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Alone, Together: David Kunkle and Mike Rawlings Square Off in Mayoral Debate

After Mike Rawlings wrapped Ron Natinsky's endorsement this morning at the Adolphus, he joined fellow Dallas mayoral hopeful David Kunkle for lunch with the Dallas Regional Chamber and paying guests from Texas Instruments, DART, Oncor and Southwest Airlines.

After finishing their chicken, the race's two remaining contenders took the stage for the first one-on-one appearance of the campaign, now in its extended-remix period. Kunkle introduced himself first by praising the DRC as "one of the most important institutions" in town, then letting them know some of what he had to say "may not sit well with some people in the room." In front of some of the bigger business leaders in town, Kunkle stuck to his story that it's time to focus on the nuts and bolts: streets, neighborhoods, safety. "This is not a time for big-ticket projects," he said.

Rawlings, meanwhile, looked comfortable enough to curl up on the ballroom rug. He said repeatedly that economic development is the key to getting Dallas out of its budget woes and into greatness. "We've got a fiscal issue, and we're not going to be able to cut our way to success," he said. Vowing not to raise taxes, he said he'd cut the budget without sacrificing either police or, again, economic development. "We're gonna have to invest."

"Every time I've taken over a business, we've been at the nadir of the fiscal balance sheet," Rawlings said. "It's forced us to reinvent ourselves."

Rawlings waxed introspective about how Dallas's business leaders decades ago had paved the way for his own success. "I prospered. I got to clip the coupons of the work they did," he said. Now, he said, he'd like to make sure Dallas is good to a new generation of business leaders. He said when the time comes to lure new businesses to town, he's the man for the job. "I'm able to talk CEO-to-CEO about decisions that are critical to them."

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In Rawlings's hands, the debate sounded more like an impromptu boardroom pep talk, full of buzzwords and bullet points. Rawlings even opined over "the genius of the 'and'" -- a leadership pointer taken from Jim Collins, whose book documentary Good To Great includes an appearance from Kunkle as DPD chief, and whose leadership book has been a mainstay of Kunkle's campaign appearances.

Asked how they'd support DISD as mayor, Rawlings talked big and talked leadership, saying Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's impending adios was an opportunity to attract "the best and brightest candidate" to run the district. "We'll never be a great city without a great public school system." Kunkle was a little less platitude-happy, saying City Hall needs to support the district and make sure it's focused on instruction.

A day after he came out in favor of releasing documents we've requested about the Trinity River Project, Kunkle reminded the audience why he's not interested in the toll road planned to run between the levees. Apart from the huge cost of the road and the safety questions from the Army Corps of Engineers, Kunkle said diverting traffic off surface streets isn't the way to promote economic development.

Kunkle closed with a playful jab at Rawlings -- a look at the lock box he said yesterday that he'd install at City Hall for whistleblowers to pass tips up to him. Putting the box on his lap as Rawlings looked on, he lifted up the lid to show a printed sign that read: "HAPPY TRAILS."

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