By | April 18, 2019

Staff

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Two years ago, members of the Dallas Police Association’s political arm plastered North Dallas’ council District 11 with campaign signs and mailers in an unsuccessful effort to unseat their agitator, Lee Kleinman.

This year, as Kleinman seeks a fourth term, the law enforcers have gone silent — even as one of their own seeks to unseat him.

The DPA’s focus on its other enemy, District 13 candidate Laura Miller, and its shift away from Kleinman is a reflection of political reality. Even though police issues are again pronounced in the campaign, Kleinman in 2017 beat his opponent, real estate blogger Candy Evans, by a margin of nearly 2-to-1. And the irascible Kleinman is a prolific fundraiser who appears well-positioned to win a fourth term.

But juvenile detention officer Curtis Traylor Harris, 31, hopes he can capitalize on his law enforcement background to pull off an upset. And if he pulls it off, he might not even seek re-election.

“It’s not a disaster to lose a race,” Harris said. “I plan on just doing two years, getting the ball rolling in the right direction, molding somebody to come after me. And then running for constable in 2022.”

Harris, who lost a bid for a county constable job in November, makes less than $40,000 a year in his job and can barely afford his unit in a luxury complex off the Dallas North Tollway, he said.

Harris said first responders should be able to afford to live in the district. He wants to raise starting police and firefighter salaries above $70,000, and offer tax incentives to complexes that dedicate at least 10 percent of their units to affordable housing.

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Kleinman said Harris’ ideas sound good, but North Dallas taxpayers have hoped that money can be spent to repair their potholes and alleys. Shirking those budget items won’t be a popular choice for a constituency that already feels it’s funding a disproportionate number of the city’s projects and police presence, he said.

“Eighty-five percent of the taxes are collected in the north, but less than 50% are returned,” Kleinman said. “Our North Dallas folks are kind of double-paying for their police.”

In what would be his final term on the council, Kleinman said he wants see through the projects he’s started but focus on the issues his constituents ask about most often: police and potholes.

Both candidates say the city needs to shore up the police department, which has seen its ranks shrink in recent years.

In North Dallas, many homeowners associations pay private companies or off-duty police officers to patrol their neighborhoods. Northwood Hills Homeowners Association President Janet Marcum said the fact that officers are stretched thin means "at least for the short term, we can’t rely on the police department."

“They don’t have any extra time to do neighborhood patrol," Marcum said.

‘Run on your issues’

But the race has largely focused on issues beyond the policy questions of the day. When Harris announced his candidacy for council in February, he still hadn’t filed the mandatory campaign finance reports for the precinct 3 constable race he lost in November. He had been contacted by the Texas Ethics Commission, he said, but didn’t yet know details of the allegations against him.

“It just goes to show the lengths that people go to to try to taint your name and try to scare you out of a race,” Harris said in a Facebook video. "Run on your issues.”

A few weeks later, Harris filed an ethics complaint against Kleinman, alleging the incumbent had offered him a seat on the civil service board in exchange for his withdrawal from the race, and that he had offered candidate Candy Evans a similar deal in 2017.

Curtis T. Harris is a candidate for Dallas City Council District 11, vying against incumbent Lee Kleinman.

With a 2-1 vote, a preliminary ethics panel declined to move the case forward. The panel’s majority decided the text messages that Harris included with the complaint weren’t enough to establish that Kleinman had offered a quid pro quo deal.

The messages show Kleinman asking if Harris had any questions about the board, and saying Jan. 26 that some seats were available for council appointment. Kleinman then asked Jan. 31 if Harris still planned to run.

Harris’ next message, sent in early February, accused Kleinman of insulting him by offering a position on the board “in exchange for him not to run,” then lecturing him for commenting negatively on one of Kleinman’s Facebook posts.

“Your understanding of integrity is a little flawed don’t you think?” Harris said.

Kleinman responded with a laugh, but did not return the message that day, according to the screenshots.

“I had a conversation with him,” Kleinman told The Dallas Morning News. “I never asked him to withdraw.”

‘It could cost me the race’

Harris reported no fundraising this year on his most recent campaign finance report. He said he planned to block-walk rather than host events or spend money on yard signs. He told supporters when he announced his candidacy that every cent he spent would go to fliers and walking shoes.

“I don’t want anybody thinking I owe them or anything, or calling me for favors or any of that,” Harris said. “It could cost me the race, but that’s just one of the decisions I made. … If we can’t win that way, then so be it. It’ll be worth it.”

But on March 31, Harris posted to Facebook, directing supporters to donate through Cash App. Crowdpac showed $43 donated to his campaign.

Harris could not be reached for comment after the post, and his campaign treasurer referred The News to the report, which said only that Harris had loaned himself $10,000.

Lee Kleinman, Dallas City Council, District 11

Kleinman reported $44,255 in campaign contributions by the end of March. Among his donors are The Real Estate Council, D Magazine publisher Wick Allison, real estate mogul Lucy Billingsley, developer Craig Hall and his wife, Kathryn, and several former and current public officials, including his council predecessor, Linda Koop.

Kleinman also had more than $32,000 on hand to spend before the May 4 election.

Kleinman spent more than $25,000. But, like the police association, his efforts appear curtailed compared to his last race. He had spent three times as much on the campaign at the same point in 2017.

He said he feels confident he has effectively represented his constituents.

“If you’re doing your job as a council member, you’re doing what you can" to campaign, Kleinman said. “You’re listening.”

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