By David Wilfong, NDG Special Contributor
Monday Night Politics at the African American Museum in Fair Park continued on March 20 with candidates vying for positions in Dallas’ District 4 and 8. District 8 is one of the more hotly contested races going into the May election with five candidates on the ballot. Four of the candidates were on hand to address the audience. Moctezuma Seth Gonzalez was not present at the Monday night event hosted by the Dallas Examiner, but the other four candidates were present.
Erik Wilson is the incumbent in District 8 and told the audience he was seeking to finish what he started, having been in office only 20 months. Tennell Atkins has served on the city council before and said he can deliver development to the District ahead of schedule. Gail Terrell has served 16 years in unpaid board positions and is looking to take her experience to the council. Eric L. Williams is coming from a journalism background and seeks to challenge the status quo on the council.
Williams was certainly the most aggressive in his first turn at the microphone.
“I am not going to drink the mayor’s Kool-Aid,” Williams exclaimed during his introductory segment, raising cheers from some in the crowd. Williams stated that all the other candidates were the same and that $200,000 had bought District 8’s last election.
His most controversial suggestion was levying a “new Jim Crow” law that would raise funds through industries which formerly exploited the African American community.
“The textile industry, transportation industry, financial industry; all that money that’s been collected with these businesses that currently do business with the city, still today, Aetna Life, Cottonbelt Railroad, all the others, still do business,” Williams said. “They need to pay up.”
As the incumbent, Erik Wilson had to fend off more directed questions than the other candidates on the stage. Twice that involved simply standing up after the question was asked and saying, “I beg to differ,” before correcting a wrongly-reported account of a past vote he had taken. Primarily, Wilson sought to reinforce the path he is currently following.
“Since I’m already elected I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing,” Wilson said, adding that this included his actions and votes at City Hall as well as efforts as simple as driving through the neighborhood and talking to people. Challenged by a resident who claimed to get no response from the city, Wilson reminded her, “I do believe I came to your house to discuss that with you, and unfortunately you were not there.”
Tennel Atkins, who acknowledged he had formerly supported Wilson’s bid for the office, beginning with issues facing schools, Atkins repeatedly said most of the district’s woes come down to economic concerns.
“The major problem is money, corporate money,” Atkins told the audience. “How many corporations adopt a school in the south side? It’s about money and it’s about PTAs and parents.”
Atkins promised to finish the DART line into the district three years ahead of schedule and laid out numerous developments he believes he could see through to completion for the area.
Gail Terrell has spent plenty of time working on public issues as a member of the Parks and Recreation Board as well as Cultural Affairs. She said better leadership in office could lead to positive gains on the ground in her district.
“Companies have not been offered the right kind of incentives to bring them to the south side,” Terrell said. Through her previous service, according to Terrell, she canvassed the community to meet with the leadership of various neighborhoods and fought for minority contracts, often to the point of using e-mail just to make sure local businessmen knew of all the upcoming construction projects.
“I have a proven track record, and my track record is all unpaid volunteer services,” Terrell said.
District 4 race
In the District 4 race, incumbent Carolyn King Arnold was the only candidate to attend. She is being challenged by former councilmember Dwaine R. Caraway.
In asking for support in the election, Arnold also asked voters to be more active after the election as well.
“I can’t do it alone,” Arnold said. “It’s going to take all of us. We are not going to move forward with me sitting alone behind the mic. Education, understanding how the process works seems to be an obstacle to the residents of this district.”
She later added, “They don’t fear this community,” referring to the representatives of the city’s other districts.
Violence and marijuana law enforcement key issues on minds of voters
Two big issues coming to all candidates from the audience were violence – following a shooting the day before – and the viability of a “cite-and-release” policy regarding marijuana use among minorities. All candidates from both races stated they will support the cite-and-release measure. Incumbents Wilson and Arnold stated they had earlier opposed it in recognition of concerns from former Dallas Police Chief David Brown. Williams said he want to go a step further and “make these people entrepreneurs.”
Monday Night Politics will continue with sessions on March 27 and April 3 at the African American Museum in Fair Park.