Attorney William T. Burke, who works downtown at Republic Center, was undecided about which candidate to support in Dallas’ mayoral race when he showed up at 11:45 this morning for the Belo Mansion debate between runoff hopefuls David Kunkle and Mike Rawlings. “We have two good candidates,” he said, digging into his selection from the lunch buffet, waiting with about 60 others for the bar-association event to start.
Burke, who’s with the Wright Ginsberg Brusilow law firm, filled out an index card for the audience-Q&A portion of the debate that said something like, “Downtown is dying. What can be done to bring it back?” Then he listened to Kunkle, the former police chief, and Rawlings, the ex-Pizza Hut CEO president, duke it out for awhile, answering his as well as other questions posed by Dallas South News editor Shawn Williams, who moderated the event. And, by the time the thing was over, Burke had decided which candidate he would vote for to be Dallas’ next mayor.
Rawlings and Kunkle traded lobs and volleys for an hour or so, displaying the differences–commanding, hard-charging businessman vs.methodical, mild-mannered “neighborhoods” guy–that make this race seem like a clear-cut choice between conflicting visions. Meanwhile Kunkle’s wife, Sarah Dodd, sat at a table at the front of the room, gazing up at the ex-chief like Nancy Reagan looking at Ronnie.
Here’s some of the ground the hopefuls covered:
–Kunkle, holding up the front page of yesterday’s Dallas Morning News, said that “we’ve been lied and misrepresented to” about the Trinity River Project, and that the project’s toll road “needs to be killed.” Rawlings said that while safety must always come first, he would reserve judgment about the road until all the facts are in.
–Asked about city staff, Kunkle said there’s a mindset on Marilla Street that tries to hide things from the public. The Trinity project and the convention-center hotel, he said, “were marketed to us like they were selling us a car.” Rawlings said that City Hall is too “silo-driven” and needs to be more “team-driven,” and that morale there is poor .
–On ethics, and the differences between the two candidates in general, Kunkle ripped Rawlings again for his role in the Happy Trails advertising contract. He also accused Rawlings of being funded by the Dallas Citizens Council. “The city needs to think small, rather than think big,” he said. Rawlings fired back by calling the Happy Trails flap a “media ploy that you guys have used,” and said the “Citizens Council has not given me one dime.” The chief difference between the pair, he added, is “about the pathway to success. Do we hunker down, take care of the potholes, and hope our way to success? Hope is not a strategy in these times.”
–On DISD, Kunkle said that Dallas schools need help with mentoring and supplies, and that he believes in “accountability.” Rawlings said Dallas education requires a “structured, sustainable” new model and that, during his first 90 days in office, he would craft a “compact of understanding” among all the interested education parties, with the help of experts like Mike Moses and Tom Luce. “This is complex,” he said, “but it’s not that hard.”
And what about that question from Burke, the lawyer, dealing with downtown Dallas? Rawlings said downtown has bottomed out and is coming back, but needs a “mixed-use strategy” including the addition of neighborhood services like dry cleaners. Kunkle replied that downtown is a “lot better than it has been” over the last 25 or 30 years but still has a ways to go, because “big buildings and big freeways” destroy big cities. He said he’s heard people ask whether Dallas or Phoenix has the worst downtown, and “that is not a good place to be.”
When the debate was over, Burke said both men had flunked his downtown question, because neither had addressed the issue of all the vacant buildings there. Even so, he’d made up his mind about which candidate to support on June 18. “Both are decent, good guys,” Burke said. “But Rawlings is a public image, and Kunkle is not. … Plus, the endorsement of Rawlings by Roger Staubach is big. I think I’ll go for Rawlings.”