City Hall

Dallas Progressives Have Their Dark Night of the Soul

Scott Griggs and his wife Mariana Griggs Saturday night
Scott Griggs and his wife Mariana Griggs Saturday night Stephen Young
The lights went out twice on Dallas progressives Saturday night. First figuratively, when state Rep. Eric Johnson took a lead he wouldn't come close to relinquishing in the city's mayoral race, and then again a half-hour or so later, when the power at Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs' watch party went out.

Griggs' loss, along with the defeat of his closest ally, Philip Kingston, in his District 14 City Council race, represents the end of an era in Dallas government. For nearly 15 years, since former council member Angela Hunt took up leadership of the opposition to the Trinity toll road project, the three allies have been the backbone of robust opposition to Dallas' old guard. Several council members might be suited to take up that role, but they'll be doing so after a rebuke from the 10% or so of Dallas voters who showed up during early voting and on election day. 
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The moment the light went out
Stephen Young

When the first set of results came in around 7 p.m., about 100 people were at Griggs' party at the Longhorn Ballroom in The Cedars. The crowd built to maybe about twice that size in the next couple of hours, but Griggs was late to show up and then late to take the mic once he did.

"I'm not going to be downtown at City Hall anymore, but I'm still going to be living over on Jefferson (Boulevard) with our one dog, three cats and seven chickens," Griggs told a dwindling group of supporters late Saturday. "I encourage all of you to keep up the fight at City Hall. We've got to make sure that we've got accountability and transparency in our government."

After a very short speech, Griggs left without speaking to the half-dozen or so media members who tried to speak with him about what his future might hold or what his 11-point loss might mean for the city. As the party wound down, some of the soon-to-be former Oak Cliff council rep's supporters took to the dance floor, but the whole thing still felt more like a funeral than a party.

Just north of Griggs' party, Johnson's supporters were in considerably better spirits in a Fairmont Hotel ballroom.

"I grew up in Oak Cliff and met him at church 15 years ago," Johnson supporter Jerome Madison said. "I've always voted for him and always supported him. He has a track record of bringing people together to make bipartisan policy. He is a boon for Dallas."

When Johnson took the stage to address his supporters, he took on the narrative that he decided to run for mayor because he was guaranteed the backing from Dallas business titans like oil magnate Ray Hunt.

"I did not run for mayor at anybody's urging or insistence. I am not anybody's tool. I'm not anybody's fool." — Eric Johnson

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"I did not run for mayor at anybody's urging or insistence. I am not anybody's tool. I'm not anybody's fool," Johnson said. "I am somebody who loves Dallas, and I saw my city at a turning point where we had a choice to make as to whether we were going to double down on the division and name calling and lack of decorum and lack of unity of purpose and lack of unity of spirit. Or we were going to change direction. And like so many times in my career, I decided, 'Why wait? Why wait for someone to come along and solve the problem?'"

When he takes office later this month, Johnson will be working with a markedly different council from the one that will meet for the last time on Wednesday. Kingston's absence will be the most notable.

Real estate financier David Blewett beat Kingston by seven points in their runoff contest by continuing the strategy that led to his first-round, first-place finish in May. Kingston, Blewett argued again and again and again, was just too big a jerk to serve on the City Council. Despite a month of clashes with the Oak Lawn LGBTQ community between the first-round and runoff election, voters in downtown, Uptown and parts of Oak Lawn and East Dallas agreed.

"Thank you, #District14, for entrusting me as your next City of Dallas - City Hall Councilmember. I am honored to have this opportunity and commit my time and energy to serving both this district and city well," Blewett wrote on Facebook after midnight Sunday.

Kingston did not immediately respond to the Observer's request for comment.

Incumbent Carolyn Arnold held on to her seat, defeating city aviation department employee Dawn Blair in South Dallas and The Cedars District 4, while Paula Blackmon, a former aide to outgoing Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and former Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles, won a seat on the council in East Dallas' District 9 over Erin Moore, who had the support of council progressives Kingston, Omar Narvaez and Adam Medrano.

Saturday's single win for Griggs- and Kingston-style politics came in District 7, which covers Fair Park, as well as portions of South and Far East Dallas. Adam Bazaldua, a Dallas ISD high school teacher, defeated former City Council member Tiffinni Young by 91 votes. Bazaldua, along with Medrano, Narvaez and Chad West, who's taking over Griggs' council seat, will be left to represent Griggs' and Kingston's legacy — which includes successfully fighting boondoggles like the proposed Trinity toll road, and fighting for policy changes like cite-and-release for marijuana and housing reform — at City Hall.
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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