The Real Estate Council is the latest organization to welcome the city’s mayoral candidates to address their corner of Dallas. Onstage at Gilley’s Monday night were seven of the nine—state Rep. Eric Johnson missed the forum, as did socialist candidate Alyson Kennedy.
WFAA’s David Schechter was the evening’s moderator. Each candidate was allowed two minutes for opening remarks and one minute to answer each of five questions: one regarding the candidates’ support of the new housing policy; one regarding urban planning and transportation issues; another for economic development strategies; one regarding barriers to development; and a final one detailing their approaches to navigating the rancor in City Council.
Other than Lynn Mcbee publicly supporting the tearing-out of I-345 between downtown and Deep Ellum, the candidates played it close to the vest, much the same as they have up to now.
All vowed to support the housing policy. But Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis and developer Mike Ablon both posited it as a starting point on the path to solving the affordable housing crisis in Dallas. In regard to transportation, the popular consensus was the need for a shift in focus from building out the DART rail system to connecting it with smarter and more reliable bus routes while lowering fares to make mobility more accessible for more people.
The need for better education was a centerpiece in the conversation. Each of the candidates stressed its importance in drawing jobs to Dallas and increasing opportunities for its residents. Though their rhetoric was fairly similar, most of the candidates picked one issue to show more of their hand than others.
Solis and Council member Scott Griggs relied heavily on their previous experience in government. Both called for the implementation of all-day universal pre-k to support the workforce.
Solis said he would support taking housing out of the purview of the City Council’s economic development committee. He wants another dedicated committee created to focus on housing. Attorney and civic leader Regina Montoya has also said she would support spinning off housing duties from city staff who also have to oversee economic development; she’s volunteered to forgo her $80,000 mayoral salary to pay for an employee to explicitly oversee housing.
While most candidates backed streamlining of permitting and other regulatory processes, especially for housing projects, former state Rep. Jason Villalba vowed “Draconian-style” cuts to regulations. He doubled-down on his explicitly pro-business narrative by announcing his opposition to anything that would increase sales and property tax rates. He said the increase from jobs and economic growth will increase the tax base to fund services. And with Solis and Griggs calling for additional requirements for companies seeking tax incentives, Villalba veered hard the other way.
“You know who doesn’t have conditions on their economic development plan? Frisco,” he said. “And that’s why they have Legacy Park up there for $4 billion when it should be down in Fair Park.”
In addition to maintaining his stance on the importance of thriving neighborhoods to Dallas’s health, Ablon used his time to speak out against NIMBYism and cronyism in the development process. He said he would work to end the zoning and entitlement games played in the real estate arena and allowed in the past by City Hall.
Montoya’s time was more focused on education. She called for more English as second language classes and GED programs to bolster the workforce ready talent-base. The nonprofit CEO and civic leader Lynn McBee leaned heavily on her experience working with nonprofits and was most vocal in her response to the question of transportation and urban planning, declaring her support of the removal of I-345 and the alterations to Interstate 30 that would better connect Deep Ellum and The Cedars to downtown. Griggs also expressed support for removing 345, which aligns with his stance as a council member.
Oak Cliff businessman Albert Black’s most unique stance was the transportation situation, reminding the audience that DART is a separate political entity and that instead of pledging this or that, he espoused the importance of appointing “good people” to the DART board. “Appoint good people; get good results,” he said.
In other words: beyond McBee, not a lot of new insight from our mayoral candidates.
Editor’s note: Alyson Kennedy was also not present. The story has been corrected.