Friday, April 5, 2013

Mayoral Exam at UT Dallas

For the first time in Richardson history, city council candidates came to UT Dallas to face off in a candidate forum. The Wednesday forum was sponsored by Student Government's Legislative Affairs Committee and the Comet Debate Society. Mayoral candidates Laura Maczka and Amir Omar debated questions from the student government and the audience of about 75.

Anyone hoping the students would ask questions about, say, hookah bars, came away disappointed. Questions and answers were similar to the ones asked at earlier forums, and so won't be repeated here. Reread earlier blog items and you'll be all up to date. That said, there were a couple things said that the candidates didn't just copy from their previous exams. After the jump, a rundown of the new answers.

Omar suggested he might back a homestead exemption for property taxes in Richardson. He said this might be affordable due to expected upticks in tax revenues in coming years and savings from his planned top-to-bottom departmental financial review.

Omar said he was interested in fostering the creation of technology clusters in the vacant flex office space on Arapaho Rd in east Richardson. Omar would model his effort after the efforts of Texas Governor Rick Perry ("love him or hate him") to reach out to other states to recruit businesses to Texas. Oops.

Maczka again highlighted the fact that she has the endorsements of five incumbent council members. When Omar said he never asked any of them to endorse him, Maczka responded by saying she never did, either. Omar said her claim was "brand new." He referred the audience to D Magazine's recent article "An Outsider Takes on Richardson's Old Guard" and asked the audience to judge how plausible it is that council members who never made political endorsements in past elections would independently and unanimously endorse, without being asked, the candidate backed by "the old guard." His rash innuendo suggests he was taken off guard and maybe even offended to learn that his fellow council members unanimously backed his opponent without even being asked to by Maczka.

Omar criticized Maczka for not challenging city staff, the rest of the council, or her establishment backers, for failing to show leadership in general. In her answer, Mazcka simultaneously denied the charge and made it into a virtue. She said no one can control her (ask her husband) and also said that she was taught by her parents to be humble (according to my dictionary, modest, meek, submissive). Perhaps in a sign that Omar's attacks are getting under her skin, Maczka charged that "my opponent" takes credit for many things that were team efforts, but she didn't name any.

The audience was polite and neutral. Maczka played up the fact that her non-profit organization NFTE brings hundreds of disadvantaged youth to UT Dallas each year to learn entrepreneurship. She also highlighted her support for plans for a mixed-use development near the DART Station at UT Dallas on the proposed Cotton Belt rail line ("Comet Town").

Omar played up his attendance at UT Dallas (and his son's). He introduced members of the student advisory committee he formed and has used to guide his work on city council the last four years. He urged students to register and turn out to vote and elect "one of their own." Omar probably received slightly larger applause, but only slightly.

Last, but not least, there was some eye-rolling and some head-shaking at some things said by the candidates. The body language was sometimes subtle, sometimes not. I won't say by whom -- whether candidates, audience, both, neither. Stay classy, everyone.

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