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'On The Record' Examines District 3 Council Race

By KERA staff

Dallas, TX – Sam Baker, Host, "On The Record": Well, before we take a look at the candidates seeking Laura Miller's old District 3 seat on the council, here is some viewer feedback about last week's mayoral debate, a special KERA presentation co-produced by "On The Record" and 90.1 radio's weekly call-in show, "The People's Agenda."

Excerpt of Domingo Garcia from KERA debate: When's the last time you went, or anybody went, to the DMA? People don't go to the museums in Dallas that are there because we don't make them fun. We need to make them fun again.

Tom Motley wrote: I was appalled when Mr. Garcia said, "When did anybody last go to the DMA?," suggesting the Arts District and Dallas arts are too highbrow. The throng of current visitors to the current DMA exhibit of Mexican folk art treasures will be surprised to hear him berating the arts district and music of Mexican culture.

John White had this to say: Thanks for asking tough questions - and, for the record, Ron Kirk was petty and mean-spirited in office.

And this email from Janice Harris: Thanks for airing the mayoral debate! I listened to it on 90.1, then watch[ed] it on Channel 13. I was unsure of who to vote for before I heard the debates. Thanks for providing such a great service!

Baker: We welcome your comments about today's show, so please send an e-mail to:, or call: 214-740-9226. Now, in a chain reaction, Laura Miller was prompted to resign her District 3 city council seat when former mayor Ron Kirk resigned to run for the U.S. Senate. Kirk made that move after Phil Gramm said he was calling it quits. In the wake of all that activity, would-be politicians in Miller's Oak Cliff council district had to move quickly. Here's a look at the four candidates who want to represent District 3.

Baker: Dallas city council District 3 takes in a large segment of Oak Cliff and is located in the southwest sector of the city. There are four candidates vying for the seat: Julia Soto Cabrera - she's 50 years old and a community volunteer. Mark Housewright, 53, is the publisher of "The Oak Cliff Tribune" and the owner of Pegasus Advertising Agency. Joe Whitney, also 53, is a general contractor and builder and former member of the board of directors of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce. The fourth candidate is Gary Burns, 43 years old, a senior network administrator with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, and a former president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League.

Graphic: What are the issues?

Julia Cabrera: Economic development, I feel, is a very important thing - despite the economy - that needs to be done in certain sections of north Oak Cliff where there is a lot of vacant land. There are some shopping centers there that may be revitalized that would help the community. We are in dire need of goods and services.

Gary Burns: I think that city services in our neighborhoods are a big issue. We have neighborhoods in the southern part of the district that don't get the police response that they would like to have. Some of them don't even realize there is a code enforcement department.

Mark Housewright: It's been a long battle for Oak Cliff to always get its share of the expenditures to come out of the city of Dallas. And that's something that we need to still be working on. And it will be critical in the 2002 bond issue that's coming up in September. I think other key issues that we'll be dealing with, of course, are delivery of basic city services. That's always been a struggle for Oak Cliff.

Joe Whitney: Ironically, all the candidates - whether it's on the council, even the mayoral race candidates - they all want to fix the potholes. They all want to do code enforcement; they all want to pay the police and fire department more. They want to do the education. But I really don't perceive those as being the issues. The issues to me are how are we going to fund these? How are we going to pay for these things that we want and also need?

Graphic: What is your plan of action?

Housewright: I think we're going to have to follow through with getting more housing, both single family - and in certain areas, we're going to have to look at a little denser multi-family developments like the new apartment complex that is going in near Methodist Hospital. Once we reach a critical mass of having the number of people that fit the demographic needs of those retailers, then we'll see more development in that end.

Cabrera: We certainly need a super store. We do not have one in District 3. We have one closer to the Loop 12 area.

Whitney: Major ways that we can pay for these things - and again, it's a long-term - is to create incentives where we're building more in the southern sector, because that's the area that we have the most raw land available. If we give a tax abatement to every employee of the city that lives in the city, then we double really our benefit. The employee, the policeman, fireman, or code inspector is going to get, you know, a couple thousand dollars more a year in tax abatement.

Burns: I will work to try to find - to try to get money for the streets in the area that need the repair.

Graphic: What?s your position on the Trinity River?

Burns: Obviously have the money to do the improvements in the river basin for recreation. I personally am not sure that it makes sense to spend that money to do that and then put a road on top of it.

Cabrera: I am in support of the Trinity River project.

Housewright: That will especially impact north and east Oak Cliff. But it will also benefit Dallas as a whole and the central business district. It's a - something we must do.

Whitney: I really look at the Trinity as a great asset. If we can't find anything better to do, let's take a couple hundred head of longhorn down there and it will be a great tourist attraction. I mean, even the simplicity of something like that would be much better than putting a concrete fortress.

Baker: We've certainly heard a variety of issues and approaches to those issues. Colleen, is there a frontrunner in this race who has captured the public's attention in that district?

Colleen McCain Nelson, City Hall Reporter, Dallas Morning News: Well, this is a wide-open race. And it's an interesting race because it's really the first council race that has occurred since they approved council pay. And so it's an interesting test to see what kind of candidates a race would attract with council pay. And this race has attracted four legitimate candidates who are all running good campaigns and who have all been involved in Oak Cliff. I mean, they all have strong resumes of volunteerism, and they have all been involved in city issues. So, I mean, it's going to be a tough race and one that a lot of people may think will go to a runoff. And probably an unfortunate result of the mayor's race is that this race, which is pretty interesting, has been overlooked. Not a lot of people are paying attention to this race because they are so focused on the mayor's race.

Gromer Jeffers, Jr., political reporter, Dallas Morning News: And it will also be interesting to see what happens in 2003 when they have to run again.

Nelson: Right.

Jeffers: Because council member Ed Oakley, who is in District 3 now - although he was elected in District 6, redistricting put him in 3 - so he will probably have to run against one of these candidates.

Baker: So in essence, redistricting leaves them with two incumbents.

Jeffers: Exactly.

Baker: Hasn't Laura Miller backed a candidate in this race?

Nelson: She's not officially endorsed a candidate. Mark Housewright was her appointment to the plan commission, so obviously they have worked together. But she's not publicly campaigned for anyone or endorsed anyone.

Jaime Ruiz, Reporter/Anchor, Univision: It is a very interesting candidate especially - you have the publicist, you have the builder, and you have the volunteer. I think you have to mix them in a melting pot or something and create a great candidate. But I think that Laura Miller district - it's a tough one. And especially because I think most of the population in that district is Hispanic. And they - again, we go back to the same thing - that they are under-represented, and hopefully this election will bring more people.

Baker: Is there any indication as to how Hispanics are leaning in this race?

Ruiz: Exactly.

Baker: For any particular candidate?

Bob Ray Sanders, Editorial Columnist, Fort Worth Star Telegram: I don't know for this race. I think the Hispanics are divided in this race as they are in the mayor's race, as are blacks. I mean, I think you cannot put any ethnic group into one person's camp.

Baker: There's no block swing vote this time.

Jeffers: Right.

Sanders: No, I don't think so. That's what makes it so uncertain about who is going to end up winning in either of these races.

Baker: Well, we'll have to end it right there. That's all the time we have for now. Thanks to all of you for being here. And thanks to you for joining us. Don't forget to vote in the special election on Saturday, January 19th.