Morning News Boo-Hoo Over Kingston Victory Tells the Tale of the City Council Election

Incumbent Philip Kingston, left, trounced challenger Matt Wood, right, by more than 13 points in Saturday's election.
Incumbent Philip Kingston, left, trounced challenger Matt Wood, right, by more than 13 points in Saturday's election. Jim Schutze
The ballots in Saturday’s city election had barely been counted when The Dallas Morning News weighed in with a finger-wagging editorial scolding East Dallas, the city’s most politically active realm, for voting for the wrong person.

In repeated endorsement editorials before the election, the city’s only daily newspaper had given voters in District 14 specific instructions to elect an out-of-nowhere challenger, Matt Wood, over the popular incumbent, Philip Kingston. Even if Wood had been brilliant, Kingston went into it with years of reputation under his belt as an East Dallas insurgent. A victory for Wood would have been an extremely heavy lift, more like a miracle than anything anyone could have expected realistically. But apparently the Morning News did expect it and was sorely disappointed, even angered by the outcome.

Wood put in a creditable performance for an unknown who had never held elective office, but Kingston still beat him by more than 13 points – a trouncing by any measure. And, anyway, Wood wasn't the real opponent. The real opponent was the city's old guard. By those standards, the old guard took not a trouncing but a brutal beating.

So determined was the city’s old oligarchy to un-horse Kingston that a super PAC funded from their own wallets poured a king’s ransom into Wood’s campaign, all of which, of course, made Kingston look even better to his loyal base, helping to make him the city’s largest vote-getter Saturday.

In the first place, the mere presence of a super PAC funded by the oligarchy in an East Dallas race – the fact that they even showed up – was a delicious fulfillment for East Dallas anyway, confirming all the best conspiracy theories. In the second place, the super PAC chose the worst possible strategy for going after Kingston, shipping out tons of expensive glossy mailers warning East Dallas that Kingston is confrontational and sometimes even impolite.

Peter Simek at D Magazine wrote a great piece before the election pointing out that those are the reasons East Dallas votes for Kingston: “East Dallas is one of the few places in the city,” Simek wrote, “where having a mean, nasty, ogre down at City Hall is understood as a good thing.”

We could talk all day about why, but basically it’s a direct reflection of the entire history of District 14 for pretty much the last 40 years. For a brief period in the early 1990s a polite person named Glenn Box managed somehow, through some fluke, to get elected to the City Council from East Dallas. Those East Dallas voters old enough to remember that brief tenure talk of it now as a terrible time of foreign occupation.

East Dallas as a political phenomenon started to develop in the 1970s as a kind of refugee camp for people fleeing the real Dallas. The stereotype at the time was that East Dallas was being taken over entirely by journalists, strippers and people who collect aluminum cans, and, yes, a good number of us did move in then, but I also remember a fair number of well-heeled venture fund managers, lawyers and direct marketing gurus, moving to Dallas from other cities, who chose East Dallas because the Park Cities area was too Bible-Belt-with-money for them.

East Dallas, if you haven’t guessed already, can be insufferably smug – I’m the worst – and in recent years the diffusion of a diverse sophisticated urban culture to other parts of town has helped to knock some of the corners off the stuck-up East Dallas mentality. After all, a lot of people think North Oak Cliff is way cooler than East Dallas now – even some East Dallas people – and meanwhile we are witnessing gradual incursions of cool into previously impervious areas farther out into Oak Cliff, farther south and southeast and even into the portions of the north.

In fact, that’s the real read on this election. Kingston, as we know by now, trounced his well-funded opponent, but everyone needs also to take closer looks at Districts 5 and 11, where unknown scantily funded challengers pulled in 45 percent and 37 percent of the vote respectively. That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. In South Dallas a field of challengers held the incumbent to a measly take of under 38 percent, forcing a runoff.

As Stephen Young observed here yesterday, most of those outcomes represented direct flat-footed failures for the oligarchs’ super PAC. With District 14 as our guide, it isn’t hard to figure out why.

Only people utterly unaware of the entire recent history of the city – in fact who never get out of their own Park Cities/Preston Hollow echo chamber – could have imagined it was a smart idea to attack the East Dallas incumbent on the grounds that he’s too disruptive. As Simek observed, that’s why he’s there. That’s what East Dallas likes about him.

Is that because East Dallas is full of wanton troublemakers who want to stir the pot simply because they like to see things go boom? Yes. But then ask yourself: What is it they want to make go boom? The old oligarchy.

They want to see the old guard go boom. They want to see the old way of doing things go boom. The ideas of the old guard – from allowing fracking in parks to entombing the Trinity River beneath a freeway – fly in the face of what the new city wants.

Basically, the new city represents a return to an old-fashioned kind of civic-mindedness, where people intend to actually live in the city, stay in the city and make the city work.

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The trick in all of this – the reason the oligarchs can’t figure it out – is that the oligarchs still think they’re the conservatives, and they’re not. The ground has shifted beneath them, and now they are the destabilizing force.
Now it’s the new city that pursues an essentially conservative agenda. It wants good schools, great law enforcement, stable diverse neighborhoods, a resilient diversified economy. Basically, the new city represents a return to an old-fashioned kind of civic-mindedness, where people intend to actually live in the city, stay in the city and make the city work. The old oligarchy, meanwhile, does not intend to live in the city, send its kids to school in the city or spend a lot of time worrying about making the city work. Instead it spends its money and time campaigning for huge quick-hit tax breaks and speculative public works boondoggles to benefit real estate developers, while maneuvering to de-fund and abandon the ailing police and fire pension fund. Because … money.

The city has flipped, in other words. The new conservatives are the people who want to put down roots and make this a better city. The new radicals are the old guard, who want to loot and run.

And, yes, the new city is becoming increasingly short of patience with the old guard. People like Kingston and council members Mark Clayton, Scott Griggs and Adam Medrano are viewed as stirring a pot that badly needs stirring, in hopes they will one day be able to make something go boom that badly needs to go boom. And away.

With that as my prologue, I bring us back now to yesterday’s editorial in the News expressing their take on the District 14 outcome:

“East Dallas echo chamber: Philip Kingston's supporters may relish in their 'take that, Establishment Dallas' fervor, but now comes two more years of District 14 being represented by an individual whose decision-making poorly serves constituents. Until voters do more than lap up Kingston's rhetoric – and instead look at how he does business and what he actually accomplishes – this district will pay a price.”

Pay a price. And why would that be? Well, you might think East Dallas will pay a price for not doing what the newspaper tells it to do, not voting for the oligarchy’s candidate, if you believe the future of the city belongs to the daily newspaper and the old oligarchy. But what could possibly give anyone that impression? What single trend or fact – name one – would give anyone the impression that the city is moving in their direction?

Instead what this election shows decisively is that the city is moving away from the daily newspaper and its base in the old city and that they can’t see it happening because they are facing in the wrong direction.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze