Our local election may not generate much turnout, but that's not the case for the Farmer's Branch referendum to make it illegal to rent an apartment to an undocumented immigrant.
[A] popular former Farmers Branch mayor, David Blair Jr., has come out against the ban and last week detailed his concerns to the City Council, which has unanimously backed the ordinance requiring landlords to check the citizenship or immigration status of apartment complex renters.
"This has been tremendously divisive," Blair, who served as mayor from 1988 to 1996, said in an interview. "This wasn't vetted by the community before they took action and it was done very quickly."
Echoing a chief campaign theme among opponents, Blair said the city's legal costs to defend the measure already have reached $270,000, and another $440,000 has been budgeted. "I don't see it ending there," Blair said, adding that he doubts federal courts that have allowed illegal immigrants access to public schools and heath care will favor a local law that bars them from renting apartments.
Still, Blair said his sense is most people favor the ordinance, which he expects to pass.
"I think they are looking at it (the city's measure) very narrowly. They see it as a vote against illegal immigration," he said. "People are very frustrated with the federal government's immigration policies."
Although the city of 27,000 is roughly 40 percent Hispanic, Anglos will decide the outcome. Fewer than 10 percent of the city's 14,000 registered voters are Hispanic.
Organizers on both sides are predicting a turnout of four to 10 times normal for a city election. Last year's council election drew 800 voters, under 6 percent of those registered.
"Nobody wants to talk about anything else," said Tony Salerno, one of five candidates running for two open council seats. Salerno and two others are opposed to the rental ordinance. "The first thing people want to know is which way are you going on the (rental) ordinance."