Professional political watchers say there’s no clear frontrunner among the nine candidates seeking to replace Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings in the May 4 municipal elections — making the race wide open.
Each candidate will need to clearly communicate what approaches and priorities make him or her distinct.
With the city’s council-manager form of government, the mayor is a weak player. Experience is going to matter if the next mayor is going to get anything done, says Cal Jillson, Southern Methodist University political science professor.
“People understand that the Dallas mayor has to be a coalition builder, has to be a person who can work with other people,” Jillson said. He adds that many of these candidates have a record of doing that. All of them say they can.
But what is it the candidates want to do?
At several mayoral forums around the city, candidates have debated how much the city should spend on arts, how to improve lives for people of color, how the city should be involved in public education and how to tackle the growing issue of homelessness — and those were just some of the issues.
“We need to recruit and retain police,” said Lynn McBee, education CEO and long-time philanthropist, during a mayoral forum March 28 at the Scottish Rite Temple in downtown. “We probably need to hire 600 to 800 more.”
Maybe because of the deadly downtown police shootings in 2016 or the shrinking police force or both, adding police is a priority for most candidates. It’s McBee’s top priority.
“If we can get to that level,” she said, “then we can do things like community policing that we used to do where we would actually put police in neighborhoods where they were patrolling.”
Paying more for more police is a challenge McBee hopes to meet by charging other police departments to train their recruits in a new or beefed-up Dallas Police Academy. Other candidates like that approach too.
Former state legislator Jason Villalba had a different idea.
“We take off about a quarter of a point from our sales tax and put it into a separate, what I call a temporary first responders fund, to pay for this," Villalba said. "Because it is my number one priority as mayor, it is the issue I will focus on first.”
Meanwhile, Dallas school board member Miguel Solis suggested the city grow its own, providing a path for Dallas students to become Dallas police. That could happen through criminal justice courses in Dallas schools, then offering low-interest, even forgivable loans so officers can affordably live within city limits.
Making that life in the city more appealing has been another topic for candidates, especially when they talk about better infrastructure. Yet fixing potholes and laying new sewage and water pipes will cost billions of dollars. The city can only afford to fix a fraction at a time. Developer and builder Mike Ablon offered his solution during a different mayoral forum, at W.T. White High School on March 20.
“The way you solve that chronic issue is you actually build,” Ablon said. “We have an aging city. So certain parts of the city have an older infrastructure that’s going to age out faster and need replacing. The way you fix that is you grow the pie. You have to create jobs, you have to grow the economy, you have to grow the job base.”
That’s how you get the money, Ablon said, to pay for more repairs. But long-time Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs would try a different approach to infrastructure.
“We need to fix our streets right the first time,” Griggs said. “We give [contracts] to the lowest bidder. That’s why after they’re fixed, they fall apart. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not only the price that matters. You’re going to finish by a certain time or else we’re going to financially penalize you.
"If you’ve done bad work in the past, let’s don’t give them any more contracts.”
During a mayoral forum at Communities Foundation of Texas on April 11, Socialist Workers Party candidate Alyson Kennedy said solutions to just about any city problem lie in our system of governance. How would she fix things?
"It’s not what I would do, it’s what we as working people are going to do together,” Kennedy said. “To begin to get into our bones that there is no solution to the problems – the deep problems – that we face in this society by depending on the policies of the Democratic and Republican parties.”
This was originally posted April 24, 2019, and has been updated.