Tupou Helu Uhatafe feels that minorities don’t have a strong enough voice in Euless city government, and her daughter agrees.
So the duo are running for office this spring — Helu Uhatafe for the mayor’s seat, challenging incumbent Linda Martin, and daughter Vera Layton for Place 2 on the council, facing incumbent Jeremy Tompkins and newcomer Salman Bhojani.
Helu Uhatafe describes herself as a business owner and Layton as a sales consultant.
Bhojani, an attorney who emigrated from Pakistan to Canada as a child, lives in Euless and said he, too, wants a stronger minority presence in city government.
Realtor Linda Eilenfeldt is unopposed in the Place 4 race.
Helu Uhatafe said she and her daughter are the first in the city’s Tongan community to run for office.
Tongans started settling in Euless in the early 1970s with the coming of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and airline jobs, and many also came because of family ties and established Tongan churches.
Tongans brought many traditions to Euless including the well-known Haka chant, honoring Trinity High School and its football program.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, South Pacific islanders make up about 2 percent of Euless’ population, which is 53,219.
Although mother and daughter differ in their political views, they are concerned that minority voices aren’t being heard.
“Euless needs to have different voices. Euless was built by many cultures, and if everyone is involved, we will build a great, beautiful Euless,” Helu Uhatafe said.
She said Martin does not connect with voters. Helu Uhatafe said she is helping register people to vote in the May election, and that many don’t know who serves on the City Council, including as mayor.
But Martin, 70, who retired from American Airlines, said that her door is always open to meeting with the community.
“If I get a complaint from a citizen, I pass it to the city manager,” Martin said. “We respond within 24 hours. We have great communication with our citizens.
“We can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but we try.”
Helu Uhatafe, 51, said she first came to Euless from Hawaii when she was 19 and saved enough money to help her father buy his first home.
In the early 1990s, she decided to move to New York to pursue training as a stockbroker.
After 9-11, Helu Uhatafe said the atmosphere changed in New York, and she moved to Charlotte, N.C., where she started a home healthcare business before moving back to Euless in 2012.
Helu Uhatafe said that she is concerned that the city isn’t doing much to help other small businesses and that development is taking place slowly. She also said the city needs more activities for children, such as a skating rink.
If elected, Helu Uhatafe said she wants to bring “large festivals” and other events to the city.
Martin pointed to the ongoing growth of Glade Parks, a mixed-use development featuring urban lofts, single-family homes, a Belk department store, Dick’s Sporting Goods, a 24-Hour Fitness, a boutique hotel and a luxury movie theater, scheduled to open this summer, and the Founders Park development that will help revitalize south Euless.
“We’re growing so fast, it’s blowing my mind,” Martin said.
Helu Uhatafe said property taxes are too high and wants to see them lowered.
The property tax rate in Euless is 46 cents per $100 of assessed value, and the council has either maintained or lowered the tax rate for the past 23 years, Martin said. Bedford’s tax rate is 47 cents, Hurst is 58 cents, Fort Worth’s rate is 83 cents and Arlington’s is 64 cents.
Helu Uhatafe is also concerned about spending and the city’s budget. And she questioned why employees have city credit cards.
Layton, 21, also the youngest person to run for office in Euless, said she was influenced to run after hearing former first lady Michelle Obama talk about getting involved on the local level.
Layton, who is studying pre-law and political science at the University of Texas at Dallas after graduating from Trinity High School, said she has always kept up with the news and is interested in how government works.
She wants to be a lawyer and said that serving the community will give her experience and that she will attract younger people to city government.
“I want residents to be informed,” Layton said. “They don’t pay attention.”
Tompkins, 42, an airline analyst who is seeking his second term, said he is pleased with the ongoing growth but wants to keep tabs on the Legislature as there are proposals that could affect “local control” and how cities are governed. He praised the council for being involved in the community and for its support of local businesses and development.
“We have a great pulse on the city to understand people’s concerns,” he said.
Bhojani, 37, who recently started his law firm, Bhojani and Nelson, said he chose to run for office when he saw other lawyers volunteering in their communities. He also worked at the Haynes and Boone law firm, specializing in corporate and business law.
Bhojani, who moved to Euless in 2010, serves on the city’s parks board and said he is pleased with the growth and the new businesses coming to the city.
Bhojani also has a business background, as he owns the Grab & Go on Baird Farm Road in Arlington and he worked at several gas stations to help his family financially before attending law school at Southern Methodist University.
But he also wants to see more diversity and wants the city to have a multicultural center and to meet regularly with minorities.
“The life that America has given me is great. Some think that it is a weakness to be diverse, but it is an asset. If people dismiss people because of the color of their skin or their religion, that isn’t good,” he said.