DALLAS — WFAA invited each of the nine candidates for Dallas mayor to answer the following questions to help inform voters before the May 4th election.
Here are Miguel Solis' responses:
President of the Latino Center for Leadership Development
Trustee of the Dallas Independent School District
Bachelor’s in History with Minor in Political Science-Lamar University
Master’s in Education Policy and Management-Harvard University
How long have you lived in the city of Dallas?
I have been a resident of Dallas since 2009.
Why are you running for mayor?
As a former Dallas ISD teacher, current school board trustee and leader of a national non-profit, I’ve devoted my career to helping lift up children and families across our city by bringing a fresh approach to long-standing problems. Dallas needs a mayor that mirrors its vibrance and energy— a new leader with new ideas, solutions and a proven track record of getting results.
While Dallas is thriving in many ways, too many people in our city have told me their paths to prosperity and opportunity are littered with obstacles. Yes, they want their next mayor to address the filling of potholes and the trash pick-up time, but they also want their leader to have the courage to take on our toughest challenges. Continuing to build trust between our police officers and the communities they serve; Ensuring City Hall works for neighborhoods, not just developers and businesses; Expanding affordable housing options so families aren’t priced out; Working with businesses to give them the skilled workforce they need; Expanding public transportation options and access to fresh, healthy food; and knitting together a city divided by decades of segregation.
Too many people have thrown up their hands and said these are intractable problems that will never be fixed. I’ve heard that before-they said the same thing to me when I ran for the Dallas ISD School Board. But we’ve proved them wrong. In just the last five years, we’ve seen dramatic improvement in DISD schools across the city. Five years ago, 43 of our 230 schools were labeled “improvement required.” The state considered them failing schools. Today, only four are still in need of improvement, thanks to innovative ideas and an incredible effort by teachers and principals across Dallas. And the district is not going to stop working until every school is providing our students the education and support they deserve.
Despite the success we’ve achieved at Dallas ISD, there is serious work left to do, not only in schools, but to create an infrastructure of opportunity across our city that everyone can share in. While working in communities like Mill City, the Bottom, or Ledbetter, I’ve met people who still feel left out and left behind. In Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff, I’ve met people who need an advocate willing to fight for them. In Preston Hollow and in Bonton, in Lakewood and in the Lancaster Corridor, Dallasites know the old way of doing things isn’t working.
That’s why I’m running. I’ve lived Dallas’ promise. I’ve seen the challenges holding it back. It’s going to take a new leader with new ideas who will work with the people of Dallas to transform our city into one that works for everyone. I’ve been listening. I will not stop listening. And I am ready to lead, with you.
Prior political experience or civic leadership involvement?
I currently serve as co-founder and president of the Latino Center for Leadership Development, where I oversee the organization’s efforts to develop new political leaders and policy ideas for the Latino community. My professional experiences also include serving as a staff member on a Presidential campaign, public school teacher, and Special Assistant to the Superintendent of Dallas ISD. I was honored as Teacher of the Year at Thomas C. Marsh Middle School in 2010.
At the age of 27, I became the youngest school board member ever elected to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees in 2013 and have been re-elected twice. During my tenure on the board, I was voted School Board President by my colleagues, making me the youngest ever to hold that title. My efforts on the board have included:
*Expanding affordable Pre-K to tens of thousands of Dallas kids;
*Passing a ban on out-of-school suspensions for the district’s youngest children, which has now become state law and helps prevent the criminalization of young boys of color who too often fall through the cracks of our education system;
*Leading the effort to pass a $1.5 billion bond- the largest in our district’s history- which provided vital funds to renovate and build new schools and upgrade technology in classrooms across the city;
*Helping create the district’s revolutionary principal and teacher support, pay, and evaluation system among other initiatives.
Since my time on the board, the Dallas ISD has undergone a monumental transformation which has seen the number of “improvement required” schools drop from 43 to just four this past year. My work in municipal government has also included appointments by Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings to the City of Dallas Poverty Task Force, the City of Dallas Joint Committee on Education, and as chair of the 2017 Dallas City Bond Critical Facilities Subcommittee.
I am also involved in numerous non-profit activities including serving as chair of the Opportunity Dallas Housing Policy Task Force, serving senior citizens as a board member of the Senior Source, helping advance bi-lateral relations with Mexico as a U.S.-Mexico Foundation board member, Germany as a member of the American Council on Germany, and Israel as a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Southwest Leaders Program. I am also an alumnus of the Aspen Institute’s Rodel Fellowship, having been selected as an elected official who has demonstrated an outstanding ability to work responsibly across partisan divisions and bring greater civility to public discourse. For the totality of my public service and civic involvement in Dallas, I have been named to the Dallas Business Journal’s 40 under 40 list.
There are a lot of candidates in this race, why should voters choose you over someone else?
With a very large mayoral field, voters are going to hear a lot about people’s “experience.” You will hear business owners talk about their time leading companies. You will hear Democrats and Republicans talk about their partisan leadership at the federal and state level. You will hear philanthropists talk about their efforts to support non-profits and public institutions. And you will hear local activists and politicians talk about their experience fighting against the system.
The experience that matters most in this race is getting results at the local level in municipal government. I am the only candidate in this race that has a track record of taking on big challenges and working with my colleagues and local administrations to improve the lives of the people in our city.
Our local form of government requires a mayor that can work with the city manager and 14 council members to advance an agenda through city hall. I know how to do this because I have been doing it for six years on the School Board. Having served as President of the Board, I have had to work across ideological lines and build consensus around solutions to the biggest challenges facing our schools. Our next mayor must be someone who has a vision for where to lead this city and how to form coalitions to get big things done. Most importantly, the next mayor must be someone that is willing to work with their colleagues and the administration in a diplomatic manner instead of consistently seeking ways to divide and conquer.
I’m going to take my track record of getting results in local government and my vision for the dynamic, inclusive city I know Dallas can be directly to voters.
In your view, what are the three biggest challenges facing Dallas? Specifically, how do you plan to address them?
Prior to declaring my candidacy for mayor, I took the time to visit neighborhoods across our city and listen to the hopes of our people. During these “Listen and Learn” gatherings, I asked people two questions-what they love about this city and what they believe hold it back. The three most consistent challenges were education, segregation, and poverty. Having served my city for a decade, I have had a unique lens on these challenges and I would agree that solving them is the key to unlocking Dallas’ full potential.
When it comes to education, we are on the right track. Dallas’ educational institutions have quickly become great examples of innovation and collaboration--and they have results to prove it. It is important that our next mayor continue the progress being made, specifically in our PK-12 public schools as well as the Dallas County Community College District and our four-year state and private higher education institutions. The next mayor should use the bully pulpit to rally our business and philanthropic communities behind the expansion of early childhood education opportunities as well as collegiate, career, and vocational training programs. They should identify opportunities for joint partnerships between the city, the county, DART, the district attorney’s office, and our medical institutions to help support the goals of these educational institutions. One example of a partnership would be identifying facilities that have the capacity to operate as additional pre-k classrooms to serve the nearly 20,000 children who do not receive pre-k but will end up in public schools regardless. Finally, the mayor should continue innovative city programs like the “Mayor’s Internship” which provides students with real-world working experience and the “City of Learning” summer collaboration with multiple non-profits that provides children with summer learning opportunities that they currently do not receive due to the academic calendar. Accomplishing these goals can also convince a generation of Dallas parents that are considering leaving the city to remain in Dallas and choose our local schools.
Dallas remains plagued by socioeconomic and racial segregation that holds too many of our young people back from fulfilling their potential. Every day, however, I see people from diverse backgrounds in neighborhoods working to break down those barriers and lift each other up. Dallasites are big hearted and look out for each other. Now it’s time we have a mayor who harnesses that energy to create educational and economic opportunity and helps bring this city together across racial and class divisions to help all of us get ahead.
The most important thing we can do is encourage and incentivize the construction of affordable housing to keep gentrification from completely changing the complexion of historic areas and ensuring that people from all backgrounds are able to live and work in thriving neighborhoods with appropriate zoning and mixed-use developments. That also means access to quality public transportation and walkable neighborhoods.
I believe that the young people of Dallas are ready to lead on this issue as well, and I would create the “Dallas City Corps” program that would give high schoolers and young adults the ability to serve our city for a year. Working with local non-profits and community organizations, young Dallasites can help shape the future of this city and tear down barriers that have led our city to be divided and segregated along race and class. The only condition for service will be that corps members must not serve in the neighborhood they live in-they have to see and support a different part of Dallas. By opening their eyes to other communities and building relationships, I am convinced we can begin to break down barriers that have existed too long.
Lastly, our city’s child poverty rate ranks third among cities with populations above a million. Our next mayor must create pathways to prosperity for all Dallasites, including working with educational institutions and business to directly address poverty and wages. The next mayor should help businesses recruit homegrown talent to fill their employee needs and they can do this by ensuring businesses have a working partnership with educational institutions to generate skills-based learning standards. Doing this will help grow our own workforce and ensure that this labor pool is prepared to succeed. Second, we must directly address wage stagnation and the racial wealth gap that is growing every day in Dallas. It’s time for our city government to offer a living wage to its employees and to work with the business community to impress upon them the need to support their workers. We have begun this process in Dallas ISD and the same should happen across the city.
While there are many other challenges our city faces, these systemic challenges are those that came up the most when I listened to the community. It’s important that we have a leader who is willing to take the time to stay engaged with every community, north, south, east and west, and ensure they keep their ears to the ground while identifying new, creative solutions to solve the problems.
With growing property taxes, it gets more expensive to live in Dallas every year. If elected, what specifically would you do to address that?
The rising property tax rate is a direct effect of our state legislature’s inability to properly fund our schools. The hyper-partisanship in Austin has left cities like Dallas on our own to generate the revenue necessary to improve our public schools and make other critical investments. In 2011, the legislature cut $5.4 billion from the state’s education allotment which directly impacted schools (some of which were closed) and property taxes (which voters recently chose to raise to support the schools). What’s worse is that our state legislators have refused to fix the broken recapture system, which basically takes property tax money that cities like ours should be able to keep and instead pockets that money and uses it however they choose. It’s past time that our representatives in Austin stop playing politics and reform our finance system so that we can relieve the property tax payers of this undue burden.
As mayor, my number one legislative priority will be to form a coalition with Texas’ big city mayors and place school finance reform at the top of our agenda. I will also with the council to coordinate legislative efforts with the Dallas ISD so that we can combine our resources to tackle this head on.
Furthermore, we must ensure that our tax dollars can stretch further in this city. As more people move to the core of Dallas, it’s important that the next mayor lead the council in creating and maintaining affordability through the promotion of inclusive development, effective and efficient public transportation, and high-quality public schools and higher education institutions. If you can afford rent or a home, utilize public transportation more frequently, and send your kid to a public school, your chances of remaining in this city increase tremendously.
Dallas now has hundreds of fewer police officers than five years ago. Emergency response times have increased, as well. How do you solve this problem?
We must address this issue and make sure that our police and first responders have the resources they need to keep us safe.
It’s clear that our first responders need higher salaries—not only because they deserve it, but because it’s critical to us keeping talented police and fire from leaving for other communities with better pay. To do that, we’re going to need to take a hard look at the rest of the city’s budget and find other areas of duplication and efficiency we can achieve. I will also explore incentive programs to hire and retain first responders, including subsidized rents and housing allowances for those who choose to live in Dallas.
To create a pipeline of home-grown first responders, we will continue to partner with local high schools and community colleges to create training and skills programs that will put them on a fast track to careers as police and fire officers and paramedics.
Finally, our first responders should have an ally in their next mayor. Previous mayors have missed an opportunity to work at the street level with first responders by helping them continue to build trust in the communities they serve. I would address this by frequently visiting neighborhoods with first responders and supporting their efforts around community policing, a revolutionary approach to trust building laid by former Chief David Brown. To support these efforts, I pledge to host Mayoral office hours in communities across this city in order to be more accessible to the neighborhoods. During these office hours, first responders will join me as we work to build trust with the community. Furthermore, I would explore expanding the concept of “Neighborhood Night Outs” throughout the year by creating “Mayor’s Night Out” events where the community can engage with first responders and city staff.
Until we address the root causes of the problem of our first responder exodus, we will continue to deal with their effects. Our next mayor must create and execute innovative solutions to the problem so that we can ensure our people remain safe and our first responders are taken care of.
There is a growing homeless population in Dallas. Prior administrations have struggled to address it. What would you do differently?
Homelessness in Dallas is a dynamic problem that defies simple solutions. Even with dedicated housing and support services, too many people are ending up on Dallas’ streets. We know the key drivers of homelessness, and each of them need help from the city to address: better access to mental health counseling; access to affordable and transitional housing; access to substance abuse support services, and the ability to find a job that will provide a steady income.
While city officials have worked hard to address these problems, it’s clear that more needs to be done. We need to continue our focus on housing homeless youth and ensuring that those who are in school have a safe place to sleep. I would partner with other municipal, county, and non-profit institutions to identify existing facilities to serve as drop-in centers and spill over shelters. These facilities can more effectively coordinate the services needed to resolve the issues driving each individual case. The city should also help identify private and philanthropic funds to expand efforts like After8toEducate’s youth homeless center and City Square’s tiny homes that serve as starter homes for the homeless.
Next, Dallas should look to other cities that are dealing with a similar crisis. Denver and New York have instituted the “Housing First” model that addresses “underlying issues around mental health, addiction, medical care, income and education to help integrate and welcome homeless back into the community.” This holistic approach uses a wraparound model to effectively coordinate services among different jurisdictions which has proven to lead to housing stability.
Furthermore, the next mayor should work with leaders of our criminal justice system to better align efforts around re-entry of ex-offenders. Too many newly released individuals find themselves on the streets unable to afford a home or rent and unable to secure a job. It’s imperative that the leaders of key public institutions including the county and district attorney’s office are at the table when solutions for this problem are being discussed.
Major strides have been made in Dallas’ southern sector but challenges remain. What are the two biggest opportunities you have identified?
The southern sector continues to be the biggest opportunity for Dallas, but it’s important that we understand the totality of the promise. For far too long, we have focused on what we as a city could do to bring things to southern Dallas. But until we recognize the promise of the people who already live in southern Dallas and free up their potential by clearing out institutional barriers that have been placed in their way, we will not unleash the full set of opportunities that come with our people.
Mayor Rawlings should be applauded for his “Grow South” effort. It shined a light on potential economic opportunity and created a path to achieving it. By unlocking the city land bank and ensuring that vacant, blighted properties are transformed into inclusive development, our next mayor can exponentially grow the housing stock and insert mixed-use development that will provide amenities that the people of southern Dallas have so desperately yearned for. When I think of the type of development that can come with this, I think of actual grocery stores rather than convenience stores that offer no healthy options, attract illegal activity, and are becoming more unaffordable themselves. Efforts like Peter Brodsky’s Redbird Development are a prime example of what “Grow South” is getting right and it is important that we continue to expand efforts like this across the southern sector. A huge opportunity rests in the Lancaster Corridor which will include elements of the high-speed rail, if approved. The next mayor should work with the community and business to ensure that development generates economic opportunity for its residents. And finally, though the “Grow South” fund has only generated tens of millions of dollars, far from the actual need, it is clear that many see the opportunity for further investment to continue which is a strong indicator that demand for economic development is there.
A second major opportunity rests in the educational advancements being made in southern Dallas. Most of the public schools in the southern sector have now found their way off of the state’s “improvement required” list. Much of this has to do with the bold reforms Dallas ISD instituted including the “Accelerating Campus Excellence” plan, their collegiate, career, and vocational academies, their expansion of pre-kindergarten services, and their expansion of talented and gifted academies including one in Pleasant Grove. Also, the campus of the University of North Texas-Dallas continues to grow and is a huge asset to the community.
Finally, the people of southern Dallas are its best asset. I think of neighborhood leaders like Anna Hill of Dolphin Heights, Alendra Lyons of Mill City, Taylor Toynes in Glendale, and many others who have helped me grow as a School Board Trustee. It’s important that our next mayor have relationships already built with these leaders so that they can better support their work, like Ms. Lyons’ urban farm, garden, and community center in Sunny South Dallas or Mr. Toynes’ “For Oak Cliff”, a community center that is laying the groundwork for the transformation of Glendale Park and Glendale Shopping Center. Many of our solutions to challenges in southern Dallas actually rests with the people. Our next mayor must recognize this and already have the trust and relationships built to help expedite these efforts.
Have you ever been arrested, charged with a crime or faced criminal proceedings in a court? If yes, please explain:
Have you ever been involved in any lawsuits or declared bankruptcy? If yes, please explain:
I have been involved in two civil lawsuits. The first suit was an attempt to kick me off the ballot during my first school board race through a challenge of residency. The suit was filed on the first day of early voting and dropped during the last day of early voting. The second suit was an attempt by board colleagues to fire the superintendent prior to a school board election. The suit challenged my ruling of timing related to an agenda item and resulted in a meeting with a forced vote on the fate of the superintendent resulting in the superintendent remaining in his position.
One thing I have learned about municipal politics is that you must have thick skin to make it. These suits have taught me a lot, but the most important lesson is to never stray from your convictions and to stand up to bullies. Our citizens deserve a mayor who will put their interests first and not be afraid to fight for them when the going gets tough.
Favorite Dallas restaurant – or night out?
Of all the questions, this is the most difficult because Dallas has so many great places to eat and have fun. When it comes down to it though, nothing beats a great Dallas taco, so I would say my favorite restaurant is a tie between Tacos Mariachi in West Dallas and El Come Taco in East Dallas. Both restaurants have amazing food for a very reasonable price.
Have you ever ridden DART?
I have occasionally ridden DART to work downtown and during trips to the state fair. I have had mixed experiences using the service and believe that the routing and timing of bus services needs improvement. I am blessed to own my own transportation and have taken for granted the privilege that comes with it. Many people in our city rely on DART for basic life needs, whether it’s getting to work on time, making it to a doctor’s appointment, or going to the grocery store. We need a reliable and efficient public transportation system that meets the needs of everyday Dallasites. I will work with our DART appointees to effectively advocate for changes that will make the system work better for our people and provide them a service that doesn’t cause stress.
Tell us something about yourself – unrelated to politics or this race – that voters probably don’t know.
Voters may not know that my wife Jacqueline and I are the proud parents of the strongest girl we know, Olivia Rene “Faith” Solis, who is a soon to be one-year-old heart transplant survivor. Olivia was born with an undiagnosed heart defect that led to two open-heart surgeries, all before she was three-months old. Because of the grace of God and the miracle workers at Children’s Medical Center, Olivia is now thriving, enjoying her second chance at life, and she turns one on February 22, 2019. Jacqueline and my experience living in the intensive care unit for four months taught us about how precious life is and how resilient babies can be. In order to give thanks to Children’s and help families going through similar experiences, Jacqueline and I wrote a children’s book, “Olivia’s New Heart”, and the proceeds are being donated to the hospital. We will never forget the lessons we learned or the families and children that call the cardiac intensive care unit at Children’s Medical Center their temporary home. To support families at Children’s, you can visit https://give.childrens.com/.