Former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle came out swinging at Tuesday evening's mayoral debate at the Fairmont Hotel, with most of his barbs aimed at ex-Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings. The two candidates have collectively engaged in what has become a clear battle of public- versus private-sector experience.
"This may sound a little bit paranoid, but in all the debates I've gone first, and I think these guys steal my ideas, so let me say that first," Kunkle said to an audience highlighted by former Dallas Citizens Council chair John Scovell, city of Dallas Office of Economic Development director Karl Zavitkovsky and more than 200 real estate professionals.
Several attendees laughed, but Kunkle wasn't joking. He's annoyed by the use of his slogans and language by Rawlings, who sent out a mailer claiming the city is "overtaxed and underserved" -- the exact words used by Kunkle on his campaign website, in his first official statement, during several debates and in a February
announcing his candidacy for mayor.
Kunkle later referenced Rawlings's use of the term "beachhead" when discussing southern sector development.
"Mr. Rawlings, I use the word beachhead," Kunkle said. "And I'm glad he likes that also."
When asked after the debate about the use of "overtaxed and underserved," Rawlings claimed he was unaware Kunkle had been using it too.
"Is there a trademark there on that?" he said, laughing, and added that he does "steal good ideas in business" because "that's what a good leader does."
Rawlings took swipes at both Kunkle and Natinsky in his opening statement.
"Two of the candidates that you're going to hear from today have spent most of their time in the public sector. Chief Kunkle has spent almost 40 years [in the public sector], not one day has he spent in the private sector. He's never created a job. He's never grown a business. He's never made a payroll," he said. "Councilman Natinsky has been on the city council for six years and been the head of the Economic Development Committee when development fees have gone up to five times as much as the suburbs, and it takes you twice as long to get through City Hall."
Kunkle lashed back after Rawlings said, "We can hand-carry the stuff around," referring to ways the city can expedite paperwork related to building permits.
Moderator Brad Watson of WFAA mistakenly moved on to the next question without allowing Kunkle to speak, but Kunkle reminded him that he had been skipped.
"That must have been what happened to my Pizza Hut pizza," he said. "It must have gotten hand-carried around too much before it got delivered to my house."
There were as many groans as laughs in the crowd, but Kunkle told Unfair Park afterward that he was attempting to be humorous, not malicious, and he wouldn't take it back if he had a do-over.
"Mike champions his private sector résumé and diminished my public-sector [résumé], and I need to have some humor about it," he said. "It's an attempt to be humorous."
After Kunkle's comment, Rawlings said he'd try not to be offended.
"First it was [living in] Preston Hollow, and now you're making fun of where I worked," he said. "I don't even understand it."
Kunkle at an earlier debate referenced Rawlings's residence in Preston Hollow, claiming it's easy for someone who lives there to tell other people what kind of housing to have in their neighborhoods. He later apologized for the remark.
Rawlings told us afterward that he didn't attack Kunkle's record and didn't even understand Kunkle's comment.
"I think what he said was, 'I got a bad pizza once,'" Rawlings said. "I thought, 'Wow, why is he talking about that in a debate?' It's the No. 1 pizza place in the world. It's been taste-tested as the best pizza in America."
The four candidates reiterated their pledges not to raise property taxes, with Natinsky and Rawlings claiming they would work to roll back the 4.91 cents per $100 valuation increase from last year, Kunkle saying he'd consider it and Edward Okpa not addressing the question.
"We need to live within our means," Natinsky said. "It's that simple."
Kunkle described himself as "a public-policy wonk and geek," and, although he didn't name them directly, he attacked Natinsky and former Mayor Tom Leppert, claiming there was "misinformation" given to voters during the Trinity River toll road campaign in 2007. He cited statements indicating that the road was paid for and that it had been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Neither of which I believe to be true," he said.
Natinsky claimed the funding gap for the second Santiago Calatrava-designed bridge -- the Margaret McDermott Bridge -- has nearly been filled by private funding.
Okpa said he has an unconventional Ph.D, which stands for passion, hard work and dedication. He mentioned that he held a fund-raiser for Governor Rick Perry at his house and said he was "victimized" by the red tape at City Hall because he waited three years and spent $150,000 on legal fees to erect video boards downtown. Okpa also said he'd be the best candidate to advocate for South Dallas.
"We are challenged because a good part of our city -- both north and south -- have been left behind," he said.