Mayoral Debate Sways One Voter, At Least

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.”


  • Tom

    “Rawlings is a public image?”
    So Kunkle is a hologram?

  • Bethany Anderson

    I, too, frequently decide on important things by asking former football players what they think. It helped a lot with my release in and out of the pocket, but not so much in deciding whether Tom Leppert was fudging a bit when he gave us the facts on the Trinity project.

  • JB

    So did Kunkle file his application for his official Private Image status after being Chief of Police? Or did his official Public Image just automatically expire when he went off the city payroll?

  • Blake

    “But Rawlings is a public image, and Kunkle is not.”

    What does this even mean?

    Oh well, if Roger the Dodger says vote for Rawlings…


  • Brad Mitchell

    Glenn – Mike Rawlings was never ever the “CEO” of Pizza Hut. He was President and Chief Concept Officer. Also, let’s be clear that Pizza Hut is a business unit of Yum! Brands, and many PH’s stores are franchised. It’s not like he was running a 10k+ employee business unit.

  • Avid Reader

    I get most of my advice on how to vote from hollywood celebrities and music stars since they are famous and that makes them smart. Why would anyone get advice from former football players who form/run very successful businesses; makes no sense.

  • Arec Barrwin

    Wow. All of that buildup, and the decision rests on Roger Staubach’s endorsement? Give me a break.

  • Wylie H.

    I had a feeling I knew what the answer was going to be as soon as I saw the headline.

    With all due respect to Roger Staubach, he’s ended up being on the wrong side of issues, more often than not:

    1) The Trinity River Toll Road scam, which the DMN seems to have finally discovered on Sunday, after years of ignoring the painfully obvious.

    2) Tom Leppert, who brought a unique combination of deception and naked opportunism to the job, then cut and run the minute things stopped going his way (and before he had to face the consequences of his many poor decisions).

    3) The Convention Center Hotel, a symbol of socialist government expansionism.

    @Brad— Rawlings prior position is being overplayed in the same way Leppert’s was— Leppert was never CEO of Turner Construction, and he certainly never ran it when it was a public company, and he never relocated Turner Construction to Dallas. What Leppert did was run a 15 person (plus or minus a clerk or two) holding company based in Dallas. He reported to the CEO of HOCHTIEF, a German multi-national conglomerate that bought Turner. Turner Construction, including the entire senior management team, was (and continues to be to this day) based in New York. One could only wonder what they thought as they repeatedly saw Leppert fail to correct the errors in his background that were repeatedly made by the media.

  • Me!

    I get most of my advice from blog commenters who make snarky comments.
    The problem is: none of the commenters are proposing an opinion or alternative, just attacking the article.

  • downtownist

    Rawlings has a lot to learn about downtown. We have dry cleaners. We also have tunnels turning office workers into mole people, an abundance of empty office space, not enough street-level retail, metered parking that makes it a hassle for Joe Suburb to venture into the city, DalPark garages that might as well require a treasure map to find for how poorly signed they are, and a number of abandoned buildings that make downtown Dallas feel like a slum and/or the set of Twelve Monkeys.

  • Glenn Hunter

    @Brad Mitchell: You raise a good point about Rawlings’ title. Both Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Legends web-site bio say Rawlings was president and chief concept officer at Pizza Hut. But Rawlings’ own campaign web site lists Pizza Hut under his “CEO experience.” Maybe that’s considered truthful because president/COO was a CEO-“equivalent” position? (As for your other point, I wouldn’t belittle top-executive experience simply because franchises were involved. The top dog is still the top dog.)

  • XT

    Who does Michael Irvin endorse? Nate Newton?

  • Brad Mitchell

    Glenn – See Wylie H’s points about the parallels to Leppert’s “CEO” experience. Pizza Hut has very few FTEs because of its franchise model, and being a leader of this business unit if very different than being “chief executive.”

    Rawlings was responsible for finance and marketing at Pizza Hut. He wasn’t talking to The Street or the Board of Yum!, and his experience with operations was limited. In fact, he has the same job at Legends. There, too, he is leading very few people.

    Bottom line: he does not real CEO experience, and the media has not been doing a thorough review of his business experience. They’ve been taking his PR at face value.

  • Brenda Marks

    I was at the Belo Mansion debate today, and one thing that really bothered me was Mr. Rawlings’ answer to all questions related to the Trinity Toll Road. To each question (and there were 2 specific, 1 indirect) and in each response to the DMN front-page article yesterday, Mr. Rawlings kept saying “we don’t know all the facts….” Nothing else, just dodging by saying “we don’t know all the facts.”

    So, even agreeing with him that we don’t know “all” the facts, we know quite a few facts. The first being the Corps and NTTA both said (and the contracts between the City, the Corps and the NTTA specifically state) the Corps has primacy over the road. In other words, if the Corps determines that the high-speed-tollroad-in-a-floodway is impeding, in any way, the Corps ability to maintain and control the Trinity River floodway, they can order the road removed, shut down, blown up, painted pink, turned into a skate ramp, you name it. They can do it. And the bondholders who paid for that road get screwed.

    I know this, and I’m no rocket scientist. Just someone who read the underlying docs (part of the record for the EIS) and who asked, at the public hearing, off the record to an NTTA official “can you sell bonds for a road over which the Corps can assert primacy?” to which question the NTTA official smiled and said “No”.

    It was clear that the message machine had churned hard and fast over the weekend to come up with the “we don’t have all the facts” response to cover for the lack of truthfulness given to Dallas taxpayers over the past 4 years.

    And I found that to be very disappointing.

  • #12

    Rawlings is a public image we can be proud of, Kunkle is not. Carrying around a book that says real leaders are not charismatic is not mayoral, and it doesn’t turn your awkwardness into a positive. Mayors are charismatic – they are the chief salespeople for the city. That is not Kunkle. The Morning News nailed it this morning when they said he would make a great city manager. He is an administrator, not a leader.

  • Brenda Marks

    @#12 — If the Mayor is the “chief salesperson for the city” all the more reason for honest, transparent, forthright, answers. We had the “chief salesperson” for the last 4 years and Dallas is in a major budget hole, has vastly deteriorating infrastructure and transportation, and DISD has not really changed, even though that was the last salesman’s top priority as well.

    And that the DMN endorsed Rawlings seals it for me too. But in the other direction.

  • Rawlings Charisma?

    Hearing the “Kunkle has no charisma” mantra over and over again, I was expecting Rawlings to be something akin to a Southern Pentacostal preacher. When I finally saw him speak, I was shocked that he came off like a giant old jock…half G.W. Bush, and half Dobber from “Coach”.

  • The DMN and John Wiley Price endorse Rawlings. That is all I need to throw my support behind Kunkle.

  • Anne

    El Rey, beautifully stated. Those are my thoughts precisely.

    Dallas has had enough ‘inside guys’. I like Kunkle because he is an outsider while simultaneously an insider.

  • marisa

    El Rey… said a mouth full.
    Those are the two worst endorsements in Dallas.

  • #17

    Sorry #12, but no one is buying your team’s latest talking point. There’s a reason Kunkle’s poll numbers are moving.

    I’m not voting for “charisma.” I want a leader who will affect change. Did Rawlings affect big change when he ran the Pizza Hut division or that small company he’s running now? Nope. Look at Kunkle’s record as police chief. The department was in disarray when he took over.

  • yeah…um

    @Rawlings Charisma?

    I totally agree. Hearing him in person made me feel like he was a trying to sell me a “really spectacular” used car.

  • sam

    rawlings would be great for north of I30. north dallas can use a good “branding” guy to help sell our city to corporations, conventions, and the like. north dallas could benefit from a strategic business-minded professional at the helm.

    kunkle would be great for south of I30. he fits in perfectly there, i.e. lots of dealings with the police, he’s on like his 4th or 5th wife, he’s not a big-picture guy, he’s more worried about accountability than actual performance.

    and let’s face it… no one really gives a sh*t about the south (except kessler park/bishop arts). downtown is dying because only a handful of people can afford to live south of 635 — the b*itch of a commute from the ‘burbs kills the market for downtown office space.

    the majority of actually affluent folks in our city live in the park cities to avoid the BS that the city of dallas continually puts out. when people with resources opt out of the city, what do you have left?

    and on top of it all, the city is WAY to segregated. and it’s going to stay that way. a great joke often told in north dallas is this: do you know there’s a word that no one wants to call a black person that starts with “n” and ends with “r”… neighbor.

    what this city needs is separate leadership organizations for the north and south. they have very clear and very different needs — and it’s more than a one person job to lead both.

  • #17

    Sam – accountability is performance. BTW, tell us about Rawlings performance when he ran the Pizza Hut division. Revenues trended down during his tenure.

  • Brenda Marks

    Sam — Wow. First time in a long time I’ve heard someone advocating for segregation. Hate to be the one to tell you that lots of people north and south “give a shit” about south of downtown because without its growth, the north will stagnate as well. All about the tax base my friend.

    And I have lived in the heart of Dallas for almost 30 years (not the Park Cities) and I can assure you downtown is not dying. Far from it. In fact, it’s far more alive than it was when I moved to Dallas in 1981. And I am not a rich person. Just a worker bee who cares about the community around me.

    And yes, parts of the north are very segregated (Preston Hollow, Prestonwood a couple of examples), but the rest of Dallas is very integrated.

    You really should get out more.

    And how do you worry about accountability without considering performance? Seems to me the two go hand in hand.

  • Brandon H

    Dallas needs to look to to the example of NYC over the past decades. Big projects don’t buy prosperity. Cleaning up the streets, ensuring safety (!!!), cutting the grass, and making your city livable to all kinds (mostly the not-rich) kind of people is how you become “world-class.” Go Kunkle!

  • fred

    “only a handful of people can afford to live south of 635” Silly suburban twaddle. Try East Dallas for instance – and before you parrot the ‘bad schools’ mantra it might interest you to know that the schools rank higher than most suburban schools. And not “WAY to segregated” (sic).

  • Lives in a Van Down By the Trinity River

    Do you think the Toll Road was a waste of money? Look at how your money was spent on the entire Trinity Project.

  • Nick

    Okay, but who do the Mavs support? I just can’t make up my mind until I hear from Dirk Nowitski. 🙂

  • What Brenda said. I’ve lived south of 635 for 30 years. I love my casa view neighborhood. the biggest challenge is schools. It’s why the Mayor, who doesn’t have anything to do with education is drawn into talking about it.

    Like Brenda, I care about what happens south of 30. I also care what happens north of 30.

    My primary thought on this race is that Mr Rawlins is a good guy, with good motives, but my sense is that he’s more interested in the big ticket items which is why he still won’t condemn this crazy tollroad.

  • Im going to share my own data into what Ive learned in respect to a happenstance.