Finalists in Dallas’ mayoral race sparred over whether Dallas should continue its regional approach to economic development, how it can become more competitive for corporate relocations, and how to approach the job as mayor at a forum in the city’s Historic West End on May 14.
Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs and Texas State Rep. Eric Johnson debated in the auditorium of El Centro College, at a forum organized by the Dallas Regional Chamber, The Dallas Morning News, and NBC 5.
Through the course of the debate, each candidate made it clear that his approach to the office would be a sharp distinction from his opponent, from the city’s continued participation in economic development, in DART, and in the North Texas Tollway Authority.
“We need to put Dallas first,” said Griggs, replying to a question posed by NBC5’s Julie Fine. “The region is not going to succeed unless we have a strong core. We have so many issues that we need to handle in the city of Dallas to make Dallas stronger.”
Griggs said the city contributes roughly $280 million annually to DART, but that while system’s light rail line will carry riders almost to Oklahoma, it won’t carry them to Love Field. Similarly, he said, while the City of Dallas continues to participate in toll agreements with the NTTA, its citizens are seeing few benefits.
“Look at the NTTA – what regionalism has done for us there,” he said. “We paid off the toll road through the city of Dallas probably 30 years ago, and they’re still collecting tolls on it and building a system out to Oklahoma.”
He said putting Dallas first would help Dallas shore up its streets, which he described as “abysmal.”
Johnson, meanwhile, said Griggs’ approach to regionalism exemplified his leadership philosophy.
“That’s one of the big differences between councilman Griggs and I, in terms of our styles,” said Johnson. “When you are in the role of the Chair, you’re trying to move an agenda forward, versus being in one of the role of the gadfly or the critic. You have to be mindful of how you discuss things and how you handle things.”
Johnson said he sees the role of mayor as one of a consensus builder who would boost Dallas, without damaging relationships.
“This (tossing-the)-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach to every issue that’s ever come up in our city is what’s gotten us to the impasse we’re at. What the mayor of Dallas has to be able to do is to restore balance of these discussions. There are limits to regionalism.”
Johnson said while Dallas can’t approach regionalism at the expense of Dallas, the answer isn’t to abandon the practice altogether.
“The answer is not to just rip us out of every regional agreement that we’re a part of, or to just completely disparage our surrounding neighbors and turn this into some sort of reality show, where we’re competing against each other.”
Building Education to Attract Corporate Relocations
When questioned about what Dallas would do to become more competitive to attract relocations and expansions such as Amazon’s HQ2, both candidates said they would use the mayor’s office to bolster the education-to-workforce system.
Johnson said the City of Dallas needs to create a formal partnership with Dallas County Community College District, Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas, and other parties that would make it clear to potential corporate relocations across the world that the city is intent on providing skilled workers for incoming employers.
“We need to form an agreement, a formal partnership… to enhance our workforce readiness by moving children out of high school into community colleges to be trained in the jobs of tomorrow,” he said.
Johnson said if that happens, more jobs will come to Dallas. Johnson said more jobs need to come to Dallas city limits, and if they do, that will help shore up the city’s tax base. He said that adding jobs will help decrease residents’ city property taxes, which are among the highest in the state.
Griggs said he would work with the Dallas County Community College District to ensure that residents were being trained properly, so relocating companies have the workforce training that they need. He said he supports giving companies incentives to relocate to Dallas.
“Then, let’s hire from the city of Dallas and then make sure we get good wages for people, particularly in Southern Dallas,” he said. “We need to continue all the progress we’ve made with DISD (Dallas Independent School District) and RISD (Richardson Independent School District) and other school districts.”
Griggs added said he would work with school districts in Dallas to encourage them to provide all-day, universal pre-K.
Both Griggs and Johnson said they support continuing outgoing Mayor Mike Rawlings’ GrowSouth economic development initiative in Sothern Dallas.
The runoff election has been set for Saturday, June 8.