Mayoral Candidates David Kunkle, Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings Talk Neighborhoods and Economic Development in Pleasant Grove

While this looks shady, Mike Rawlings is actually handing out a business card.
While this looks shady, Mike Rawlings is actually handing out a business card.
Photos by Sam Merten

All four mayoral candidates are running on similar platforms to improve neighborhoods and boost economic development. But underdog Edward Okpa sought to set himself apart from the field this afternoon, claiming David Kunkle and Mike Rawlings "don't have the relevant facts" to make the necessary progress in neighborhoods. He also said they lack the experience to add small businesses, pointing out that Kunkle served as a police chief and Rawlings is a former chief executive.

"You tell me what you want, and I will deliver for you," the real estate broker and international trade consultant told approximately 80 folks gathered at the Pleasant Grove Campus of Eastfield College. "That's economic development."

Rawlings, the ex-CEO of Pizza Hut, said the city needs "a dealmaker," and he aims to recruit "blue-chip CEOs" to move their headquarters to Dallas by committing one day per week making phone calls as mayor. He admitted that he doesn't have many objectives, listing economic development three times on a list of three.

"We will beat Irving. We will beat Plano," he said. "And that's the attitude we have to have."

Kunkle held up a copy of the book Good to Great, which describes great leaders as socially awkward and non-charismatic -- two qualities that describe him. He was chosen as one of four leaders in a documentary about the book written by Jim Collins. Kunkle said there are times to build signature bridges and convention center hotels, but now is the time to focus on neighborhoods. The difference between him and Rawlings, he said, is Rawlings had a narrow focus as CEO, while his experience as police chief forced him to look at all facets of government.

Candidate Ron Natinsky had a prior engagement and did not attend.

Okpa, who bussed tables at the Hilton Anatole hotel when he moved to Dallas from Nigeria 25 years ago, touted his land acquisitions for the Dallas County Community College District without litigation and said he wants to "unleash" the city's value that has been hidden by City Hall. The former board member of the Dallas Development Fund also claimed City Hall has been resistant to hand out the new markets tax credits that are available through the DDF.

Okpa sprinkled several unconventional comments throughout the afternoon, including "The only thing we cannot change is death," and "I am coming to you as your servant leader."

Rawlings said Kunkle has "a great history in the public sector," while he has "a great history in the private sector," so it's up to voters to determine which experience is best for the city. He touched on the budget only briefly, saying, "You have to look at waste and find a way to cut it out." Rawlings also said the city needs to eliminate the red tape for developers.

"We don't have to get a big fund," he said. "We just have to get the paperwork through."

When asked about the upcoming redistricting of council seats, Rawlings issued what has become his catch phrase while urging residents to be involved and vocal in the process.

"Are you gonna walk down to City Hall and say, 'No mas?'" he said.

Kunkle said the "single worst part" of the previous redistricting was the effect on Pleasant Grove, pointing out that it's part of four different council districts, with no council members living there. He said the city is "overtaxed and underserved," which is why Dallas grew only .17 percent since the last census. Kunkle also mentioned that crime fell each year he was chief and said he raised $17 million for the department as chief.

Kunkle stressed that the city should have a strong commitment to the inland port and said he's "troubled" by various economic incentives handed out by the city. He mentioned one under consideration by the council to Dean Foods that he claims amounts to $400,000 per job.

The three candidates were allowed introductory statements followed by four prepared questions by members of various chambers of commerce and a final statement. Kunkle was allowed to speak first and answer each question first, with Okpa second and Rawlings third. The moderator cited alphabetical order as the reasoning. Only during the closing remarks did the order change, with Rawlings first, Kunkle second and Okpa last.

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