Ron Natinsky asked members of the media to join him Monday afternoon at The Cedars Social -- not for a drink, sadly, but so he could announce an endorsement (from the MetroTex Association of Realtors) and unveil a handful of "priorities" intended to rejuvenate Dallas -- which include, ta da, job creation, economic growth in the southern sector, improving quality of life and arts programs ... and getting involved in the Dallas Independent School District.
Said the current council member who wants to be mayor: "We're going to aggressively seek relocation of new businesses not only from the nearby suburbs, but on a national basis from countries all over the world." He did not mention the use of iPhones.
Natinsky also expressed his desire to continue business growth in the southern sector -- specifically the Inland Port, which he refers to as a "key piece of that development." After the presser we were sent the much longer what-for, including his plans for DISD and downtown, which follows.
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NATINSKY UNVEILS PRIORITIES
Natinsky called his priorities for Dallas "straight forward and measurable." His first priority is to create jobs, "because once that is done, everything else falls into place." Other priorities are to improve public safety; focus on quality of life, including arts and culture; help to improve education in Dallas; and strengthen Downtown Dallas.
His jobs/economic development priority includes creating a business-friendly environment to attract new business and keep existing business; to aggressively seek relocations from suburban, Texas and American cities, and countries across the world; to ramp up international trade missions to recruit business to Dallas (paid for with private dollars); focus on small businesses because it "drives the American economy," and focus on the Southern Sector.
When discussing public safety, Natinsky noted that Dallas' police force has increased by almost 30 percent since 2005 and crime is down per capita to what it was in the 1960s. He said that part of that success is due to the Dallas City Council allocating funds to hire more officers and buy sophisticated equipment. While on Council, Natinsky led the charge to move policing back to beat patrols, which has resulted in reduced crime while saving the City millions. His priorities for public safety include seeking out new technologies that save money and are often more effective at fighting crime; continuing to ask the private sector for help (as in such successful programs as Safer Dallas, Better Dallas); and being a vocal advocate to upgrade fire and provide the best equipment to firefighters and EMTs.
His next set of priorities focuses upon quality of life, including arts and culture. He mentioned the importance of walk-able neighborhoods, sports teams and recreational opportunities, lots of entertainment options, strong libraries and beautiful, well-kept parks. He also said a thriving arts community - that reflects the city's diversity and encompasses organizations of every size - is crucial to Dallas' success. Natinsky reported that in fiscal year 2008-2009, over 5.6 million people attended city arts programs. Further, in 2009, according to an economic impact study done by Deloitte, $1.06 billion was added to the North Texas economy through the existence of the arts; of this, $68 million was earned income by organizations through ticket sales, memberships and other activities. Natinsky noted that in past few years, awareness of the arts community at the City Council level has diminished, and he wants to "make certain the arts remain prominent." He lauded the efforts of a new nonprofit called Arts Unite Dallas, formed by Dallas arts patron Keith Nix and Curtis King of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters. Natinsky committed to work with them in coming years to educate and raise awareness and appreciation for the arts, especially on the Council level. He also acknowledged the importance of the economic impact study being conducted by the Americans For Arts in conjunction with the City's Office of Cultural Affairs and its Office of Economic Development. He is interested in moving forward on the proposed Asian Cultural Center and would like to see a neighborhood touring program back in place. Natinsky pointed to more partnerships - such as the one for Thriving Minds, coordinated by Big Thought and funded by the City, Dallas ISD, and private dollars - as meaningful in reaching out to young people.
"The arts are an economic engine. They help us attract world-class companies to Dallas, and they contribute greatly to our city's vibrancy," said Natinsky. "I want the arts community to know that I'm a patron, I understand the importance of the arts and will be the Mayor who promotes and supports them."
Although Natinsky acknowledges that Dallas schools are improving, he believes there must be continued investment so that Dallas' workforce of tomorrow is educated and prepared. Natinsky has already met with Michael Hinojosa, Dallas ISD's superintendent of schools, and pledges to work in partnership with him and the business community. He also wants to explore and support programs such as Dallas Achieves, inclusive efforts that help deliver increased graduation rates, a more rigorous curriculum, a lower dropout rate, and an increase in recognized schools. In addition to pushing for more parental involvement in schools, he will be a champion for educational development and get directly involved in reading and math programs and other initiatives. He'll explore social media, nanotechnology and green-energy programs, identified as emerging job categories where reading, writing and math skills are crucial. Regarding higher education, Natinsky acknowledges the lack of a Tier 1 academic intuition in Dallas and will work to strengthen UNT-Dallas and Paul Quinn College. He also will continue to forge a close link with the state's elected officials to bring a public law school and pharmacy school to Dallas.
Another priority is to revitalize downtown Dallas. Natinsky strongly supports the priorities identified by the Downtown Dallas organization for public safety in a culturally inclusive urban center; to expand downtown mobility options and explore innovative strategies for funding transit lines and infrastructure; to create an in town affordable housing development strategy and public-private incentive guidelines and criteria; to create a parking plan through a new management collaborative that will make parking downtown an amenity and not an impediment; to implement the Main Street District Retail Activation Strategy; to investigate and establish new funding mechanisms for development including extending the life and creating additional TIF districts; and to continue emphasis on economic development to position downtown as a global destination.
In closing, Natinsky committed to be a watchdog at City Hall, pledging to cut waste and abuse to create effective, efficient government.