In the comments earlier today on Unfair Park, there was no shortage of speculation as to what the two mayoral hopefuls would cover in their next debate: City Manager Mary Suhm's job security, dead rabbits and Sunday's Dallas Morning News piece on the Trinity River tollway among them. And sure enough, Mike Rawlings and David Kunkle covered just about all of them this afternoon at the Belo Mansion. Except the rabbits.
Dallas South News' Shawn Williams moderated the debate, hosted by the Dallas Bar Association, and didn't waste any time before getting into one of the biggest disagreements between the two candidates: whether to drop that toll road into the Trinity River floodplain.
Rawlings said his position is essentially unchanged: There's not enough information yet to say whether or not Dallas should go ahead with plans to build the toll road, and won't until the Army Corps of Engineers sends its word on whether the road is safe to build between the levees -- a decision that won't come till 2014.
One way or another, though, Rawlings said the city needs to "power through" its money woes to deliver on the promise of the Trinity River Project -- whether that means redistributing money from old bond issues, or holding a new bond election. "The Trinity River will define the city of Dallas in the 21st century," Rawlings said. "We need to scrape, beg, borrow and steal if we need that money."
Kunkle said we've got all the facts we need to make the call on the toll road, and that scrapping the toll road plans is an "easy answer" for him at this point. "I can say no when no is a correct answer," Kunkle said.
From there, the candidates discussed the atmosphere at City Hall, and any shakeups they'd make as mayor.
Kunkle said he believes in government that's "open, transparent, where it's a little bit messy, where people debate issues that are important to the city." He said that's largely been missing from talk about the Trinity -- where "one council member" can be "ostracized and shut out" for questioning the party line. The convention center hotel, Kunkle said, is another place where there's room for more openness. "It was marketed to us like somebody was selling a car."
Rawlings said City Hall needs to be clearer about its rules, and that morale at City Hall is "very bad right now," something he'd like to improve with "rewards and recognition programs."
Asked specifically about Mary Suhm, both said they'd like to keep her on as City Manager. Rawlings called her "a very good city manager," while Kunkle said she "does a good job." Kunkle said his only beef is with city staff acting like it's their job to protect council members who might be embarrassed by details about how the city operates.
While Rawlings stuck with his grander "Big D" themes, and Kunkle referred mostly to small, neighborhood-level improvements, the two still found plenty of common ground on the importance of revitalizing downtown, improving trails and supporting DISD.
"I'm a believer in the accountability movement," Kunkle said. "We need to do some more with the charter schools." Rawlings said it was exciting to see new charter schools going in downtown, and said it'll be key to bring in the private sector to find ways to support public schools.
Given an opportunity to address that "perception that candidates are more alike" than not, as Williams put it, Kunkle said that while they're "both decent men, I am not funded by the Citizens Council." He also questioned Rawlings's role in awarding the city's Happy Trails ad campaign to Jake:Ferguson, and a pending open records request covering the contract.
Kunkle also tried to distinguish his vision for Dallas from Rawlings'. "We can't be a better Frisco than Frisco. We've got to be a great, great American city," Kunkle said, with "old historical buildings that have been brought back to life," and "unique restaurants that aren't a part of chains."
Rawlings called the Happy Trails fiasco a "media ploy" Kunkle has organized. "Once again your facts are completely wrong. Nobody got paid $80,000, and I don't have the right to do anything at City Hall," Rawlings said, so there's no chance he's holding up a records request.
"The Citizens Council has never given me one dime," Rawlings said. "To liken me to being funded by the Citizens Council is just inaccurate."
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