Dallas Mayoral Candidates Debate Issues at SMU

April 19, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Praveen Sathianathan

Video By Bridget Bennett

Education, the city’s budget, the Trinity River project and the development of South Dallas were the focus of the Dallas mayoral race’s first televised debate Tuesday night.

Former Police Chief David Kunkle, Council member Ron Natinsky, businessman Edward Okpa and former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings took part in the one-hour debate at SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Theater.

Mayoral Candidates prepares for questions at the Dallas Mayoral Debate at SMU on Tuesday, April 21st at SMU. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN GARLICH / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Moderated by CBS 11 anchor Doug Dunbar, candidates were asked questions by a panel of journalists including Jessica Huseman, politics editor at The Daily Campus.

The debate began with candidates being asked what city services should be cut to help balance the budget in lieu of a shortfall that could range from $40 to $100 million.

Rawlings said besides crime prevention and economic development “everything else is on the table.”

“Got to make sure that everything is on the board, but lets not cut across the board,” Rawlings said. “We got to do it strategically. What are the major initiatives we got to face? Get the city council unified and then get the city manager to do her job.”

Kunkle said the city should start the budget process earlier than they do.

“I don’t think there is anything easy to cut in the budget anymore,” Kunkle said. “We can’t make cuts without affecting critical city services.”

He said it was important to look at “what business the city should be in.”

Kunkle said he would like to, as much as possible, “maintain core city services: police, fire, city enforcement and streets,” but said it would be hard with another difficult budget year.

Natinsky agreed saying it is a tough budget year, but added that it’s not like the last few Dallas has faced. Citing projections of the increase in sales tax and other activities in the city, Natinsky eluded to signs that there maybe a recovery.

“We have a good chance of coming very close to possibly balancing the budget, certainly without a tax increase or having to cut any essential services,” he said.

Okpa said if the city “regresses the budget by three percent we can easily fix the budget, but if we do it now, what about next year?” he asked.

He then suggested the city “take a critical view of the structural challenges of the budget.”

All candidates also expressed the need to improve Dallas schools.

Kunkle said the city needs to “continue to facilitate and help grow neighborhood after-school programs” and that it needs a stronger commitment from the business community.

Natinsky agreed with Kunkle on the importance of after school programs, but stressed Dallas’ “great history of public and private partnerships.” He suggested that parents need to be actively involved in the educational process.

He said without solving the problems of education, “we can’t deal with economic issues we are facing and we can’t continue to grow the city.”

Opa agreed with the necessity to get parents involved, and complimented the Dallas Independent School District on the good job it has already done.

“If I show you the school I went to in Nigeria, I think DISD is a heaven,” he said.

Rawlings said education was the most important issue Dallas faces for “we are educating our children and it’s our future.”

“Never be a great city without great public education,” he said. “Must do something structural and must do something sustainable.”

He said it was integral to work with other urban mayors in other parts of the state, energize non-profit organizations and those that want to lift the school system.

The candidates also focused on the development of south Dallas many times during the night. The issue is considered to be a hot topic, since the area lacks many of the amenities, such as restaurants and businesses, that are found in the northern parts of the city.

Social media also played a role in the debate as students and Dallas citizens could ask questions through Twitter or Facebook. According to Dunbar, one of the reoccurring themes was about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

A question from SMU Dedman I Senator Harvey Luna, on how to make Dallas “a more gay-friendly city” was selected and answered by the candidates. Praising the diversity found within the city, all the candidates agreed that Dallas’ LGBT community should have a place in the city.

Rawlings said: “We have the human capital, but for too long we’ve been divisive. We have African Americans, Hispanics and whites, we have gay and straight. That attitude is going to hinder that growth.

“Some of the greatest and most exciting ideas are coming from the GLBT community,” he said. “We have got to make sure they have a place at city hall, a place in business and a place socially in the framework and fabric of this city.”

The debate ended with closing statements from the candidates, which included their main goals for the city.

David Delafuente, president of the Texas College Democrats, said it was a great opportunity for SMU to host such an event.

“As an SMU student who lives in the City of Dallas in the southern sector, I felt that Mike Rawlings had the best vision for the neighborhood I come from and hope to go back to after I finish my education at SMU,” he said.

SMU junior Samira Abderahman said that she feels lucky to go to a school where the city’s mayor candidates come to speak to the community.

“I cant say now that I am not educated enough to vote,” she said. “This gave me an opportunity to deal with issues that citizens of Dallas need to know about.”

The debate was sponsored by The Daily Campus and CBS 11. A student steering committee, led by Huseman, helped organized the event, working on the logistics for two months. The other members of the committee were Chad Cohen, president of SMU College Rebuplicans, Adriana Martinez, opinions editor of The Daily Campus and Alex Ehmke, student body vice president elect.

Huseman said the debate has come a long way from where it started. She said she was talking to Delafuente about debates his organization has hosted and randomly came up with the idea for The Daily Campus to host the debate.

“Looking at it tonight, we had an hour of live television that went on without a hitch,” she said. “I thought it was infinitely more successful than what I first thought it would be.”

Daily Mustang Places First and Second for Mark of Excellence Awards

April 11, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Daily Mustang Staff

The Daily Mustang brought home four Mark of Excellence awards this weekend from the Society of Professional Journalists conference in Norman, Okla. The top journalism programs in Texas and Oklahoma attend the regional SPJ competition.

The Daily Mustang won first place in online news reporting, in a joint project with the Daily Campus, for a piece entitled “Nola Now.” Five journalism students drove to New Orleans to report on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The coverage was documented on the Nola Now Blog on the Daily Mustang, with more than 20 posts.

Bridget Bennett of SMU-TV also received a first place award in general news reporting for her package on the county jail health crisis. Her story covered health care in Dallas County jails.

Second place for the best affiliated website also went to the Daily Mustang staff, under managing editor Aida Ahmed.

The Daily Mustang’s readership and influence has grown since its launch in the fall of 2008. The Daily Mustang has covered a range of stories. From the Burger Street shooting to the NBA All-Star game, an extended video interview with actress Glenn Close, to the Bush Library groundbreaking to live blogging various events and conferences, the Daily Mustang has reported on the stories that matter to the SMU community. Viewership on the Daily Mustang has tripled in the last year.

The Mustang also won second place for online in-depth reporting, for the story, “Are Dry Neighborhoods On Their Way Out?” E’Lyn Taylor, Lisa McKeague, Ariana Garza and Kassi Schmitt all contributed to the project for the ‘Beyond the Bubble’ section of the Mustang. As part of the four-part story the reporters covered the pros and cons of the wet/dry debate and produced a broadcast segment previewing on the morning of the Nov. 2 elections.

VIDEO: Campaigning Begins for General Election

March 22, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Andy Garcia

A program that will bring national news publications to campus now has the support of the SMU’s Student Senate.

Elections for next year’s Legislature are coming soon, so make sure to keep an eye out for candidate Facebook groups and webpages.