City Hall

What to Watch for Ahead of Saturday's Dallas City Council Election

Joe Pappalardo
Campaign season is upon us.
There are a few things that are certain ahead of Saturday's Dallas City Council election. One: Turnout will be abysmal. Dallas doesn't turnout out for mayoral elections, much less council-only midterms, so anything above 10 percent of Dallas' registered voters actually showing up would be massive. Two: District 10's Adam McGough, District 12's Sandy Greyson and District 13's Jennifer Gates will all remain on the council. They're running unopposed.

But this council election is not only about sure things. There's a chance, however slim, that the council that's seated the third week in June will be the same as the one that was seated two years ago. There are no term-limited incumbents to be replaced this time.

Any change within the council would reorder the factions that constantly spar over long-running municipal issues. There is a four-vote bloc that includes District 1's Scott Griggs, District 2's Adam Medrano, District 9's Mark Clayton and District 14's Philip Kingston. The tetrad regularly opposes the mayor on issues like the redevelopment of Fair Park and creating a toll road running between the Trinity River levees. 
click to enlarge Philip Kingston, left, and Matt Wood, debating at The Garden Cafe on Junius in East Dallas. - JIM SCHUTZE
Philip Kingston, left, and Matt Wood, debating at The Garden Cafe on Junius in East Dallas.
Jim Schutze

Let's examine how the toll road plan could be influenced by a election. Clayton, who took over for Sheffie Kadane and picked up the partial support of McGough, announced that he opposed the toll road. Add in Greyson's continued opposition and there's a chance that just two seats turning over this weekend could kill the idea for good.

Some of these contested elections aren't really contests. While they've drawn opponents, Griggs, Medrano, District 3's Casey Thomas and Clayton have little to worry about. They've all vastly out-raised and out-spent their opponents, all of whom have offered little opposition beyond placing their names on the ballot. Joe Tave, Thomas's opponent in District 3, did qualify for a runoff against Thomas in 2015, but that was in a five-candidate field. Thomas beat Tave handily in the two-man runoff, and Thomas and Tave are the only two people on the ballot this time around.

So which elections could actually be worth watching? Here are some to keep an eye on.

District 4 — In 2015, term limits forced Dwaine Caraway from his District 4 seat at the horseshoe. Now, Caraway wants it back. Despite having endorsed Carolyn Arnold, the incumbent, two years ago, Caraway has pushed for new leadership in their southern Dallas district, painting Arnold as an obstructionist who is opposed to things like the proposed deck park over I-35 near the Dallas Zoo. Arnold says she's putting her constituents before projects, and has tied herself closely to newly acquitted Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. As of right now, it appears to be Caraway's seat to lose. According to campaign finance reports, Caraway spent more than $30,000 last month. Arnold spent just a little over $2,000.

District 5 — While Rickey Callahan has managed to get elected twice from his Pleasant Grove district, there's always a chance that demographics and luck could turn against him. Callahan is white and his district overwhelming is not. He's also taken several potentially damaging positions during his time on the council, such as when he suggested that the city "break the backs" of Dallas' homeless to stop panhandling and when he wondered "why do people have to be high all the time" as his colleagues voted for cite-and-release for low level marijuana possession.

Winners in District 5 typically get less than 1000 votes, so a small swing could make the election more interesting than anticipated.

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Callahan,who is supported by the city's old-guard political action committees like For Our Community, has more than $50,000 in campaign cash in the bank, according to his last campaign finance report. His opponent, Dominique Paulette Torres-Jeter, has less than $10,000 in the bank, but she's does have the support of the Coalition for a New Dallas, a progressive political action committee backed by D Magazine CEO Wick Allison and Freddie Haynes, the politically powerful pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church. While Callahan is the clear favorite, winners in District 5 typically get less than 1000 votes, so a small swing could make the election more interesting than anticipated.

District 6 — The battle for District 6 has a ton of intrigue. Monica Alonzo, the incumbent, is clearly the establishment's choice. She's supported by For Our Community and the Citizens Council and has amassed a $140,000 war chest to spend over the last week of the campaign. Alonzo is at risk because of several unpopular votes, including her support of a cement plant and her vote against expanding a popular charter school.  She's stayed largely silent as the mayor and a property owner fought over the status of dozens of rental properties and tenants in West Dallas, which is a part of District 6.

Of her five opponents, Omar Narvaez, who is backed by Griggs and Kingston, has raised the most money and has the most cash on hand, with almost $24,000 in the bank according to his last campaign finance report. While Narvaez is popular outside of his district, it is unclear how that will play in District 6, where he's received criticism for only living in the district since 2015. There's also the specter of absentee ballot fraud in the district. According to Dallas County Elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole, several seniors in the district have complained about receiving absentee ballots they didn't request.

If Alonzo gets dragged into a runoff, she'll have cash, but the race could become a referendum on her time on the council.

District 7 — While Tiffinni Young has collected accolades for her work calling attention to the loose-dog problem in southern Dallas and most appreciate her push for cite-and-release, her support for Rawlings' plan to hand management of Fair Park over to a board run by Walt Humann has proved unpopular in her district. Coalition for a New Dallas is backing both Kevin Felder, who lost to Young in a 2015 runoff, and Tammy Johnston against the incumbent. Another candidate, 30-year-old school teacher Adam Bazuldua, has stood out for the energy and clear love for the district he's shown at candidate forums.

With six candidates in the field, a runoff is likely. If that happens, Young, who's created a tremendous fundraising gap by raising more than $18,000 in the last month and has the support of For Our Community, will have the advantage.

District 8 — Council freshman Erik Wilson has the support of For Our Community and has established himself as a key supporter of the mayor during his first two years on the council. He's raised enough money that he has plenty of cash on had for the home stretch, but he is facing a five-person field. His opponents include Tennell Atkins, who represented District 8 for eight years before being term-limited in 2015. Atkins is spending enough money to make this interesting, almost $26,000 over the last month, according to campaign finance reports. Wilson, comparatively, spent a little less than $10,000. Wilson and Atkins seem headed for a runoff.

click to enlarge Lee Kleinman - BRIAN MASCHINO
Lee Kleinman
Brian Maschino
District 11 — The race between Lee Kleinman and real-estate blogger Candy Evans is, in a lot of ways, like the race between Rickey Callahan and Dominique Paulette Torres-Jeter in District 5. Kleinman has time on the council, an alliance with the mayor on many issues, and cash (almost $44,000 on hand as of Friday). Evans has the support of Coalition for a New Dallas and less cash. After spending almost $24,000 over the last month, Evans has, according to her Friday finance report, nothing left. The wild card in District 11 is Kleinman's feud with the Dallas Police Association, which refused to endorse him this time around after a 2016 dispute over Kleinman's tossing a DPA lobbyist out of meeting. Dallas' biggest cop and firefighter unions have both endorsed Evans, but it remains to be seen how much that actually means.

District 14 — The fight between Matt Wood and Philip Kingston in District 14 is a proxy war for the fights Kingston, the incumbent, has had with the mayor during his four years on the council. Despite holding many of the same positions as Kingston on the key issues facing the city, like the toll road, Wood is supported by the For Our Community PAC that has waged an extensive mail and media campaign on his behalf.

While Rawlings hasn't officially endorsed Wood, he has echoed claims made by For Our Community that Kingston is too divisive and personally abusive to city staff to be effective. Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who fought frequent battles with Kingston, agreed to star on a For Our Community billboard endorsing Wood. The Dallas Morning News, whose editorial board is generally friendly to Rawlings, also endorsed Wood.

Despite Wood's high level support, Kingston has the financial upper-hand in. He's got more than $110,000 cash on hand, according to his last campaign finance report, almost four times as much as Wood. He's also proved successful at turning For Our Community's support against Wood, stoking the fires District 14's anti-establishment neighborhoods.