Sunday brought perfect weather for an outdoor debate, with late afternoon sunshine warming the packed house on the patio of Garden Café on Junius Street. The debate between Councilman Philip Kingston and challenger Matt Wood attracted hundreds of East Dallas’ most politically active at one of the few opportunities neighbors have had to see the two District 14 candidates highlight their differences.
It was a BYOB event — glasses of red and white wine amid Shiner Bocks and Lakewood Lagers in the standing room-only crowd. During the debate, chickens ran loose in the herb garden, a woman knitted a teal baby garment, and a man sat on the ground eating a hand-held cherry fried pie and holding the leash of a semi-hairless dog with a diamond collar.
With claims of money outside the district coming in to support both sides, this was a battle to see who was more East Dallas.
The Wood and Kingston signs alternating between yards in the surrounding Junius Heights and Munger Place historic districts underscored just how close of a race this appears to be. Kingston showed up in a checkered blazer and jeans, Wood donned a navy blazer and beard, and both shook hands as they made their way around the crowd. The Kingston campaign wisely set up next to the beer and wine station, doling out T-shirts and yard signs, while the Wood campaign passed out “Matt Wood” emblazoned nametags.
An NBC5 news van pulled into the Garden Café lot, and the reporter helped lug in a couple cases of beer. Observer columnist and Swiss Avenue Historic District resident Jim Schutze situated himself in the second row, front and center, where he could shoot close-ups with his cell phone. Tristan Hallman of the Dallas Morning News, who lives in District 14, doubled as debate moderator and crowd control for the somewhat boisterous audience.
This context provided the backdrop for the debate content, which we’ve summarized below for District 14 readers interested in where candidates stand on the issues:
What is it that would make you an effective councilman?
Kingston: My past productivity for District 14, including neighborhood economic development, pushing for a living wage in Dallas. My fight against Fair Park being given away, against Yellow Cab to keep Uber and Lyft in Dallas.
Wood: I want to get things done in a more collaborative way, find common ground with others, roll up our sleeves and get things done.
In regards to the advertisements put out by For Our Community, is it possible that the way you interact [with City Council, city staff] affects what gets done?
Wood: I have nothing to do with the PAC. You were more involved and now are less involved with working closely with the neighborhood. It seems like you are looking for another political office.
Kingston: I treat people with respect and my door is always open if you are for the betterment of Dallas. They call me a bully if I fight the status quo because I am a boy, but they use another B-word if you are a girl — right, Angela Hunt?
What is your plan to help fix the police and fire pension plan?
Kingston: The situation is not great, the last person was a crook who left the pension was almost a billion dollars short. We need to cut from the benefits and inject new money into the system via DART funds.
Wood: The incumbent is pushing to take money from DART, which creates new problems. It puts burden on those who use DART, who are the city’s least well off. We need a piecemeal process to get through this stage.
Should we use money from DART, or not?
Wood: We need to use economies of scale, growing the economy and budget. We don’t need to leave the burden at the feet of one organization like DART. City departments are inefficient and can get better to save money.
Kingston: The DART plan is necessary, there is no piecemeal solution. DART is a billion dollar agency that has not been asked to find efficiencies in their budget. It is an agency that has lost its way, and caters to the suburbs, and this would be 3 percent of their budget.
What should be done about the loss of police and first responders in Dallas?
Kingston: We will lose more this summer when crime spikes and it will get worse before it gets better, This is why the DART plan. Fixing the pension is what we need to do. We have been and need to keep raising police salaries to be more competitive.
Wood: We need a new police chief who works on the morale. We need to see what non-budgetary solutions we can provide to our officers and first responders. We can use tax breaks and benefits for them, to help them own homes in our neighborhoods. It is a piece-by-piece process.
On what does the city not spend enough money?
Wood: It is not about spending more money, it is about spending wisely. We need more private public partnerships, which this city does well. People get excited about their neighborhood, so we need projects such as creating bicycle corridors so that kids can ride their bikes to school.
Kingston: The big ticket item is the pension system, but we also need some heavily increased street maintenance. A small ticket item is more ESL classes. We are $200,000 short of eliminating the waiting list for adult ESL in Dallas. Dallas has the lowest average wage of any big city in the nation, and ESL classes are a way to bring people into a more livable wage.
Should the City of Dallas continuing borrowing money to pay for things, or should it save money and pay as it has money to pay?
Kingston: Pay as you go is far, far from reality. We need to scale back borrowing a bit, but can’t do anything without debt.
Wood: We are too far behind that it wouldn’t work right now.
What should we do about homelessness in Dallas?
Wood: This is an issue that is prevalent everywhere, not just downtown. When the camps get closed, our cars get broken into more often. We need to discourage panhandling presence and need to raise money to take care of the truly poor. We need more private-public partnerships to reduce panhandling and provide for those who need it most.
Kingston: Homelessness is up stratospherically in the last couple years due to the lack of affordable housing in Dallas. We can’t concentrate homelessness and affordable housing in certain areas as we have right now. In the short-term, we need more short-term shelters and recovery services. An intermediate goal is to move Tent City indoors to make it safer. In the long-term, we need to work on more affordable housing that is not concentrated in one area.
How can we increase the middle class housing in Dallas?
Kingston: I have started the process to allow garage apartments to be built in East Dallas, which provide income diversity without destabilizing the neighborhood.
Wood: This has been a problem for a long time. The Grow South hasn’t activated neighborhoods the way it should. We need to look at areas like East Dallas and replicate it elsewhere.
What are your thoughts on the Trinity toll road?
Wood: I don’t want to have a toll road, and applaud Angela Hunt for her work against it. I think we can have some activity and development in a park without the toll road.
Kingston: I helped fight for the referendum on the toll road with Hunt in 2006 and have been a warrior against the damaging and divisive toll road ever since. I am being attacked by a Super PAC who supports my challenger, and the founder said it was designed to get the road finished. It is a pro-toll road PAC.
What else would you like to say that you haven’t already?
Kingston: Serving you all for four years has been wonderful, and I don’t think you know how special you are as a group of residents. You are more demanding than any group in the city, but nothing good is easy, and nothing is done alone. I want to balance growth and protect neighborhoods. I have made improvements in transparency for City Hall. I need you to go vote. Of the 62,000 registered voters in District 14, only 9,000 will probably vote. My record is clear and I need to be sent back to City Hall. There are people who are working hard to silence your voice, not help you to collaborate with others.
Wood: In the next two years, hard choices need to be made in Dallas. But there are also opportunities. We have let the suburbs control the conversation about Dallas and its negativity. We have great parks and great schools. We don’t talk about the good things enough, just the bad things. We need to promote the good things in Dallas.
The election is Saturday, May 6. Early voting starts today, April 24, at these locations.
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