DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - During the first debate during the runoff election campaign, Dallas mayoral candidates Scott Griggs and Eric Johnson explained their priorities and vision for the city.
Griggs, who's been a member of the City Council for eight years, said he wants to refocus the city. "As mayor, what I want to do is take all that energy we have, that passion, that went into building the Calatrava bridges, that went into building the convention center hotel, the horse park, the deck park, and put all that energy back into the basics."
He said those basics include public safety, parks and recreation, housing, and transportation.
Eric Johnson, a State Representative of Dallas, said his focus is on providing opportunities. "I want to make sure that I don't allow a single child in this city to go without similar opportunities so I'm going to be fighting every single day to make sure my Dallas story is the same story that other kids around this city will be able to tell."
At the forum sponsored by the Dallas Bar Association held at the Belo Mansion, the candidates explained their number one priority if elected next month.
Johnson said he would improve the tone at Dallas City Council meetings and make it more positive and less combative. "We've allowed personal attacks, we've allowed the demonization of our opponents. It's not enough now for our opponents to be wrong, they have to be wrong and they're corrupt and they're stupid. The snark has got to stop."
Griggs said public safety is the most important issue.
He said the city needs to hire more police officers, after the number of them in the department had fallen below 3,000. "Before the pension crisis, we had 3,600 police officers. I've served on the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, uncovered corruption having worked within City Hall, worked within the Board, worked with our state lawmakers to save the pension system."
Griggs said he led the fight to raise starting pay for Dallas police officers from $48,000 to $60,000, and that he favors raising it further to $72,000.
To pay for increasing the number of officers, Griggs said he'll rely on his experience at City Hall. "I have experience in the budget just as I did in this last budget, of finding money, $10, 20, 30 million at a time in the budget to cut and dedicate it to public safety and we must do this because we want to grwo the tax base in Southern Dallas and we're not going to be able to do that unless we are a safe city.
Johnson said the city needs to grow its tax base by attracting businesses and boosting economic development, particularly in Southern Dallas. "I'm not the candidate who's going to promise you that it's going to be easy, or going to be fun. But I'll give you real numbers behind this and tell you that's the choice we're going to have to make. Do we develop Southern Dallas and generate more tax revenue with a lower tax rate but a higher base to pay for these new officers? That's the way we pay for it."
The two were also asked about Dallas County DA John Creuzot's recent policy change -- that his office will not prosecute people accused of theft of personal items less than $750 -- if based on hunger and poverty.
Griggs said, "I'm very concerned about how it's going to play out with small businesses. I'm very concerned how it's going to play out with people in the city of Dallas because we have to have a city that's law and order."
Johnson said, "I think crimes that have victims have to be treated differently that don't. But overall, the thrust of this initiative I think is an interesting and important discussion to have about whether or not we want to decriminalize certain petit thefts and things like that."
The two discussed another issue that made headlines last week: the departures of the CEO and CFO of VisitDallas, the city's convention and visitors bureau after a city audit sharply questioned the agency's spending and criticized its lack of financial oversight.
Griggs said he called for the audit in the first place.
While Johnson gave Griggs credit for being a watchdog, he criticized Griggs' leadership. "You've been there for eight years, and over that eight years, you've not demonstrated an ability to get the support on a lot of these issues that you're not saying as Mayor, you'll be able to change the tone and tenor of the conversation on. You have to be able to get these things done. It's not enough to have the great idea, you have to be able to build the consensus to do it."
Griggs responded, "Built a consensus and saved the Dallas Police and Fire Pension system. Built a consensus and now, Phillip Jones is leaving VisitDallas. Built a consensus and on Fair Park, we didn't give the contract to someone whose a friend of the Mayor. We put it out for open bid. I have built a consensus or so many issues following audits. I have a track record of getting that done."
While both shared their differences, they did agree that municipal elections should remain nonpartisan and continue to be held in May.
Early voting begins Tuesday, May 28 and ends Tuesday, June 4.
Election Day is Saturday, June 8.
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