Tennell Atkins and LeVar Thomas debated for an hour last night at Paul Quinn College in South Dallas, as the two candidates in the District 8 city council race offered opposing views regarding the inland port, the convention center hotel and giving more power to Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle.
Atkins claimed he's "spent all his time making sure the inland port moves forward," while requiring developer Richard Allen to involve minority contractors in the project. Thomas countered that Allen put the requirement for hiring minorities on himself, and he blasted Atkins for supporting a master plan that would have delayed the project, which is expected to bring 60,000 jobs to the area.
Thomas stressed that he's opposed to a publicly owned convention center hotel, criticizing Atkins and the council for approving development and operator agreements for the project. Thomas said moving forward "undercuts and undermines" the May 9 referendum, and the hotel is "not worth the risk to taxpayers" because downtown doesn't have enough vibrancy to support it.
Atkins said he voted for the project because it will bring jobs and opportunity, and he also explained why he voted along with Mayor Tom Leppert and the majority of the council on the issue.
"One thing people don't know [is] I could have voted the other way, but I didn't. And the reason why [is because] it would have been a wasted vote. To me, I think it would have been a wasted vote. No apology," he said in front of a crowd of approximately 40 people. "But one thing I did do [is] I made sure that if we're going to build a hotel downtown, I made sure the black minority would get a guaranteed contract -- a guaranteed piece of the pie."
Atkins also noted the $2.7 million spent by Harlan Crow to kill the project, saying half that money could have been spent in the southern sector instead of paying consultants in California, Florida and the suburbs.
"But we are not for sale, and I don't think my community is for sale," he said.
Thomas rebutted by saying the jobs created by the hotel are a "drop in the bucket" when compared to the 60,000 from the inland port project, and he claimed most of the hotel jobs would be low paying. Then Atkins shed more light on his potential "wasted" vote.
"When I said a wasted vote, I could have voted with the other side, and that could have been the straight vote," he said. "But I decided to take the crooked route."
The candidates also discussed whether Chief Kunkle should be given "absolute power" regarding the ability to fire police officers, such as in the case of former DPD officer Robert Powell, although Powell eventually resigned.
"I think he should have been fired on the spot. There probably would have been a lawsuit for the taxpayer, but in certain cases when something like that happens, you should have control," Atkins said. "He should have been gone. Sue us later."
Atkins added that he wants to look at the current system and consider making changes, while Thomas said he is "deeply troubled" that Atkins would be "so cavalier with taxpayers' money," and he endorsed the current system of checks and balances.
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