District 4 faces tough choice with a wealth of city council candidates

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Moderator Demetria McCain (standing at right) runs through the protocol with candidates and audience members at the Monday Night Politics forum held on Sept. 10, which saw 12 candidates vying for for Dallas City Council District 4. (Photo: David Wilfong / NDG)

By David Wilfong, NDG Contributing Writer

With the resignation of District 4 Dallas City Councilperson Dwaine Caraway and conviction on criminal charges stemming from corruption surrounding the now-defunct Dallas County Schools (DCS); a seat is open on the city council, and a virtual platoon of candidates have answered the call to serve.

All but one of the people seeking the District 4 seat appeared at the Monday Night Politics (MNP) forum held on Sept. 10 at the African American Museum at Fair Park. MNP is hosted by the Dallas Examiner, and offers candidates the opportunity to present their case directly to the voters. During election seasons, the forums run from 6-8 p.m. and are open to the public.

With a dozen candidates on stage for the forum, there was very limited time for questions. Audience members shared their concerns on topics ranging from policing shortfalls in the city to making sure the next council member does not fall prey to the corruption which took down the last one. In the process, many candidates echoed the shared positions among them, and gaining a clear “break from the crowd” was difficult at best.

However, they did have the chance to allow the audience a better first glimpse at each individual running, and the group as a whole.

Brandon J. Vance is the Vice President of the Dallas Chapter of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and as experience running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Dallas is experiencing an economic boom, across the city,” Vance said. “District 4 is missing out on that. We have a birthright, that we are entitled to succeed just like everyone else in Dallas. We need someone that’s going to go in and fight for you; for every nickel, for every dime, and every penny that is owed to District 4. I know people see my smiling face and they think, ‘Oh, he’s a nice guy. He’s a friendly guy.’ I have a barracuda on the inside.”

Vincent T. Parker​​ is a board member for the Trinity Park Conservancy and pastor of the Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church.

“I look to build bridges,” Parker said. “I believe there are tremendous assets already in our community. I want those to be highlighted so we can take those assets and channel them toward correcting some of the real challenges in our community. And I want to be a collaborator. You’ve got to be able to talk to folk, listen. My biggest thing is if you really want to learn, you’ve got to shut your mouth and listen. And so I hope to be a listener, to earn the support of District 4 residents’ vote, but also if I’m elected, to also earn their support as a servant for them at City Hall.”

Becky L. Lewis has political experience as an aide to U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a degree in Political Science and was born and raised in District 4.

“This is not a popularity contest,” Lewis said. “A lot of you know many of us because of the things we have done in the community already. But what you need to do is make a decision on who you want downtown; working with the other council members, working with the other people in the city, working with people who own businesses, someone who can bring back what is needed to D4.”

Obi E. Igbokwe is a former Dallas County Schools bus driver, and related his experiences bringing up the questions which ultimately led to the DCS investigations which brought down the sitting council member.

“A lot of time this position is a part-time job,” Igbokwe said. “If I am elected it will be my full-time job. Cause I will do the job required, and then I will go into the community and build up a cohesive mind-set, so that we can start to solve some of our problems ourselves instead of looking for outsiders to come in and do some of the work that needs to be done. Cause most of the time, when there are profits involved, those people from the outside, they come in and make a profit and they don’t invest in the neighborhood.”

Dawn M. Blair touts her experience working for the City of Dallas as a real estate property manager for the aviation department as a key credential.

“I’m the best candidate, and I’m the most qualified for this reason; I’m passionate about my district,” Blair said. “That means I’m passionate about you, and what concerns you. I’m prepared to serve this district. I’m prepared based on 20 years of experience in City Hall; walking the halls, knowing the people, knowing who can get things done. I know who can get things done. I have those relationships already.”

Lester Houston is a native of the district, though he spent 40 years away before returning four years ago, and is president of a local neighborhood association.

“As a social worker I’ve worked in four school districts, defending the rights of special ed and regular ed kids, and families against some of the largest law firms in the State of Texas,” Houston said, continuing, “Of all the candidates on stage I have taken the deepest dive into code enforcement. I know why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it’s not designed to work.

Joli A. Robinson works in community engagement for the Dallas Police Department, and sees her role with the city and the public as an advantage.

“Really, our time is now,” Robinson said. “We’re literally standing at an opportunity to change the trajectory of what District 4 looks like. We also need to think about how inclusive we are being to bring diverse and fresh perspectives to the table. Our Latino brothers and sisters also need to be included in the future development of District 4. Our landscape is changing. We have to have someone that’s ready to be inclusive of all the voices that demand and should be heard in District 4.

Corwyn M. Davis is an attorney with his own firm in Dallas, and an adjunct professor for UNT.

“Everybody on this stage is a fighter,” Davis said. “Right? We can all go into the horseshoe and talk about how we’re going to take a stand and all that stuff like that. But at the end of the day, do you want a fighter, an infantryman, or do you want a general? Cause at the end of the day, somebody has to decide whether we fight, whether we stop, whether we negotiate. I’m used to negotiating. That’s what I do every day.”

Justina Y. Walford is a local filmmaker, and serves on the City of Dallas Animal Advisory Commission. She first became involved in the community through reacting to the district’s heavy stray animal problems.

“Every decision is difficult when people are trusting you to help them,” Walford said. “That is a very humbling moment for someone. And people saying, ‘I’ll thank God every day when I become council member,’ that’s not a lie. I don’t think anyone here was making that a campaign thing. That’s the truth. This is a difficult position. So I will say this; if I become your councilperson I will be your humble servant.”

Donald A. Washington was not present at the MNP forum held on Sept. 10. He is a retired retail manager who is active with homeowners both inside and outside the district.

Kebran W. Alexander​​, who has a background in IT, is a healthcare chairperson for the Dallas Chapter of the NAACP.

“This isn’t for everybody,” Alexander said. “This is a job where you are living in a fishbowl the entirety of your term in office. What are you doing? Who are you accountable to? What have you promised? What are you going to deliver? I don’t get anything that we don’t get. So if we’re successful, we move forward. That’s what we all want. But everybody’s not built for this.”

Keyaira D. Saunders is running for the seat for a second time. She is active in the community and is one of the founding board members of the Next Generation Action Network.

“So, many of you may recognize my face and my name because I ran for city council in 2015,” Saunders said. “At that time, I got a lot of backlash, ‘Honey, you’re too young. You don’t know anything. You’re not ready for this position.’ But I know that I have the passion and the willingness to put in the work to do what it takes to see the change that I want to see. Again, I love my family, and I’m raising my family in this district. I want the best for my family and I want the best for my neighbors.”

Carolyn K. Arnold held the district seat on the council before being defeated by Caraway, after he sat out a term to meet term limit requirements and ran for reelection.

“The experience that I have received – earned – in the last two years, I can’t stress it enough,” Arnold said. “We are in a critical time period. We’ve got to get together, come to a common agreement, then we must get to the polls and vote for experience … We’ve got to work with experience. We’ve got to go with the person who is ready day one. We’ve got to work with an individual who knows the community.”

The election to replace Caraway will take place on Nov. 6. Early voting runs from Oct. 22 through Nov. 2.