Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings doesn't usually cast that long of a shadow on social media. He's content to let his staff run his Facebook and Twitter feeds, which usually stick to general news posts about city business or mayoral appearances.
Thursday afternoon, however, Rawlings decided to mix things up on behalf of The Dallas Morning News, taking to the paper's Reddit account to participate in an "Ask Me Anything" section on the social media network's politics page.
While Rawlings' appearance didn't go unnoticed by critics of the paper, the resulting discussion proved to be fairly candid.
1. Rawlings, to his credit, dove into the format, answering the first two questions posted even though they dealt with two third-rail issues – Donald Trump and Texas barbecue.
What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?
Bonus question, and probably more important: What is the best BBQ joint in Dallas?
Rawlings: I'm disappointed that Donald Trump is our president. I'm further disappointed that he hasn't pleasantly surprised me. I thought there might be some things that he would bring to the party that I haven't seen from him. There's no doubt about it, I'm a card-carrying Democrat and have been, so I supported Sec. Clinton but he's my president and so I was hoping for the best. I look forward to working with his administration to make Dallas better, so I try to keep a spirit of positiveness in this and we'll keep the dialogue open.
And Pecan Lodge.
2. Later, Rawlings explained what he thought it would take for Democrats to win in Texas statewide races, painting a picture of a candidate that sounds a lot like the former Pizza Hut CEO himself.
What would it take to turn Texas purple, or even blue?
Rawlings: Well first of all, I think we have to create a new paradigm in Texas. A Texas Democrat is not a Bernie Sanders Democrat from Vermont. That doesn't mean there are not supporters of Bernie Sanders here in Texas. There are many of them, thousands of them. But, who ultimately is going to sway the state are going to be the professionals that work in some of the corporations that Sen. Sanders criticizes, but yet those people believe in some of the progressive ideas out there.
I believe a Texas Democrat is socially progressive and fiscally conservative. I think new models have got to come forth that we're not cookie cutters of the Democratic Party everywhere. We don't just salute to somebody far away, we have to create our own. I also think the role of Independents are important in the state's future. Sam Houston was the last Independent. He argued to keep Texas out of the Civil War. He was a Texas hero, and I believe Independents can make a difference.
Look, there are new models of technology and transportation, new models of everything these days, so why do we have to fall back on this bilateral division that we have? And that's how Texas ultimately gets to the next level.
3. When asked about Dallas Police Department attrition and its effect on crime in Deep Ellum, Rawlings pointed to the city's overall declining crime rate and said he didn't see a connection.
My primary concern for Dallas is the current police staffing deficit. Its impact is obvious in Deep Ellum where the community is having to hire off duty support for security and multiple violent crimes are taking place regularly. I know the reasons why we are losing so many cops is because of low pay, workload and the pension issues that were just addressed by you and the state legislature.
How much in tax increases would it cost Dallasites, to get police pay up to a competitive level with the surrounding suburbs and other regional cities that we lose our law enforcement employees to? How much more would it cost to get our police staffing up to the level we need to have appropriate response and coverage time in the city? Since no one likes to hear the word tax and that would require a vote, are there any alternative ideas with the city budget that you're looking at to get the funds needed to invest in our police force?
Also, Please consider some alternative methods of keeping the violence off the street in Deep Ellum that don't impact business hours or local business revenue. Possibly something like what Austin does with 6th street. It would be sad to see that entertainment area come back only to lose it to violence and crime again.
I appreciate what you've done while you've been in office.. its good to see downtown coming back to life, thanks for your time.
Rawlings: First of all, I don't believe the loss in forces is directly tied to the Deep Ellum situations. That doesn't mean the loss of forces is not an important issue. Crime is actually down. Property crime is down. Murders and rapes are down. Assaults are not, and seem to be more in gang activity, but we have to deal with it. We're in one of the lowest points of crime we've been in in the last two decades.
But your point is still the right one. We can't have a dwindling force, we have to have one that is larger. It is going to be an expensive proposition. Funding the pension fund is going to be an additional $30 million +/- a year. That's what we spend for rec centers, senior centers and homeless all together, for perspective.
Now, we've given people raises to get young officers more competitive in the future. But how do we deal with these older officers? And I don't think it's just a pay raise. We have to think of it more creatively. For example, $30 million is another couple of pennies on your property tax bill, and we are already going to be at that 8 percent, which the state allows you to go to.
You're right, it's probably going to have to be at some point an election. We have assets we can sell, but that doesn't deal with the ongoing thing. You sell those when you need cash infusion, but when you think about hiring officers, you have to think about them for the next 20 years and have an operating budget in place. We do need more, we're gonna need more, but we're gonna have to cover it in other ways.
4. Rawlings expressed his displeasure with Texas' sanctuary cities ban and said that he's exploring legal options with the city attorney.
Any thoughts and/or comments on the Texas Governor attack on sanctuary cities in the state, and what can everyday people do to help protect immigrants?
Rawlings: Let me answer the second part first.
Dallas is an extremely open and friendly city. I see the openness all the time through our churches and through our schools. I am very proud of what everyday citizens do. Whether those immigrants come from across the seas or down South — I really appreciate people taking care of immigrants when they come from New York as well.
I'm not pleased with SB4. I am trying to study the implications of it. So before I argue the point, we are going to be briefed by our city attorney in a couple of weeks and we are going to discuss what we have as options for the city.
I am an open sort of guy. I like openness. My Democrat friends like that I am that way. But I also like open borders from a trade standpoint, my Democrat friends don't like that aspect. We need to be more open from a trade stand point. We need to figure out how to take the resources and improve our city, and improve our country rather than let that labor and that brain trust leave our country and city.
We are a constantly boiling pot of soup and the longer we put stuff together the better it gets. New ingredients are coming in all the time.
5. Rawlings tried to answer a question that gets asked a lot.
What's the deal with Ted Cruz?
Rawlings: I just saw Sen. Cruz last week, advocating for things Dallas needs, but he has a very single-minded focus to repeal Obamacare and fix the tax laws and bring a conservative agenda to Washington.
I love Sen. Cruz spending more time in an urban environment, because it's a difficult and tricky world out there, as we tend to grow. We continue to be a growth engine for America and the state, that the nuance is important here as well.
6. Rawlings took on Dallas' twin municipal elections issues: mail-in ballot chicanery and abysmal turnout.
What can be done to address the low voter turnout in municipal elections? How is the alleged absentee ballot voter fraud in West Dallas being addressed?
Rawlings: Well the second part first, the DA's office has one of their top investigators on it. They have isolated persons of interest and they are trying to understand who is behind this. Frankly, I think if you are in that environment you know who has been doing that for sometime. Knowing on the street level and making it a criminal issue are two different paths.
Hopefully by shining a light on this issue, it will stop.
I am so concerned about the low voter turn out that I think it is one of the most important issues for citizens today in the 21st century. In short what happens, local elections, school board, city council, nonpartisan elections take more energy to learn who the right candidates are.
Individuals do not want to spend the energy on this. Why? Because life's good. People are happy. Why should they care about it?
They should care about it because we are spending billions of dollars of their money. We are educating the next generation of kids who will be part of their neighborhood and their community.
We as a generation are getting lazier and lazier. We want a microwave society. Our democracy will eventually be the victim of that apathy.
Every parent should lecture their kids on a couple of things and one of them is that you should always vote.
When this happens, literally 500 votes can make a difference in thousands of kids' lives in school. When their future is in the hands of so few voters, we are in a high-wire act.
7. Rawlings confirmed that he's never wanted to body slam a member of the media like Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, although he did decry the amount of opinion that has seeped into news.
Have you ever wanted to grab a reporter by the neck and bodyslam them because they asked you a question about your stance on a political topic?
Rawlings: No, I have not ever wanted to do that. I've wanted to question some reporters' education credentials and their ability to put sentences together, but that's more of an art form and a point of view versus being angry with them.
Look, when you become a public persona, all bets are off. You've gotta have thick skin and the press is an enabler for transparency, but they also have a responsibility to speak the truth and not to make stuff up, and a lot of people feel the press has gone beyond their purview. I think one of the real questions we should ask of the press is "Are we reporting news, or are we expounding opinions?" and that line has been blurred. The water is brackish and I think it's unhealthy.
I would ask all reporters and all columnists to be very clear in which side of the fence they're on and I think that would help the American public better.
I think this situation was uncalled for. It was just a terrible thing.
8. Rawlings talked about the role last year's police ambush has played in how he views Texas' gun laws.
What impact (if any) have last year's shooting had on local discourse surrounding gun laws? Has there been a push to enact stricter purchase requirements? Has there been much discussion about a more sensible approach to open carry?
If I were visiting a city (any city, really) and saw random people walking around with assault rifles, I would ... feel very uneasy. And frankly, I'd probably avoid visiting a city where that is acceptable behavior.
Rawlings: While I understand how you feel, no serious conversations have really come forth following the tragedy. I am amazed that it is legal to have a protest and be able to carry a long gun. I just don't get it. We've had several instances where people are carrying long rifles in peaceful protests. I don't think this is an issue people want to solve, both sides just want to win. I've talked to people who have guns one on one, even I own a shot gun, and we've had these conversations, where we've both said, I think you and I can solve this issue here but when you get to a big group, it becomes almost impossible to come to a good conclusion.
9. The mayor also had an answer for all of Dallas' complaints about traffic. (He thinks it isn't that bad.)
Hi Mayor Rawlings, how do you plan to deal with the worsening traffic congestion in Dallas as more and more people relocate here.
Rawlings: First of all, I lift my head up when I talk with other people who work in the business of cities. I was talking with someone in that industry and we were talking about traffic. He said that our traffic is nothing like Atlanta, Northern California, Southern California — some of the places that are abysmal to move around in.
I understand the premise of the question, but our traffic is still not as bad as we think we let on at times.
That being said, mobility is a strategic issue that we have to deal with in the coming decade. The answer is a combination of things.
We have to do highway planning better, keep streets better repaired, use DART in a more progressive manner. We have a light rail, but how do we use buses?
I was very pleased and readers may not know that Uber has chosen Dallas-Fort Worth and Dubai to test Uber Elevate to have air taxies for the first time.
It will be a combination of all those things. It is OK to walk a little bit too — let's not forget that.
10. Finally, Rawlings disclosed something everyone's wondered: What's the mayor's favorite food?
Whats your favorite food?
Rawlings: My favorite food is probably fried chicken.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.