If you thought the efforts of former Dallas City Council members Diane Ragsdale and Sandra Crenshaw to get Terri Hodge reelected were futile, think again. While lawyer Eric Johnson "would make a fine representative," says Dallas County Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing, she predicts that he'll fall short when votes are tallied tonight.
"It won't be the big victory she used to get, but I think she's gonna squeak it out," Ewing says of Hodge, who is unable to serve an eighth term as state representative as a condition of her plea deal.
There is a fear among older residents of the district who own houses near Fair Park, Ewing explains, that the city is moving toward a gentrification program in their neighborhood. She says people with paid-off houses on the tax rolls for $45,000 believe they will be pushed out in favor of "really nice $300,000 condos for the yuppies." And when those residents hear that Harlan Crow contributed $20,000 to Johnson's campaign, Ewing says, they assume Johnson has plans to utilize eminent domain to seize their homes.
"It doesn't matter if it's true or not, but that's the fear element that's going on out there -- that his contributors scare all those little old poor people out there, that he's going to support all the developers coming out there in the name of economic development," Ewing tells Unfair Park. "They're saying, 'I'm afraid that I'm going to lose my house. You can give me my $45,000 for my little old shack, but what am I going to do with that?'"
Update at 7:10 p.m.: If early voting is any indication (and it usually is), Ewing was way off on her prediction. Eric Johnson is ahead of Hodge 70-30 (1,483 votes to 628). Unless today's voting shows a massive turnaround, it looks like I'll owe Patrick "Buzz" Williams a Coke.
Along with Ragsdale and Crenshaw, Ewing says a group of precinct chairs that drew primary opponents recruited by Johnson are leading what has become the anti-Johnson campaign. And there's also a faction of voters who simply don't see Johnson as one of their own, despite Johnson growing up in the district.
"There's a feeling out there of: 'Look, we pick our own state rep,'" she says. "'The damn power establishment doesn't pick who represents us. We pick our folk.'"
Ewing stresses that Johnson is well-intentioned, and she doesn't question his motivation for running.
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"There's just this rampant fear and mistrust that's driving these people in District 100, and it may not be valid, but it's their perception," she says.
While names like Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, council member Tennell Atkins and former council member Leo Chaney have been tossed around as possible candidates awaiting the opportunity to lobby precinct chairs should Hodge win, Ewing says she hasn't heard of anyone actively campaigning at this point. "They don't want anyone to see their fingerprints in anything."
And if Ewing's prediction comes true, she assures us that the selection of Hodge's replacement will be open, organized and structured. "It's not going to be a bunch of precinct chairs in a smoke-filled room at the party office," she says. "It's gonna be a public meeting."
The meeting would take place sometime in early May at the earliest, Ewing says, as the selection would be made by the new precinct chairs, whose terms begin 20 days after the April 13 runoff elections.