Sitdown with Dallas Mayoral Candidate, Mike Rawlings

May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

This week, I got a chance to sit down with Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and “Homeless Czar”,  1 of the 4 candidates running for Dallas mayor. After being lead through a maze, everything went well, except the photographer didn’t have that “beautifying lens” he requested.

When I say your name, the first thing people reply is, “Oh, the Pizza Hut CEO guy.” I’m sure you are much more than a business savvy guy. What is your biggest agenda, if you become Mayor of Dallas?

As the mayor, you’re not CEO of the city, you are chairman of the board. I will write 6 or 7 things down that I want to do.

Item number 1 will be economic development, 2. economic development, 3. economic development, then item number 4 will be education because it aids economic development.

The first development will be for small businesses. 80% of this city is small business and we need to do a better job at city hall working with small business. Number 2 will be for recruiting Fortune 500 companies to come to Dallas. There are companies that are thinking about relocating to Texas and we have to get them to Dallas. California is prime for plucking there. Number 3 is gonna be the southern sector. Whenever I’ve had a business, I always look at how do we step-function our growth; how do we go from here to there. And the way you do it, is the southern sector. I mean we’ve got 60% of the land mass there, 15% of the tax base, and you can fit the city of Atlanta inside the southern sector.

Economic development is the thing that’s ultimately going to drive this city. Education will be enable us to do that.

As the former CEO of Pizza Hut, how can that corporate experience benefit the city of Dallas? I’m sure you personally attract other large business owners from other states.

In a couple of ways. One, in the short term…when I took over Pizza Hut and Tracy Locke, we were in a tough financial situation. Just like we are in the city’s budget. So I know how to cut the budget in the right way, without hurting our growth for the long term.

I was able to grow both of those companies significantly.

Understand how to re-engineer business and government. Look at you. Talking into this [voice recorder], I have this [my laptop]. 15 years ago, it wasn’t this way but government is the same way it’s been for the last 30 years. (Laughs) It’s not a very creative environment. You need people that know how to reengineer and use 21st century thinking, for our 21st century problems. We’re using decades old solutions.

A third benefit, my greatest strength, is probably sales and marketing. Dallas, DISD, and the southern sector needs that. Every place you turn, there is a marketing element. That is the experience that helps the best.

Why the huge support from the African American community?

Probably for two reasons. My policies. The southern sector is a major initiative and most African-Americans live in the southern sector. Two, I think people know that I am not doing this for me. I didn’t head up a homeless effort for me. I’m doing it to serve the community, I’m pretty genuine about that. People test the, (long pause) authenticity is the word I’m looking for, about my motivations. At least that’s the feedback I’m hearing.

Rawlings expands on his homelessness campaign that has been in the works for many years.

You have been dubbed the “Homeless Czar.” That’s quite a title. The Bridge is sort of your baby, correct? Can you expand on the Bridge’s objective?

Well, the The bridge was just part 1 of a 4 part strategy to end chronic homelessness. So the objective was not to build the bridge, the objective was to end chronic homelessness. We have four strategies to do that.

One is to create a new public/private authority, which we did, called Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. 2nd is to create the bridge and run it sustainably. 3rd was create a network of permanent supportive housing throughout Dallas 4th was to deal with mental illnesses, which is the root cause of homelessness and deal with that at the state level.

It’s a little old, I started this about 5 years ago. The Bridge is obviously the high profile thing because it’s something people can actually look at.

I was taken by surprise. I never knew the Bridge was actually a small piece of the puzzle.

With the widespread layoffs, we need someone to handle the education fiasco here at DISD. Many say it is not the mayor’s responsibility, but that begs the question, what exactly can the mayor be held accountable for? Or is there anything we can hold a mayor accountable for?

Before I answer this question, I want to learn from you. You use the word “fiasco” with education. Why did you use that word?

Seems like there is a lot of finger pointing. Seems like students are scared to become education major. Seems like teachers are being put on the back burner. Then we have unions fighting each other and the government. I personally applaud [DISD Superintendent] Hinojosa for taking a salary cut, so obviously he is not a money hungry man like a lot of people paint those who are in charge. I call it a fiasco because we have people that are being laid off by the masses. This is the 2nd year in a row, all over the city. Even my intermediate is being shut down next year and I live in Cedar Hill.

That’s why I’m getting involved because people are calling things “fiasco”. That’s an issue. We have a fiasco, according to you, I’ll take that. (Laughs) As mayor of the city, you have to address things that are perceived as fiasco. It takes a village to raise a child. I will be the mayor of this village. If I don’t mobilize the village correctly, it’s a sad state.

My mother taught me, that if there a piece of trash on the floor, I was supposed to pick it up. Didn’t matter if my brother threw there or not, that’s you job, to keep things clean and good. We talk about teacher, student, Hinojosa accountability. No one has turned the mayor to the community. I believe we would have great public schools, if the community demanded great public schools. As a mayor there is a lot I can do. The mayor of L.A. spends 40% of his time on schools. 40% He knows what I know: we will never be a great city without great public schools and it drives economic development, which drives the tax base level that gives us the services we need.

He blasts me for living in the suburbs and gives me marriage advice.

Now, I like your education stance. You say stronger schools will build stronger neighborhoods, which you just touched on. Meaning, I’m guessing, will spur city growth, lower crime rate, etc which in turn makes Dallas a more attractive city…

Yeah. Better neighborhood. Our city is made up of hundreds of little neighborhoods. What makes a great neighborhood? Where do you live?

Cedar Hill. I work in Dallas…

He cuts me off…

I don’t care, you’re not living in Dallas! I want you, when you get married and raise your kids, to come to Dallas because the schools are great. But they are not. I have to work on that. That will create neighborhoods and the city will get strong again.

A lot of people look at me crazy when I tell them I want to live and die in Dallas.

It’s gonna be much more interesting than Cedar Hill, trust me. You work here but you’re not living here because we are not creating the type of neighborhoods, which are driven highly by school quality.

I am a former early education major and a byproduct of the massive DISD layoffs that occurred last year, how can we resolve this teacher situation or stop it from recurring next school year?

What I can do best is grow economic development because that increases tax base and allows the school to have more money. Secondly, is working with school boards in different ways they can approach their budget. We ought to consider combining our police forces, we don’t need 2 separate police forces. From a cost standpoint, combine it and it cost you $1.3 versus $1.5, that saves money right there.

Green space maintenance. We have all these parks, we have all these school yards.

Once again, this goes back to the re-engineering notion of government. We need to consider those things.

The White population dropped 11%; with Hispanics and African Americans generally making less than Whites, that means a lower tax base, decrease in tax revenues, maybe lower property values. What can we do about this? How can we adjust to the upcoming change in demographics that we will see in the next 10 years again?

Good question. What you are really saying is demographics are changing, it has economic implications. An interesting fact that I saw is that is per capita income went up 17% in the last decade. While population flats, Dallas citizens increased revenue 17% in the 10 year span. That means the people that left are the relatively poor people. Plano is expanding, but the per capita income went down.

We have a good base of affluent people in the city. What we don’t have is the working class. The working class are moving outside. Guess who is the working class? Families. Families move because of school. It goes back to the school. I don;’ see it as an ethnicity issue but much more of an income issue. Seems like we are not the place for young, working class families any more. We could be bipolar.

I’m very blessed. I live in Dallas, we send our kids to great schools. They went to public grade schools and private high schools. There is a place for the better off, it’s a good city. The middle class is leaving.

That’s why schools are very important to me.

Many people point out illegal immigration and high crime rates within this “minority” group, but I have to say, I love the entrepreneurial and tough spirit of the Hispanic community. With the sudden influx (30 to 38%, according to last census), should we shift the focus? 18 and under, Hispanics make up majority of DISD. how can we, as a city, open our arms and make them feel welcome?

You should run for mayor. (Laughs) Seriously. I find the Hispanic community as one of the most exciting communities. These are hard-working, family oriented, people of faith, it’s fabulous. The only I have with him, and I met with a lady and a man yesterday about this, is that they don’t vote enough! They don’t vote because they are out working!

I met someone in my campaign and I said to her, “Give me some advice on the politics.” She said, “our group, we don’t really do politics, we do money, but we don’t do politics.”
They can have a big voice too.

I was advised that some of it is cultural. Because in their country, Central America and Mexico, there was nothing you could do about the government. Government was like the weather. Like the African-Americans in the ’60s and ’70s, they can make a difference if they speak up and do something.

According to this past census, this city grew by 1%, compared to 7.6% in Houston. Why is that you think? Is it a problem at all? Some blame it on the topography, and some on the “lack of investment, and I quote Matt Stiles, “in public schools, streets, parks, and pools.” Should this be a concern?

It’s a huge concern. Houston is a different situation, they have River Oaks. I don’t think it has anything to do with topography, has everything to do with schools. I think we have issues and we have to do a better job. Someone asked have we lost our mojo. I’m not sure we’ve lost our whole mojo but when we didn’t get the Cowboys stadium, when we’re not a city of big ideas, people react and go some place else. You have to a reason to live some place. It might be convenient to your job, or something about the schools, or maybe an exciting neighborhood.

Please expand on your plans on changing the South Dallas area? How is it different from the usual change we hear of?

They don’t have a clue how to deal with this. They approach it has lets go and get some more business, I’ll show up and make the right decisions. We have to have a leader that is proactively growing this.

Compare and contrast what happen 4 years ago. I though Tom Leppert did a good job but people ask me how are you going to attack this differently. Tom set up a massive southern sector planning committee, I think over 200 people. I tell you right now, nothing happens with that many people. I believe in no more than 6 or 7 people and we can hold those people accountable. I’ve established 6 beach heads in the southern sector. Places that we’ve already taken. Our job is to fan the flames of success.

Pinnacle Park down to Mountain Creek. When the Bridge happens, talk about people going crazy. Beachhead, it’s literally where the bridge hits. All these people here can get over there in 30 seconds. Bishop Arts through Jefferson, we know how busy that can be. Lancaster-Kiest quarter, where the DART line meets with VA Hospital. 30 thousand people visit there a day. Far southwest Dallas, over there by IBOC and Friendship West. CVS and Walgreens have already opened up stores there. What I’m calling the education beach head, UNT Dallas and Paul Quinn and area.

Have the teams build up a 3 year plan and report to me quarterly.

I’m happy Paul Quinn regained their credibility.

Yes. Michael Surrell has done a very good job.

Do you as a Dallas citizen, feel safe? Are you content with the crime rate in Dallas?

I do. You can’t be content with crime. You must be ever vigilant with defense. I feel safe. Maybe it’s because i’m bigger, I’m a man, and won’t let anybody screw with me. I just look people in the ey and I can tell when somebody is messing with you or not. You can smell it.

We’ve made great progress in the past 6 yrs. I’ve already said I don’t want to make any cuts In the crime area. A lot of it relates to jobs, hope, and the schools. Let’s play offense instead of defense.

Do you have any relations with TX governor Rick Perry? DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa? DPD Chief David Brown?

I don’t, we’ve met a few times but I don’t. With Hinojosa, I do. We’ve also met several times. Brown, we’ve spoke over the phone a few times and I’ve met him once.

Rawlings doesn’t do too much to hanging out and was frustrated that he fell asleep while watching the Mavericks hammer the Lakers in Game 2.

If you were to spend weekend family time some where, where would you go? Where would you recommend an out of town friend to visit?

Favorite burger spot is Adair in Deep Ellum. Nice dinner with the family, we go to Al Bernait, which is a steak place over here. I love to ride my bike around White Rock Lake. I’m so excited about the diversity in Dallas. The Ottoman Center by the Trinity [river]. The preserve of forest in the southwest you can hike. I’m so busy I don’t hang out anywhere except in front of the TV, watching sports.

Oh, so you are into sports? You catch the Mavs vs Lakers last game?

I went to sleep at half time, I was so tired. I just shoot myself. I’ll stay up tonight. I love the Cowboys. Have season tickets for the Mavs and Stars.

Soccer?

I’ve seen FC Dallas a few times. I stay glued to the World Cup. My son played lacrosse so I never got as rabid about soccer.

While the stay may not have been that long, Rawlings seems like the man to take that knife of blame. On accountability, Rawlings said, “we need leadership that is accountable and I think that we have not, as a society, asked people to be accountable.”

Before parting, Rawlings demanded me to say something. The slamming of his fist proved he was quite serious, too.

Everyone, get out there and vote!

Photography by Dsol Media. View more photos at Minds Alike.

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