Larry Casto officially announced his candidacy for mayor and laid out the key pieces of his campaign this morning. Inside Oak Cliff’s Jefferson Tower, the former Dallas city attorney said his campaign will emphasize a “fundamental way of rethinking” how the city delivers services to the people of Dallas. He gave several minutes to the discussion of a plan he wants to push through the state Legislature to rework Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts in a way that would freeze the property taxes of houses surrounding new development. And he pointed out Dallas’ second-to-last rating (among the top 30 cities from 2001 to 2014) when it comes to percentage population growth among young adults ages 18 to 34.
“We have a product to build here in Dallas,” he said. “And you better get used to that word. Because I mean it.”
Casto, whose candidacy was made public on Tuesday, had been Dallas city attorney for just two years when he stepped down in August, noting then that the mayoral race—hint hint—“looms around the corner.” He joins three other candidates so far. Oak Cliff businessman Albert Black, a member of Baylor Scott & White Health’s board, filed all the way back in July. Mike Ablon filed paperwork to run for office last week (he didn’t specify which office, but D confirmed it is indeed for mayor). And Regina Montoya, an attorney who heads the mayor’s task force on poverty, announced yesterday.
The ballot will continue to get more crowded. Among others, a few city council members are rumored to be throwing their hats in the ring. The issues of their battle leading up to the May 2019 election will include the city’s dearth of affordable housing, its continued segregation, its homelessness, and its lack of reliable transit options.
Casto says he wants the discussion to focus on how to change things in Dallas to deliver a better result. He hopes it doesn’t devolve into a competition on who can best imagine the future without offering how to get there.
“I just really thought at this point in my career that there were some ideas, some ways forward that at a minimum—regardless of how this race turns out—just need to be discussed and put on the table,” he said. “We need to start a discourse about doing things differently.”
His most thoroughly constructed plan to enact that change would rely on passing state legislation to allow for a different kind of TIF district. Money captured from new development in TIF districts usually goes toward the community, things like roads or parks, or back into the pockets of developers. But Casto suggests using TIF dollars to freeze the property tax rates of homes surrounding the new development.
That would allow, he says, for communities to attract new development without pushing out the residents and businesses that have made it what it is. “If you get people who are there saying, ‘You know what, I’m protected.’ And you get people going, ‘I will buy there,’ I think you may change the world, not just a city,” he said.
Asked what he would do if he can’t get the bill passed, Casto said there are tools already at the city’s disposal. “There are things that we can do like land use policies, coordinating comprehensive development in a better way so that you bring in market-rate and affordable housing,” he said.
He touched on a recent City Council debate, wherein developers asked for the city to tweak its new housing policy so that it could win a state grant to improve a dilapidated apartment building called Ridge Crest. “Can we please get creative?” he said. “We are a smart, bright, caring people. That Ridge Crest highlights our need to do something differently. There was not a right answer one way or the other on that one.”
Casto has been with the city since the early 1990s, working as chief lobbyist and legislative director in Austin and Washington, D.C., along the way. He was appointed in 2016 amid the fiasco related to the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.
“My entire professional career has pretty much been dedicated to trying to enhance the quality of life for people who call Dallas home,” he said. “It’s all I know.”