Of no surprise to us, former council member Al Lipscomb's grandson, LeVar "LD" Thomas, became the first challenger to battle freshman Tennell Atkins for his District 8 council seat when Thomas held a press conference at the E Zee Shop parking lot in South Dallas Friday morning. He was joined by Lipscomb, along with campaign treasurer Eli Davis, Lee Alcorn, Rev. Ronald Wright and former DART board member Joyce Foreman.
"My whole heart, soul and purpose is to represent this community," he told Unfair Park.
We'll have more on Thomas, a state and national delegate for Barack Obama, in this week's paper, but for now, let's dissect his stance on the upcoming referendum on the convention center hotel, which will be on the same ballot as his council race.
"It should have been put before the voters in the first place. To spend as much money as they are proposing to spend, that, to me, should have been put before the voters," he says. "It undercuts democracy when you do not include the citizenry in those types of decisions. This entire country was founded because of taxation without representation. So, if we're paying money, we want to make sure our representatives are representing our beliefs."
Thomas adds that there was a community meeting to discuss the issue, yet not one council member attended. "The fundamental part of any elected office is to be accountable to the citizens," he says.
Citizens have not been privy to the details and nuances of the hotel deal, Thomas says, which disturbs him. "It makes me think sometimes people are kept purposefully in the dark."
Atkins cites the pending referendum as the citizens' opportunity to have their voices heard on the issue and claims his advocacy for the hotel stems from wanting to create jobs and trying to find ways to redevelop a billion-dollar convention center.
"I'm just trying to create jobs," he says. "That's my job as vice chair of the Economic Development Committee and Mayor's Southern Sector Task Force. My job is to create jobs, and to create jobs, you've got to create economic development."
When referring to the May 9 referendum, Atkins says, "If they don't want it, that's their choice." However, when reminded that the hotel will be under construction before the vote, he says, "My comment is I'm trying to create jobs on that issue, and we need to create jobs right now. We need jobs."
One thing Thomas and Atkins can agree on is the vote on the strengthened smoking ban should have been delayed. Atkins unsuccessfully introduced a motion to delay the item December 10 and later voted against the ordinance, while Thomas says the vote was rushed.
"To me, there was no need to take that vote at that time," he says. "There was no reason not to have delayed it."
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Lipscomb and Rev. Wright were critical of Atkins and the three other black council members (Vonciel Hill, Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway) for apologizing on behalf of the black community for the death of Senior Corporal Norman Smith at the January 7 council briefing. Lipscomb simply called it "exploitation," while Wright labeled it "embarrassing."
"When a Hispanic kills a police officer, you don't see Pauline Medrano or any other Hispanic council member apologizing on behalf of the Hispanic community, do you?" Wright says.
Wright also blasted Atkins for doing what Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway tells him to do. Atkins says he doesn't know Wright and won't respond to his criticism. "I know of him, but I don't know him," he says.
Atkins won only 40 percent of the vote in May 2007, forcing a runoff with Charles Rose in June, which he won handily, 58-42.