Dallas' Next Mayor Will Face Tough Budget Choices. Too Bad The Candidates Won't Talk About Them.

Welcome To The Dull House

Dallas' Next Mayor Will Face Tough Budget Choices. Too Bad The Candidates Won't Talk About Them.
Jason Chalker

The group of mayoral hopefuls—the police chief, the politician, the CEO and the long shot—agree on just about everything.

Raising taxes is naughty.

Natural gas drilling should be allowed only if science proves it's safe.

Mike Rawlings' pedigree is corporate America. But the mayoral hopeful was instrumental in making Dallas' homeless center, The Bridge, a success.
Mark Graham
Mike Rawlings' pedigree is corporate America. But the mayoral hopeful was instrumental in making Dallas' homeless center, The Bridge, a success.
Former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle has positioned himself as the outsider. He is widely credited with restoring public confidence in the DPD.
Mark Graham
Former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle has positioned himself as the outsider. He is widely credited with restoring public confidence in the DPD.

Neighborhoods are kick-ass, though it's unclear whether anyone can be found who's anti-neighborhood.

Former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings, the well-financed presumed frontrunner, estimates that he and his fellow candidates find common ground between 90 and 95 percent of the time, which makes for some seriously dull campaign forums. But maybe that's because all four candidates deftly sidestep the city's biggest issue: how to trim a budget that's sucking gobs of air, with a $60 million to $100 million expected shortfall, according to City Manager Mary Suhm.

Outside of the forums, the Dallas Observer pressed each candidate to identify specific cuts they'd make. Rawlings, city council member Ron Natinsky and real estate consultant Edward Okpa gave non-answers. Only ex-police Chief David Kunkle came up with something concrete: requiring DART to contract with the Dallas Police Department for its officers, which would eliminate the duplications of command staffs, communication centers and overhead.

But that was it. One measly cut among four candidates.

Whoever wins the May 14 election will have to make tough calls on the budget deficit as the economy continues to flounder. About half of the city's $2 billion operating budget is its general fund, and more than 60 percent of that is dedicated to public safety. Voters will decide who's most qualified to get the best out of the remaining $400 million, but can any of the candidates identify waste without having to skimp on filling potholes, mowing the grass at parks and staffing libraries?

The candidates think they can. Each puts forth his own brand of optimism, affirming that the city's budget woes are no match for a strong commitment to economic development and improved efficiency at City Hall.

Since these men agree on that and just about everything else, the race comes down to four guys and four personalities—and a handful of pricey campaign consultants working their tricks to extract votes from places where voters seem challenged to care.

Of course, stirring up voter interest might come a little easier if any of the hopefuls were willing to say exactly what they might cut to balance the books, but what's true of politics at the national level is also true at City Hall: Candidates who get too interesting or too specific when it comes to wielding an axe seldom fare well on election day.

Mike Rawlings is the Establishment candidate, the man who belongs to the Dallas Citizens Council and has a long history in corporate America, just like his predecessor, Tom Leppert, who resigned in February to launch a bid to replace retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Rawlings has the most unlikely bloc of supporters in Dallas: the homeless.

Take Ricky Hernandez. He knows what Rawlings has done, even though he doesn't know Rawlings. "Whoever built this did the right thing," he says about The Bridge—a homeless assistance center at the edge of downtown Dallas. It's the brainchild of ex-Dallas Observer columnist and former Mayor Laura Miller, but Rawlings' handprints are all over it.

Hernandez, a 41-year-old ex-con, visits The Bridge daily for free meals, healthcare, job assistance, laundry services and showers. "It's good for people who don't really have nothing, people who are homeless, people who really, really need a place to stay and a place to eat," Hernandez says.

Released from state prison in January after serving an 18-year sentence for cocaine possession, Hernandez is energized about an interview for a dish-washing job at a local nursing home, arranged with help from his care manager at The Bridge. "If everything goes good for me tomorrow, I probably won't be here any longer than three more weeks," he says.

For Hernandez and the nearly 1,000 homeless served there daily, The Bridge represents a last chance to pull themselves out of homelessness and extreme poverty. "If I was a rich guy—a multimillionaire—I'd open another one right next door," he says.

Despite spending five years as the city's homeless czar, Rawlings makes little mention on the campaign trail of his time dedicated to The Bridge and raising millions of dollars in private donations to maintain it, even contributing money from his own pocket. Since it opened in May 2008, The Bridge has reduced the number of chronically homeless by 56 percent and provides shelter for around 350 homeless men and women every night.

"I'm still a little bit uncomfortable about helping out poor people and trying to get credit for it," Rawlings says. "It seems a little disingenuous."

Instead, Rawlings has relied on his corporate experience as the chief executive of three companies to become a candidate in the mold of ex-Turner Construction CEO and former Mayor Leppert. Leppert was one of the best salesmen this city's seen in a long time, and Rawlings says the city needs "a dealmaker" to lure economic development.

Like Leppert, who hasn't endorsed any of the candidates, Rawlings is a member of the influential Citizens Council. Former mayors Erik Jonsson and Jack Evans—ex-CEOs of Texas Instruments and Tom Thumb, respectively—once led the Citizens Council. The group of wealthy business leaders includes Ross Perot Jr. and Dallas Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones.

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20 comments
Ann Maxwell
Ann Maxwell

Can you tell me (since they won't) how the top candidates voted for President? This is very important to me!!

Ann Maxwell
Ann Maxwell

Can you tell me (since they won"t) how the top candidates voted for President?

Hasanmary
Hasanmary

At first Nantinsky was the Citizen Council candidate. Next Rawlin is the citizen council candidate. Why don't you ever refer to Kunkle as Laura Miller's candidate? We know he is but since he is also the observers' candidate, you try not to do anything which might cause him problems.

Guest
Guest

I'm surprised with Dallas:

We gave the police force a reduction in pay.. We laid off teachers.. We are in a budget crises..

YET - we have unnecessary building projects going on right now that make NO SENSE financially - for example - the homeless parks that we are building across 75.. in downtown.. the bridge to nowhere. the trolley turnaround in Uptown.. the convention center hotel..

Just makes NO SENSE.. Dallas has a lot of problems..

One thing I liked this weekend about Southlake and Fort Worth - they had a very successful turnout at the art festival.. they wanted people.. lots of people..

Did they charge for parking? NO - free parking.. free event.. lots of people.. lots of people throwing money at all the businesses.. lots of tax revenue

Dallas - what do they do - overcharge for parking.. for any event .. and under deliver.. and they continue to with every new project: Opera House - $20 to $50 parking.. $100 to $500 ticket.. Mavericks.. Hockey.. Same thing.. there is no draw for tourists.. there is high line clothing stores and high prices food places.. NOTHING to bring in tourists and people who spend money..

YET we have a budget crises.. because we're mismanaging our funds and spending it on things that don't matter.. things that won't bring in tourists..

Dallas Cowboy Stadium.. oh the list goes on and on and on..

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

Five marriages and all, Kunkle is the only one of the bunch who will look out for the middle class. All in all, a boring selection. Can we just write in Robert Wilonksy?

Pdfreeman69
Pdfreeman69

Why is it when a Republican incumbent leaves office, the next guy comes into a $hit$torm?

samplerayt
samplerayt

Well, it'll be just like every other time. Property tax increases will be proposed and met with great consternation. If that doesn't get approved, then a property tax rate INCREASE will occur. A good percentage of folks will be forced to move to the suburbs because they can't afford the RENT Dallas charges for land and dwellings. Meanwhile, the over-the-top grandiose projects will continue only to be followed by more over-the-top grandiose projects, most of them simply stupid. To them, it's better to drive on ruined roadways to their latest 'Taj Mahal' than to have no 'Taj Mahal.' Each one leaves some soft of very expensive marker that soothes their ego. For those that live here, their only accomplishment is ever oppressive property taxes. It won't matter whomever wins as most of us lose.

samplerayt
samplerayt

Well, it'll be just like every other time. Property tax increases will be proposed and met with great consternation. If that doesn't get approved, then a property tax rate INCREASE will occur. A good percentage of folks will be forced to move to the suburbs because they can't afford the RENT Dallas charges for land and dwellings. Meanwhile, the over-the-top grandiose projects will continue only to be followed by more over-the-top grandiose projects, most of them simply stupid. To them, it's better to drive on ruined roadways to their latest 'Taj Mahal' than to have no 'Taj Mahal.' Each one leaves some soft of very expensive marker that soothes their ego. For those that live here, their only accomplishment is ever oppressive property taxes. It won't matter whomever wins as most of us lose.

Noemail
Noemail

Problem is that our current mayor is unable to add and subtract, and completely clueless regarding public policy and his domestic disturbance scandal

BNJB33
BNJB33

VOTE DAVID KUNKLE

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

Natinsky--“He represents himself as a fiscal conservative, but he backed tax increases in 2005 and 2007 and was busted in October 2008 by The Dallas Morning News for spending $12,000 in taxpayer funds for thousands of plastic pizza cutters, letter openers, dish-scrubbing brushes and other trinkets bearing his name. He didn't see anything wrong with it then and doesn't now either.”-----that statement reminds me of the southern sector and the no bid Love Field Contract issue. Like Natinsky the southern sector too does not see any problem with their position on that issue of no bid contracts.

However I must point out too that the claim that Natinsky has “Republican Values” too is ludicrous in that he just can’t control himself when it comes to tax dollars-he can squander them like a pro too. As to Natinisky’s claim about being against taxes I just can’t get the image out of my head of all the council members sitting behind closed doors figuring out how they were going to raise taxes with out being accountable “you guys in the southern sector should come out in favor of raising taxes while us northern sector will come out opposed (and save our political skins with our constituencies) and we can go on a spending spree after we fund our budget.” And look at the spending they have embraced after a record tax increase and property value increases by the DCAD. No control what so ever in restraint on spending or prioritizing projects.

Oh yes lets not forget about the tax on Atmos pipe lines that was passed on to gas customers to fund the libraries and parks for 2010. A stealth tax is still a tax be it a fee or a valuation increase on property or increase on tax rate.

mpound
mpound

It looks like either Kunkle's head was photoshopped on to Rawlings body or vice-versa. Mike looks more commanding in his suit and purple tie than David does in his, no?

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

This might just be the most un-biased story I've ever seen the Dallas Observer put out. THANKS!!!

Jkwaghorne
Jkwaghorne

It's a shame to see history distorted by wealth and power. The Bridge was fought for and won by advocates on the ground and former Mayor Laura Miller was dragged tooth and nail to the table as were a majority on the council. (Dallas being ranked as the 6th meanest city in America also helped). It's sad how the eggs benedict always get the credit.

yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

Queen Mary makes the decisions at city hall. The mayor merely carries her robe as do the others. Until she leaves, there is no great changes at Dallas City Hall.

Bung
Bung

Or Mike Moncrief.

md
md

Why is it when a Democrat incumbent leaves office, everything is rosy?

Oh, that's right, it's not.

Big Tex
Big Tex

Before you start crediting KNUCKLE with having the undying devotion of his rank-and-file "men-in-blue", why don't you poll heads of the different DPD organizations.Have you seen any of them endorse KNUCKLE as a candidate? NO!Besides, the idiot has stated that he would initiate Section 8 housing in North Dallas"because those ND rich people don't what it's like to struggle".Why not just make the idiot Mayor Pro-Tem the permanent Mayor of Dallas?He's a minority version of KNUCKLE....besides you could save the cost of inaugeration.

Mark Anthony Dallas
Mark Anthony Dallas

Kunkle was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Dallas and the Latino Peace Officers. They liked being treated with respect, as opposed to the DPA which would prefer to tell (any) Chief how to do his job.

 
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