The swirling force of Texas politics

Dallas Mayoral Candidates Face Off in Debate

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The four Dallas candidates for mayor agree on many issues -- except on who has the proper qualifications.

    A debate Friday moderated by NBC DFW's Ken Kalthoff showed the contrast in the candidates' backgrounds, experience and style, as well as how many goals for the city they share.

    Dallas Mayoral Candidates Debate

    [DFW] Dallas Mayoral Candidates Debate
    The four Dallas candidates for mayor agree on many issues -- except on who has the proper qualifications. (Published Friday, Mar 25, 2011)

    • David Kunkle is a former police chief of Dallas, Arlington and Grand Prairie, a former Arlington assistant city manager and a former Dallas police officer.
    • Ron Natinsky has served six years on the Dallas City Council, run private businesses and served in several volunteer civic roles.
    • Edward Okpa runs a property appraisal business and has served in several civic roles.
    • Mike Rawlings is a former Pizza Hut CEO, Dallas Park Board chairman, city "homeless czar" and Convention and Visitors Bureau chairman.

    Natinsky, Okpa and Rawlings spoke about the value of private sector experience, and Kunkle and Natinsky promoted the practical value of government experience.

    But all agreed on the need to expand the Dallas tax base to provide more money to improve city services.

    At times, they even congratulated each other on past accomplishments before drawing distinctions.

    Rawlings said Kunkle was an excellent police chief but lacks outside experience.

    "I think the voters have a clear choice," he said. "Chief Kunkle has never spent a day in the private sector."

    Kunkle congratulated Rawlings on a job well done as the city's volunteer "homeless czar" but said big executives are not the best government leaders.

    He said he is the candidate who is not funded by the city's money elite.

    "We need strong, livable neighborhoods, and it will be the single focus of my campaign," Kunkle said.

    Natinsky has endorsements from the Dallas Police Association, the Dallas Firefighters Association, and 11 of the 15 current Dallas City Council members he currently serves with.

    "They've got the confidence in you that you're the one they'll be working with as you move the city forward," Natinsky said.

    Okpa worked his way up from his first job as a bus boy at the Anatole Hotel to become a successful businessman.

    "What we need in our current situation is somebody who has a broad view about the issues; also somebody who can go internationally and bring us something back," he said.

    The four candidates sparred in Friday’s debate over the role of political parties in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan city election.

    "The candidate can't really help when partisanship creeps into the race," Natinsky said. "I am certainly not going to hide from the fact of how I vote when I go in the voting booth."

    "I got a robo-call saying that Ron Natinsky is the only Republican in the race, so it didn't just creep in. The door was kicked open," Kunkle shot back.

    Rawlings has also been labeled a Democrat in the campaign, but he tried during the debate to color Kunkle as even more of a Democrat.

    "Let's be honest," he said. "This is politics. And yes, the calls are happening from the Republican side. And yes, chief, you said to everybody that you were a 3-D Democrat."

    Okpa said he has contributed to candidates of both parties in the past and no one should try to label him as part of either party.

    "At this level, we have to pursue what is good for Dallas," he said. "It isn't the partisan politics."

    Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert announced he would not seek re-election and resigned before his term ended to launch a campaign for U.S. Senate.

    Mayor Dwaine Caraway, who was mayor pro tem, became interim mayor earlier this month to complete Leppert's term.

    The election to choose a permanent mayor is May 14. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the votes, there could be a runoff to decide the winner.