Mayor Jeff Williams said Tuesday that he regrets his harsh words captured in a secret recording but not the frustration and criticism he says was aimed at a small group fighting a proposed $1 billion new home for the Texas Rangers.
Williams reinforced some of the comments that were recorded without his knowledge Friday during a private meeting with “good friends” and supporters, accusing Citizens for a Better Arlington of disseminating misinformation and “bullying and mistreating our citizens at the polls.”
The political action committee — the leading organized opposition to the proposed stadium as it heads to a Nov. 8 election — released the 20-minute recording Monday, along with a letter that contended that some of Williams’ comments were aimed at a group of voters.
Williams’ camp denied the claims Monday night, saying all remarks were targeting the “seven to 10” leaders of the opposition PAC, who denied any mischief at the polls.
Williams said he would have toned down the language if given a second chance.
That was a private moment of frustration among some good friends.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams
“I think I would have worded it differently,” said Williams, who is campaign chairman for Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers, the only organized group promoting the stadium proposition. “That was a private moment of frustration among some good friends,” he added, referring to the 14-member Action Arlington, a community improvement group.
“I wish I had not said those things,” Williams said. “That’s not who I am. I’m a very positive person, and that’s why I’m serving as mayor.”
Faith Bussey, president of the opposition PAC, said that someone “invited” to the meeting recorded Williams’ comments and gave it to the group, insisting on anonymity.
Williams said he’s not concerned about finding the person who surreptitiously recorded him. “I’m trying to focus on the fact that this is [being] misconstrued that I said that about all the ‘no’ voters,” he said. “That is not true.”
Concerned about poll watchers
On the recording, Williams refers to opponents as “misdirected” and “rabid” and categorizes the opponents as either anti-government or ‘CAVEs — citizens against virtually everything.”
“They’re bad,” Williams says on the recording. “They don’t want anything happening. You wouldn’t leave your kids with them to baby-sit them.”
Early voting for the Nov. 8 election continues through Friday.
He cited what he said was visible frustration among opponents as early voting continues. “You can go to the polls right now, and you will see it. These people don’t have jobs; they’re mad. … I think it shows the passion they have for beating this.”
On Tuesday, he told the Star-Telegram that there have been several instances in which opponents “bullied” and “accosted” pro-stadium voters and poll watchers.
Bussey said she hasn’t “heard any reports of our people doing that. But I have heard reports of their people doing that.”
Bussey said she believes that many of Williams’ recorded comments were aimed at a larger audience, but added, “It was not OK for him to say those things, even if it was just about our group.”
Tax increase, or not
In the Friday recording, Williams also bemoans the arrival of an opposition letter “from Dallas” that he said was distributed in Arlington last week. “It’s got seven lies right there on it,” he said. Those include claims about the stadium’s cost and impact on taxes. “It’s one after another, and it hurts.”
On Tuesday, he said he doesn’t know whether the letter and the accusations originated with an organized group.
“The most important one that was overarching was the amount of money it was going to cost and that it was going to increase our taxes, when in reality people will not be paying one more penny in taxes,” he said.
Voters will determine whether the city extends its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel occupancy tax and 5 percent car-rental tax to finance the city’s half of the construction of the retractable-roof stadium, which is capped at $500 million. The taxes are now paying off the city’s remaining $155 million debt from its share of AT&T Stadium’s construction costs.
The proposition also includes extending two other surcharges — up to a 10 percent game ticket fee and $3 parking fee — which the city has agreed to allow the Rangers to use toward their own share of the construction costs.
Opponents argue that extending taxes that otherwise would expire amounts to a tax increase.
“The fact is, in a couple of years when the Cowboys taxes roll off, our taxes would go down,” said Andy Prior, media liaison for the Better Arlington group. “What we’re voting on is a future tax increase.”