Sitdown with Dallas Mayoral Candidate, Edward Okpa.

May 5, 2011 § 6 Comments

It was a cold, rainy, ugly morning, filled with traffic and foggy windows. Number 4 on the ballot, Mr. Edward Okpa, greeted us with Chai tea and an even warmer smile. I spent my whole morning with Mr. Okpa and his detailed knowledge, list of awards and accomplishments, and city positions, blew me away. A very smart man, alumni of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (real estate), that is not out of touch with the everyday Dallas citizen. Okpa gave me an abridged, yet very clear, plan of action. He’s done his homework.

Watch out Dallas, Okpa will not be a sit back mayor.

A big reason, I think, mayoral election voter turnouts are embarrassingly low are because the platforms usually consist of fixing roads and other pothole talk. What better time for the mayor’s position to be transformed into something greater. Okpa may be up for the test.

What is your biggest agenda, if you become Mayor of Dallas?

Economic development. We have sectors in Dallas that don’t have basic amenities or services. The southern sector is one area that has no restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, fewer than ten 7-11 stores. Can you imagine a half of a million population city with only 1 hospital? The home values are below the city average in that part of Dallas. My platform is “no neighborhood left behind.” Increase visual conditions. Any 6 lane street, Loop 12, Lancaster Rd, Marsalis, Kiest, any major streets, we have to beautify them.

As a Harvard Real Estate graduate, how can your extensive experience benefit Dallas?

Land use. 70% of economic wealth is tied in real estate. I understand how to level land use, attract development. Applying public resources as a magnet for private resources is key. There is no project, big or small, that I can’t articulate or explain to a CEO of a major company or the commonest individual how this will impact the city. Those jobs created will be for Dallas citizens that live in the area or it will be a flight of resources.

From the layoffs to the low test scores, we need someone to handle this education fiasco. Truthfully, I am not hopeful for this upcoming generation of kids. Many say it is not the mayor’s responsibility, but that begs the question, what exactly can the mayor be held accountable for?

Here are some of the things that often don’t get said. If look at Dallas, there are more than 4 school districts, independent school districts, that are in Dallas. OK. This part of Dallas is Richardson school, and the further north you go, you get into the Plano, Farmer’s Branch, Carrollton, school district. So that takes away that reputation issue. You get into the southwest part of Dallas, where Potter’s House is; Camp Wisdom, Clark Rd, that’s Duncanville school district. You are talking about a segment of Dallas which is like the southeast part of town, a little central part. AW Brown, Booker T Washington, Humanities, etc. So there are very few failing schools, that doesn’t mean everyone is doing well.

All the mayor can really do is seek collaborative relationships with the school administration. Seek a way to involve the family. You know the [Nigerian] background we come from. How many times did your father speak to you about going to school? Most families may not have the benefit of a father but how do we get to that person responsible of the child. Is it because the child doesn’t receive the comfort they need, or the parent/guardian doesn’t recognize the need for education? Is it economic development? What is it? DISD needs to be given credit. A good number of the schools are performing, exemplary schools. So this issue of DISD is bad, I don’t subscribe to it. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities for improvement, but it’s just not right.

It takes a village to raise a kid, it takes a family to prepare the kid for the village. When you have strong families, you have a strong nation. Before someone becomes your teacher, your policeman, your governor your mayor, your president, they are coming from a family. Our budget is approximately $2.8 billion, 1.4 million population, if you assume money is the issue and write everyone a check from that budget, we would be going home with about $2,100.

A lot of people propose just throwing money at the school. While I think it’s obvious some schools are lacking the funds…

The physical aspects of some schools are not good, at the same time, if you go back to schools in Nigeria, you probably think the worst school in DISD is heaven (laughs). When you have an appetite to learn, or a culture to learn, or a desire to learn facilities doesn’t create that in you. If it was raining, my mom would drag me out the house and say, “you are not salt, get out there.”

As a former early education major and a byproduct of the massive DISD layoffs that occurred last year, how can we resolve this teacher situation? Education should be one of the safest and respected majors. It seems as if the teachers are being put on the back burner.

If you look at the education budget, only 15% goes for actual instruction of the kids. Let’s increase instruction to 30%. The rest goes to administrative, facilities, maintenance and athletics. I don’t know how they came up with the ratio, 1 teacher to 10 kids. As they get older, why don’t we have 1:30 or 1:20.

Some of these high school sport facilities cost an average of $15 million to build. Why do we have stadiums all over the place? Why don’t we create shared facilities. We can build each area one facility and maintain it. Instead we have stadiums all over the place. We don’t need those things. It costs us 10% t0 15% annually to maintain yet use it very few times of the year.

Mayors of other different major cities have employed the surrounding universities to help with collective programs, encouraging students to attend their universities upon graduation. I think this boost confidence for students, ensures graduation, and bolsters a qualified work force in the future. Do you have any similar programs or enhancements for Dallas?

That’s the way it should be. We did this in Nigeria. On Sundays we went to visit and dream where we would be after graduation. It builds confidence. We should embrace this philosophy. We need interaction. We have to recognize this is for the welfare of our city, not subdivisions and various interest. I’m a lover of education. I just set up a scholarship at St. Philips and tied it to UNT for those who want to major in journalism. My father told me “knowledge is not so much the degree you have, it’s the confidence in what you know and the ability you have to express it.” Individuals are not concrete, cast in a mold. The individual responsibility cannot be overlooked.

In the past 10 years or so, Dallas has undergone a demographic change that cannot be ignored. Maybe it’s about that time to shift the focus of needs.

Citizens and the media 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) of Hispanics in schools (majority of DISD) and the workplace, how can we, as a city, open our arms and make them feel welcome?

Embrace it. These people have been here but maybe now we are recognizing them. They are not going back. Yes, we’ve had a number of undocumented immigrants but how can you use the word “undocumented” and at the same time give a specific number? (Laughs) We have to embrace it. 85% of America business is small business (valued under 200k). They are owned by families, they are employing themselves, they are not depending on pensions, they are paying rent and taxes. What’s crushing our economy are pensions. Lets encourage them. We need to encourage them to legalize.

I guess this is more of a federal thing to handle, in regards to the legalization…

The strength of American democracy is the local base. If the local elected officials are speaking on it, speaking to their congressman, introducing legislation, something will change.

According to the last census, this city grew by 1% (7.6% in Houston). Why is that you think? 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?

Look at Dallas, there is a significant void in homes valued between 125-250k. The people that will buy homes in this price range, where in Dallas do you have that? Arlington, Grand Prairie, Desoto, Duncanville, etc. It is not uncommon for them to go to those neighborhoods. We don’t have many land developers to say, “South Dallas is the next opportunity.” If you throw a straight line from downtown Dallas, with a 5 mile radius, going up to Illinois for instance, where do you have 5 acre land that is vacant for development? There are no 5-10 acres of land around Illinois. What about I20? Hampton, Polk, Houston School Rd, about 3000 acres of available land in the Trinity River Forest, no one is going to build on that. You have to satisfy the need for housing. Refurbish the existing homes. We can not compete with Frisco, Plano, because they have land and are still growing. 1% growth is not bad. It’s the limiting factors. It has nothing to do with schools but then the homes, where are the homes? Go to South Dallas, Kiest, Duncanville Rd, everything is already built up.

OK, maybe it’s not a competition with Houston, but property values and tax revenues is a usual result that follows. The White population dropped 11%; with Hispanics and African Americans generally making less than Whites, that means less economic prosperity in the housing market. What can we do about this?

Neighborhood conditions in minority neighborhoods are worse. It’s a visual thing. Drive on the major streets of these neighborhoods and you can see it. Then minority access to capital are more restricted. That’s why community banks are important. Asians have community banks off of Harry Hines. They prosper. We need growth. African Americans don’t have community banks. Look at the annual deposit of Black business and churches, they are in the billions. What does it take to have a community bank? To charter a bank in TX is about $300,000.

I know of two other candidates that have plans on changing the South Dallas area, do you have any plans in particular?

My plan is better. My plan is zip code specific. Take VA and Parkland economic data, they are not too different. Look at how Parkland is growing because of all the other hospitals have surrounded it. As a result, residents, nurses, all the medical professions, some how have found ways to live close by. In VA, why don’t we take advantage of that? They (VA employees) don’t live in the neighborhood and we have a transit line right there. Security is not a challenge in South Dallas. You’ll be amazed what the date will reveal. It’s only perception. Many people that live in the north side of town haven’t even been over to have a dinner, go shopping, or drive the neighborhood. I don’t want Cedar Hill citizens coming to do business in Dallas. Roosevelt said, we shouldn’t undermine our own economic well-being.”

I’ve virtually been all over Dallas and I feel safe a citizen. Are you satisfied or content with the crime scene in Dallas?

Police need to live in the city they patrol. He who pays the piper, calls the tunes. We pay the taxes, we need to dictate where the police are stationed. In London, police are your friends. Dallas is the 9th largest major city in America, 1 million plus population, number 56 on the crime list. Compare us to cities that share similar demographics. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crime free city? Highly improbable but it’s possible. (Laughs) We citizens have to fight crime, not only the law enforcers. Also, when economic situations are challenging, people tend not to report or even care for crime.

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

I know Hinojosa when I did Leadership Legacy Dallas. I’ve done “Principal For a Day”, career days, several times at DISD. I’m a lover of education. I know [Chief] Brown, I know former Chief Kunkle, Bolton, and the one before him. I graduated from the Dallas Citizens Police Academy in 1999, so Bolton handed me my graduation certificate.

Favorite place to hang out in Dallas?

My favorite thing to do is bike, particularly around Dallas neighborhoods. I don’t really hang out. I like downtown, Fair Park, all the architecture and history in that area. I love the old city place. I want to turn some spots around Fair Park into overnight hotels, business rooms. Fair Park is not promoted enough.

Into any sports?

I played in UNT’s soccer league, play with kids, jogging, some swimming, putt putt. Biking is what I love more. Helps with thought process, also gives me a physical look at the area of Dallas.

Afterward, we spoke about investment vs consumer capital, solvency, and modesty.

“I still wear the same suit I bought in 1989, same car, 1987 BMW…I’m cool with a lot of things. In the room we are sitting, some of the furniture from my apartment is here. Only thing different is my TV.”

All in all, Okpa has many plans for the city of Dallas and is a genuine lover of the city.

This article was written with the help of Brianna Wilson and Bara Nwokoma. Photography by Dsol Media. More photos on Minds Alike page.


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