City Hall

5 Takeaways from Saturday's Runoff Elections in Dallas

Omar Narvaez stands with Khraish Khraish in the photo that ended up defining the District 6 race.
Omar Narvaez stands with Khraish Khraish in the photo that ended up defining the District 6 race. Jim Schutze
In just a week, Dallas' newest City Council will be inaugurated at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. After some pomp and circumstance in the morning, the City Council will convene that afternoon to draw for seats and offices. Thanks to the events of Saturday night, the City Council also needs to appoint a new mayor pro tem and assistant mayor pro tem June 19, following Monica Alonzo's and Erik Wilson's failed bids for re-election.

As Alonzo, Wilson and their colleagues Carolyn Arnold and Tiffinni Young begin their last week as members of the City Council, let's take a look at the lessons to be learned from Saturday's runoff election, which were eventful to say the least.

1. Incumbency is no guarantee. For a long time — forever, basically — incumbency was a guarantee for members of the Dallas City Council. Once a member got elected, he or she stayed on the council until quitting or being forced to quit by term limits. New faces won council seats only when they were open.

Only one member of the current council, Scott Griggs, has beaten an incumbent. He's done it twice, defeating David Neumann to get on the council in 2011 and (after redistricting) Delia Jasso in 2013.

This year, though, all that changed. Four incumbents (Alonzo, Wilson, Arnold and Young) lost their spots at the horseshoe. While Wilson and Arnold each was defeated by a former four-term city council member, Omar Narvaez and Kevin Felder beat Alonzo and Young, respectively, without ever having served in city government.

2. The PAC got waxed.
— The first round of the City Council election was bad for For Our Community, the super PAC run by Mari Woodlief, political consultant to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and former Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk. Philip Kingston, declared enemy of Rawlings, soundly defeated For Our Community's bell cow, attorney Matt Wood, in downtown and East Dallas' District 14.

On Saturday, things got worse. All three losing candidates received support from For Our Community, and, if anything, that support adversely affected their campaigns. In District 8, Tennell Atkins painted the PAC as a shadowy cabal in control of Wilson and his votes. For Our Community lost four of the five elections it played in this year. Add in Hawk's aborted reign as district attorney, and Woodlief's brand has never looked worse.

3. Money doesn't always help. — Saturday's losing candidates didn't lose for lack of funding. Alonzo, especially, set a bunch of cash on fire in her race. The soon-to-be former mayor pro tem had $126,000 in the bank as of her last campaign finance report last week, more than $100 for every voter in District 6 who cast a ballot on her behalf. Despite all that cash and all the support she received from the big-name donors who sent it her way, Alonzo ended up powerless against challenger Narvaez, who won a key victory for West Dallas tenants in the ongoing struggle between Khraish Khriash, a West Dallas landlord, and City Hall.

In District 7, Felder knocked off Young although Young had six times as much cash in the bank at the end of May. Felder exploited Young's refusal to show up at community forums early in the campaign and, more potent, her support for turning over Fair Park to a private foundation supported by Rawlings. He made up for being massively outspent.

4. The mayor's in for a tough time with this council. — With Narvaez' election, there is now a hard, five-vote block against anything contentious Rawlings wants to do. Griggs, Adam Medrano and Kingston supported Narvaez throughout his campaign. Those three, plus Narvaez and District 9's Mark Clayton, give the mayor's opposition the five votes it needs to place any item on the council agenda. They're also only three votes away from an eight-vote majority on any issue that comes before the council. While the mayor has four sure votes in his corner — Rickey Callahan, Lee Kleinman, Jennifer Gates and himself — there are enough wild cards on the new council, led by Dwaine Caraway and Sandy Greyson, that things will be consistently interesting throughout the next two years.

5. People didn't pay attention to newspaper endorsements or ads. — Both the District 6 and District 7 elections seemed to turn on hyperlocal issues rather than massive advertising campaigns or newspaper endorsements. The Dallas Morning News endorsed Alonzo, Wilson and Young, and all three candidates will be sitting at home when the new council meets for the first time June 21.
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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