City Hall

Edward Okpa Not Invited to Mayoral Forum at TJ, But Tom Leppert Nabs Speaking Role

[Update at 7:34 a.m. Saturday: Okpa has been invited, per a letter Villalba sent to "friends and members" at 10:52 p.m. yesterday. You can read the whole letter after the jump.]

[Update at 5:50 p.m.: We just heard from Kunkle, who says our item was the first he'd heard of Okpa's exclusion from the debate. Kunkle subsequently called Villalba, and while he stopped short of threatening to pull out of the forum, he strongly urged him to give Okpa an invite.

"I believe all candidates should have the opportunity to share their views and be heard," he says. "That's part of the beauty of the process."

Kunkle says Villalba has contacted Natinsky's campaign and plans to speak with Rawlings's people as well to determine if it's OK to add Okpa. ]

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Leppert has been added as a speaker at that mayoral debate Monday at Thomas Jefferson High School, but an organizer says Leppert has been asked to discuss his role as former mayor, not use the forum to promote his Senate candidacy.

"We thought his insight on what makes a good mayor would be helpful and instructive in the dialog that we're gonna have," says Jason Villalba, chair of the Dallas Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. "His presence is not meant to be as a United States Senate campaign event."

Villalba says Leppert has been allotted seven minutes for his speech, after which he'll introduce DISD Trustee Dr. Edwin Flores. Leppert has been instructed to talk about "what it takes to be a good, strong mayor," according to Villalba.

"If he happens to talk about his campaign, then obviously I'm not gonna pull him off the stage," he says. "It's really not intended to be that way, but he's got free reign to say whatever he wants."

Leppert spokesperson Shawn McCoy has not responded to a phone call and email seeking comment.

Villalba says Flores has been told to talk about what the school district needs in a mayor. The debate (scheduled from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.), which Robert, Jim and I aim to attend, is sponsored by the RNHA and features three of the four mayoral candidates -- David Kunkle, Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings.

So why no Edward Okpa?

"We just felt like with our time constraints that we were going to be unable to accommodate his contribution," Villalba says. "And, in light of the fact that there are a number of these candidate forums where he is participating, we didn't feel like he was being excluded or the people of Dallas weren't getting an opportunity to see what he has to provide."

Update at 7:32 a.m. Saturday: This is the letter Villalba sent out last night:

Friends and Members,

After hearing the call from many members, friends (and certain local media outlets) for Mr. Okpa to attend our Mayoral Candidate Forum on Monday, March 28, the Dallas Chapter of the RNHA will cordially invite Mr. Okpa to attend the event as a full participant in the Forum.

Please note that we in no way intended to offend or exclude viable candidates from the event, but, due to (i) time constraints (we will only go for two hours - not three as reported in the paper), (ii) the fact that several other earlier forums had not included Mr. Okpa, and (iii) the fact that we already have two additional speakers, we did not originally invite him to attend. I have received requests from one of the mayoral candidates and from several members of the RNHA to include Mr. Okpa and therefore, we are happy to oblige.

My sincerest apologies if any of you were offended and I look forward to seeing you on Monday.