"I always wanted to save the world with journalism," says Candace Evans, the challenger for Lee Kleinman's District 11 City Council seat. Considering the last time Dallas elected a journalist to the City Council, Mayor Laura Miller, that's either a pretty bold statement or a give-up.
Miller had a habit of calling her council colleagues idiots, which makes her a very different kind of journalist than Evans, the publisher of the website CandysDirt.com, a publication devoted to realtors and real estate in some of Dallas' toniest neighborhoods. It has outposts in Fort Worth and Midland and she plans to expand into other Texas cities. A former writer for D Magazine, she holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.
Of course, when your publication is devoted to selling houses, it pays to be nice, and that difference in attitude is one of the big motivations for Evans' run, she says. "My opponent has a temperament that's not really suitable for public office," Evans says of Kleinman, noting his battles with police and firefighters over the city's underfunded public pension fund and what she says is his unwillingness to listen to his constituents.
District 11 in Far North Dallas is a long way from Fair Park, but Evans says Mayor Mike Rawlings' proposal to turn management the 277-acre exposition over to a private group led by the mayor's friend Walt Humann – along with a hefty $20 million annual subsidy from the city – got her thinking about seeking office.
"I was asked by several different groups to run. [Candy's Dirt] did a lot of reporting on Fair Park when they wanted to turn it over to Walt Humann. This is not a good idea. It's going to cost us money. Why are we not getting proposals?"
She started attending meetings about the Fair Park deal and helped arrange one herself. She even let Kleinman know her thoughts. "I said, 'Lee, I don't think this is a good deal,' and he ignored me, Evan says. "I started seeing he wasn't listening to his constituents. He certainly wasn't listening to me. ... I think we were part of the momentum that got this changed." (The city attorney ruled that, despite the mayor's wishes, the city would have to seek bids from other groups before handing over the keys to the park.)
Groups opposed to the Fair Park deal, along with police and fire representatives and D Magazine publisher Wick Allison approached her about running, she says. "We have to think of the whole city. That's what's going to keep our district and our city from any exorbitant property tax increase – if we get the southern sector of the city happy and thriving and well-serviced as our area."
Evan's district includes some of the priciest real estate in Dallas, along with a large percentage of apartment buildings. As a real estate writer in North Dallas, she's seen the effect of spiraling property values on her neighbors. "We feel like we're sort of tapped out," she says. "People have really hit a ceiling. Only the wealthy are building homes. Average people – even professionals – can't afford the big huge taxes on these properties."
The police and fire pension fund has a multi-billion dollar shortfall to fill, but she says she's opposed to tax increases. "If we don't do something about this problem it's going to cost us more," she says. "We may have to pay for private security. We may have to pay for our lives."
While she's not committed to Councilman Scott Grigg's proposal to devote one-eighth of the sales tax the city sends to Dallas Area Regional Transit to help cover the pension shortfall, she's willing to consider all options. "I don't like it when my opponent says that is DART's money," Evans says. "I say all options are on the table to find money, and that's one of them."
Like any good journalist, she approaches City Hall with more questions than answers. She says she wants to take a hard look at spending and city assets to try to find other ways to make up the shortfall. "Quit spending on deck parks and fancy bridges and certainly a Trinity toll road," she says. "Our home is rotting around us and the roof is falling in."
She might consider adding a fee to water bills to help fund the pension, she says, but her biggest complaint is that the city's oversight of the pension fund has been too lax for too long as the pension fund's managers made bad investment decisions raised benefits that led to the crisis. And she's angry that Kleinman seems to blame rank-and-file first responders for the decisions their board made.
"I don't like the excuse we told them that wasn't smart. OK, you told them this wasn't smart, but did you do anything about it? So many times there was underrepresentation by the city on that board."
Kleinman's relationship with the police and firefighters has been a drag on finding a possible way out of the crisis, she claims. "He's in a fight with our police force," Evans says. "No one on our City Council should be in a fight with our police force....He is just holding them in contempt, and they feel that. We can't pay you more. We can't raise taxes, but I think we can work through this."
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Dallas has a shortage of affordable housing. Evans seemed to want to take a closer look at a non-discrimination ordinance that requires landlords to accept federal Section 8 housing vouchers from qualified renters. She describes herself as "very pro real estate" and says she would look hard into the issue, but she didn't commit to a non-discrimination ordinance like the one he council rejected in last October. "I want to know why landlords don't want Section 8 vouchers. Obviously you have to give people a hand," she says. "Tell me why this doesn't work. Are they difficult tenants? Do they mess up the property up? We need to figure out what the wall is."
Evans doesn't like red light cameras. She wants support for a Dallas film commission, possibly locating studios in Fair Park. But she bills her biggest selling point as a willingness to build consensus, a habit she says her opponent lacks. "He just doesn't play nice in the sandbox at all," she says. "I know that's said about [District 14 council member] Philip Kingston, but I don't understand how people say that about Philip Kingston when Lee is truly mean."
She quickly added that her words "truly mean" were off the record. But as any good journalist knows, never tell a reporter your words are off the record after you say them. Laura Miller would have never fallen for that.