City Hall

Griggs Makes Runoff, But Saturday’s Election Far From Victory for Dallas Progressives

Scott Griggs addresses supporters and volunteers on election night May 4, 2019.
Scott Griggs addresses supporters and volunteers on election night May 4, 2019. Stephen Young
A little after 10:30 Saturday night, Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs finally hopped onstage at Trees in Deep Ellum to declare a kind of victory. He'd apparently — because all the precincts hadn't come in and there's no Dallas election decision desk — finished second in Dallas' mayoral election, guaranteeing him a place in a June 8 runoff.

"Thank you so much for all the work that you've put in," Griggs told a thinning crowd of campaign volunteers and supporters milling around the club's dance floor. "Who here's got five more weeks in them?"

Throughout the campaign, Griggs stressed his experience in city government. He was the one who'd dealt with city staff and understood the difficulties and limitations of presiding over the United States' largest weak-mayor city. Saturday, he differentiated himself from his runoff opponent, state Rep. Eric Johnson, through their campaigns' fundraising.

"Everyone saw the reports about money. We were not the campaign with a million dollars," Griggs said. "Nowhere close to that, but we were in this campaign because we are not a campaign, we are a movement. This is a movement that believes in the people of Dallas."
click to enlarge State Representative Eric Johnson - BRIAN MASCHINO
State Representative Eric Johnson
Brian Maschino

At his election party at the Smoky Rose restaurant on Garland Road, Johnson cut the night short so he could get back to work Sunday.

"We're actually going to go and take care of our kids," Johnson said. "We'll start the first day of the new campaign first thing in the morning, so see you guys on the campaign trail tomorrow morning."

Despite being the last candidate to join the mayoral race, Johnson finished the first round second in fundraising, behind only philanthropist and former Highland Park resident Lynn McBee, racking up nearly $700,000 in donations. He thrived in the endorsement race as well, picking up multiple nods from the city's business elite.

Griggs will be at a fundraising disadvantage during the runoff, but he said he looks forward to the chance to debate Johnson one on one.

"I think (I'll separate myself) based on experience at City Hall," Griggs said. "Heads up we'll have a longer time to get our message out."

Moving down the ballot, the most unexpected news of the night came from downtown and East Dallas' District 14. The Dallas Morning News-endorsed real estate financier David Blewett finished first in the first round of voting over council incumbent Philip Kingston, forcing a surprise runoff. 
"Our City Council needs collaboration and open communication to make lasting change on the issues that matter to us," Blewett told supporters on Facebook on Saturday. "We are so close to addressing the challenges our community is facing. Issues like crime, property taxes, street repairs and safety concerns around schools can be solved if we work together. Let’s keep fighting for our community … all the way to June 8th."

Kingston told the Observer that, despite runoffs typically being biased against incumbents, he's confident he'll remain on the council for a fourth term.

"Blewett ran a negative and incredibly dishonest campaign," Kingston said. "It's clear that what we need to do is straighten out the record and give voters the real story. When District 14's voters hear the truth, I'm confident they'll vote for me again."

Carolyn King Arnold, who won her District 4 seat after Dwaine Caraway's resignation last August, also faces a runoff after collecting 46 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field. The only council incumbent on the ballot Saturday to lose outright was Fair Park representative Kevin Felder, who finished fourth in a nine-way race after police charged him with leaving the scene of an accident causing injury earlier this year.

Thanks to the impending runoffs, it's hard to say much about what the City Council is going to look like come inauguration day in June. If Griggs, Kingston, District 7 candidate Adam Bazaldua and District 9 candidate Erin Moore win their respective runoffs, Dallas will have its most progressive council ever. If Blewitt, Johnson and former Dallas City Council member and District 7 candidate Tiffinni Young prevail, Dallas residents should expect more centrist, pro-business representation.
click to enlarge Council members Jennifer Gates (left) and Rickey Callahan at a September 2017 Dallas City Council meeting. - BRIAN MASCHINO
Council members Jennifer Gates (left) and Rickey Callahan at a September 2017 Dallas City Council meeting.
Brian Maschino

However things shake out in five weeks, Jennifer Gates will be around to see them from her North Dallas seat. Despite a high-profile challenge from former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, Gates cruised to reelection, crushing Miller 66%-34%.
click to enlarge Miguel Solis says we're living in a new age of city-states, where national issues are local ones, too. - JIM SCHUTZE
Miguel Solis says we're living in a new age of city-states, where national issues are local ones, too.
Jim Schutze

The election's real winners have yet to be decided, but several candidates can definitively be chalked up as, let's say, not winners. In the mayoral race, McBee and Design District developer Mike Ablon raised almost $1.4 million and might as well have set it on fire. Former Texas House Republican Jason Villalba came out of his mayoral bid with very little to show for it besides finishing not last. Albert Black, who campaigned longer than anyone, finished eighth, with just over 5% of the vote.

Former Dallas ISD board President Miguel Solis crashed and burned Saturday, too. Despite running a campaign that looked to be exciting new voters and exploiting social media, Solis, whom the Observer picked to make the runoff, finished fifth, collecting a little more than a 10th of all votes cast.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young