By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer
On the eve of early voting, candidates and members of the public were still filing into the African American Museum in Fair Park for the Monday Night Politics (MNP) forum hosted by the Dallas Examiner. There were six offices highlighted at the Feb. 19 forum, as down-ballot candidates looked for an opportunity to reach their target constituencies.
The highest profile race of the night was for Dallas County Sheriff. Former Sheriff Lupe Valdez is now off and running for governor, and candidates are vying for the open seat in local law enforcement. Two of the three candidates were present at the forum; interim Sheriff Marian Brown and current Constable Roy Williams, Jr. Both come to the table with an extensive background in law enforcement, and both have taken steps in their career to be prepared to hold such an office as County Sheriff.
Brown has more than 30 years of experience beginning as a patrol officer up to her current position as interim sheriff. She was recruited to come to Dallas County after serving seven-and-a-half years as an assistant chief. Williams spent 21 years at the Dallas Sheriff’s Office, and has been the county constable in Precinct 4 for eight years.
Williams said he has been critical of the Sheriff’s Office over issues of transparency, and that he will also be able to improve the morale of the agency.
“Morale is one of those things,” Williams said. “It’s fluid. We kinda talk about it, and it depends; if it’s a team, it’s a coach; if it’s an agency, it’s the person in charge.”
In the short time she has been in the office, Brown said she has worked to improve communication and leadership in the Sheriff’s Office.
“I have changed the advancement structure so that we have decentralized the decision-making position,” Broan said. “And so the decisions are not just being made at the top by one primary person. The decision-making authority is happening across the board.”
Constable Precinct 1
In the race for Dallas County Constable Precinct 1, incumbent Tracey Gulley is being challenged by Alvin “A.J.” Johnson. Both candidates have a background in law enforcement, with Gulley in the constable’s office and Johnson currently working as a supervising sergeant with the Lancaster ISD Police Department.
There were no real points of contention or calls for change between the two candidates, each standing on the strength of their previous performances in their current role.
“This isn’t about me,” Johnson said. “This is about the future of Dallas. This is about someone being able to go to the polls tomorrow, and see his name on the ballot and be able to vote, knowing that he wants to make a difference, and wants to be the change he wants to see and not talk about it.”
“The four stars I wear on my shoulder were not just given to me,” Gulley said. “I earned them. And you ladies will understand when I say this, I kept both heels to the ground. Literally, I kept both heels to the ground, and I stayed prayed up. I earned what I’ve got.”
Justice of the Peace – Prec. 5, Place 2
In the JP race for Precinct 5, Place 2, incumbent Juan Jasso is being challenged by Andrew “Bundy” Goldsmith. He does not have a law enforcement or judicial background. Goldsmith is an education professional with extensive experience in the school district, but says he is ready to learn how to be a JP and has had numerous former students and parents encouraging him to run. He even moved into the district to qualify for the office; a fact pointed out quickly by Jasso.
“I made the ultimate sacrifice (to run for this office), I moved to Oak Cliff,” Goldsmith said. “I’ve been working with Oak Cliff since ’89. Seven days a week until 8 o’clock at night. You can call on any of my principals to verify. So in order to run for Justice of the Peace of this district, I had to move to this district.”
Jasso, after defending the closure of his office three days each month for staff training during lunch, pointed to the demands of the job and the schedule necessary to complete it well.
“This is a full-time job, not a part-time job,” Jasso said. “I dedicate 100 percent of my time to this job.”
Criminal Court of Appeals 2
In the race for the judge’s seat in the Criminal Court of Appeals 2, there were two of the four candidates who showed up for the forum; Bruce Kaye and Johnny Lanzillo.
Kaye is an entertainment attorney with a list of high profile clients, whom he said he would be calling on to do community outreach if elected. Lanzillo comes to the table with experience in criminal law spread out across four nearby counties.
Kaye stated he was running because, as an elected official, it would be easier to help fight against a continuing system of institutionalized racism.
“In reality, this is a misdemeanor court position,” Kaye said. “But being an elected official gives you a bully pulpit, to lead by example.”
Lanzillo said he is most interested in the current call for bail reform, and that is the key to fighting perceived unfairness in the judiciary.
“Nobody should have to take a conviction just to get out of jail,” Lanzillo said, later adding that he is also in favor of conducting a pre-trial hearing for every case, so that both defendants and attorneys are more familiar with what they will be dealing with in the courtroom.
Criminal Court of Appeals 1
Initially, Kristin Wade was the sole candidate to appear for the forum dedicated to the judge’s race for Criminal Court of Appeals 1. Wade is the incumbent and is looking for reelection.
“The first thing I want you to know is that I love my job,” Wade said. “I love coming in to work every day.”
Wade has been in criminal law for 28 years, and has been at her current bench since 1999. She touts her work with the Mental Health Diversion Court and points out that more than 1,300 people have avoided prison time through working that program.
“I don’t just talk about reformative justice, I’ve practiced it,” Wade said.
Her challenger, Mary Jo Taylor did arrive at the MNP forum after the scheduled time for her race had already passed. At the end of the evening, the candidates returned to the stage and Taylor was given an opportunity to introduce herself to what remained of the audience, but did not have time to do much more than introduce herself and her campaign slogan.
Criminal Court 10
Roberto Canas, the incumbent judge in the race for Criminal Court 10, was alone in the forum as his challenger was unable to attend. Canas informed the audience that his courtroom is dedicated to domestic violence cases.
“It’s one of those crimes that’s very counter-intuitive,” Canas said. “Many family members want to stay with the abuser; they just want the violence out.”
Canas spoke about the various approaches and programs utilized in dealing with family violence cases. As the forum was taking place following a noted school shooting in Florida, it gave Canas the opportunity to tout his gun surrender program, whereby law enforcement takes the guns from any defendant.
Early voting is underway and will end on March 2. Election day is March 6.
(CORRECTION: In last week’s edition of NDG, candidate for U.S. Representative District 30 Eric Williams was mistakenly identified as “Eric Wilson.” We regret the error and encourage readers to become familiar with Williams, Barbara Mallory Caraway and Eddie Bernice Johnson, the three Democratic candidates vying for this important position.)