand up for my community; for people that have been excluded; for neighborhoods that have been forgotten; for families that have to put their kids in schools that don't function for them, where they have to - their kids have to go to school through beer bottles and condoms and needles that have been thrown. I don't think people should put up with that, and they ought to have leadership that represents those communities as opposed to leadership right now that just forgets about them.

Crockett: Will you stand up for businesses at city hall?

Garcia: Of course.

Crockett: What kind? What kind?

Garcia: I passed a bill that created a small business advocate in the governor's office in the state of Texas to help small business get moving again. When we look at Dallas, to me, we shouldn't be talking about Boeing coming to Dallas; we ought to be talking about how do we keep those small and mid-sized businesses in Dallas, because those are the ones that employ the majority of the people. If we can keep them here, we'll have a healthy economy, and we'll bring those big businesses to Dallas.

Miller: Since when -

Crockett: Any responses?

Miller: Since when did "Texas Monthly" become a travel magazine? They wouldn't be
very happy to hear that.

Crockett: Do you want to respond, though, to what he said?

Miller: You know, one way to become the best friend of the business community as mayor is to take care of the people and the businesses that are already here, which I think has not been a priority in the city of Dallas for quite a few years. If you take care of the roads and the schools and the parks and the police and firefighters, then I think you can get a company to come - like Boeing - to Dallas. You know, Boeing didn't come because we had this building or that building. They didn't come because our school system isn't very good, and because our parks are 39th out of 40th for the top 40 cities in America. We're 39. And our police and firefighters are at the lowest end of the pay scale for any suburban or Dallas city in the Metroplex. We're at the bottom, way below much smaller towns like Addison. And those are the reasons that a Boeing doesn't come. And a mayor has to go in and take care of citizens and take care of businesses and keep the streets clean and repaired and make the parks green, and have a place to go on the weekends with your family down the street. That's what we have to do, and then we'll be able to get companies like Boeing.

Crockett: Mr. Dunning?

Dunning: Well, Boeing did not come here because we did not have a vibrant downtown. I mean, they moved to Chicago because they wanted to be in the thick of things. And Dallas is close, but we still have a long way to go. And that's why I keep on emphasizing that we do need to make Main Street an exciting place. This is why I've said that we need to have boutiques there. We need to encourage restaurants. We need to have the lights on after 5:00. We need to make sure that it's a place where people want to go. We also need to make sure that our schools are the very best, and that's why I support this new bond program. And as you may know, I chaired the last DISD bond program 10 years ago. But it's also important that we not over-promise. I mean, Ms. Miller promised $50 million to the Dallas police. I don't know where it's going to come from. Sure, I'd like to make sure they have a raise. And they do get a raise of 5% every other year for the first 15 years they work for the police force. But bottom line is, how are we going to pay for it? I agree, we do need to improve our parks. I mean, we have more parks than we did six years ago, and our budget is about the same. We can't continue doing that. We have to improve our parks. I served as vice president of the Park Board. So we have to do these things, but I'm not sure that you can promise a $50 million raise without adding more police or firefighters and be able to follow through on it.

Miller: You know what I did, Tom?

Dunning: What?

Miller: I promised to be their champion. That's what I promised to be, because they haven't had a champion at city hall in a very long time. And they need to be able to come and sit with the city manager and sit with the mayor and sit with the council and say, "How are you going to get our starting salary up to a level that's the same as the suburbs?" And $50 million is a little high. $45 million is a 15% raise. And if you don't do it all at one time, you do it over a number of years. But you have to assure the police and firefighters that that is the goal. And then, like a household budget or business budget, you have to figure out what your priorities are. And if your priority as mayor is to get the police and firefighters at a competitive salary with the suburbs, then that's what you need to do; and that's what I have pledged to do, is to be their champion and get to the goal line somehow, some way, over some period of time.

Dunning: Well, now, the memo I have from the city manager's office said it's 3.5% or it's going to be $50 million in order to bring them up to what the suburbs are. But I think you also have to look at the total compensation package. And right now we are fourth in first years when you look at a total compensation package. And the reason it is, is because the amount that goes into retirement every year is almost double what all of the other suburbs are. And we have to look at the total compensation. And I'm for bringing the police and the fire up to where we are the tops in the city, or in this whole area.

Garcia: My question is -

Baker: Let's move on. Mr. Garcia, let's get a quick response from you.

Garcia: Just a quick response. I'm just saying you can't promise people in certain areas you're not going to raise their taxes, and then promise police officers you're going to give them a 15% pay increase, because it takes money to run the show. And I propose that we set up a crime-fighting district and we put it to the voters. But I think there is a credibility gap when you start promising people one thing and promising people something diametrically opposed. And sooner or later that catches up to you. I think the mayor of Dallas has to be honest and straightforward with the people and say, "If you want to pay police officers more, it's going to cost you." Now, how do you want to do it? I believe the voters are going to make that decision.

Baker: Mr. Garcia - all of you, in fact - have talked and expressed interest in reviewing the council-manager form of government and in particular, expanding the powers of the office of mayor. But what I'm curious about, Mr. Garcia, is to do what? What is it you would want to do with expanded powers that you can't do now?

Garcia: Well, I think that the citizens should make that decision. I think we set up a city charter review committee made up of civic and community leaders that will look at what is New York doing? What is Giuliani doing in New York in terms of security? Should the mayor have a little bit more to say on the police chief and police department? Have them evaluate every part of the city manager's role, the city council's role, and the mayor's role and have a balance. And that's where I think it should be decided - as a community-wide effort, not by one person.

Baker: Ms. Miller?

Miller: You know, the problem I see now with the system is that the city manager has all the power. He hires and fires all 13,000 employees; he makes the day-to-day decisions; and the city council is supposed to set broad public policy. But while he has all the power, the city council and the mayor are held accountable by the voters. And I think that there is a tension there. I think it would be in a 14-1 system of government we have now, where citizens rely on their council member to make their neighborhood safer and cleaner and have a better quality of life - I think that it would work better perhaps, and this has to be discussed publicly, city-wide, through a lot of public hearings through a charter review commission as Domingo says. But it is possible that, since we are one of the largest cities in the country that still has a city manager form of government when most have a strong mayor form of government, it's possible that we have outgrown the city manager form of government. It's possible that we need to have the accountability sit with the people that are in power.

Baker: Mr. Dunning.

Dunning: Well, first of all, I think it's working very, very well for us. But it also is something we need to review every eight to ten years. And quite frankly, the city manager form of government, I think, gives every council member much more say-so than we would if we had a strong mayor form of government. As Dallas's future mayor, I would like to have more power. I mean, I think it would be great to be able to pick the department heads and to really have the total responsibility come back to the mayor. And that I would be truly accountable, not only to the people on the city council, but to all citizens of this city.

[Because of space limitations, this transcript is continued in another article. Please click on "January 4, 2002 debate transcript, part 2" under "Related Stories" on this page to continue.]