City Hall

Dallas Mayoral and Police Association Endorsements Failed This City Council Election

The new council members will be sworn into their two-year terms June 14.
The new council members will be sworn into their two-year terms June 14. Lauren Drewes Daniels
The runoff election watch parties were emotional, Dallas activist Soraya Santos said. The feeling was "not just relief, but of hard work paying off and real hope and excitement about the next few years in Dallas," she said. "The victories were a stark denouncement of dirty campaigning, lies, and right-wing tactics. We have a city council that never went low and voters noticed."

Money, mayoral backing and police association endorsements didn’t seem to mean much in the elections for City Council this time around. With several council members terming out this year, new blood was bound for the city’s leadership.

Candidates Mayor Eric Johnson supported to replace several incumbents failed to win. Additionally, those backed by the Dallas Police Association and the shadowy nonprofit Keep Dallas Safe also lost their bid for city council seats. The result? There's a progressive stronghold in the new council to take on issues like affordable housing, economic development, public safety and homelessness. The new council members will be sworn into their two-year terms on June 14.

Leland Burk, a local real estate developer who took his second stab at the District 13 City Council seat, spent the most out of any candidate in this election cycle. Despite this and his endorsement from the Dallas Police Association, Burk lost to Turtle Creek Conservancy chief executive Gay Donnell Willis. Even though she raised and spent far less money, Donnell Willis still received a little more than 53% of the vote.

During his campaign, Burk said he wanted to take the lead on fully funding DPD and look for more innovative, community-based policing strategies. Alternatively, Donnell Willis said she wants to ensure officer pay stays in line with neighboring cities and that staffing recommendations at DPD get rolled out in a timely manner.

Three incumbents came out of the runoffs with different results.

Dallas ISD Trustee Maxie Johnson criticized his opponent in the District 4 race, incumbent Carolyn King Arnold, for not getting enough done while on the council. Arnold argued she’d gotten plenty done, more was on the way and that another term would allow her to finish what she started in the district. Both candidates said they wanted to focus on economic development and infrastructure in the area, but residents chose Arnold to try to get the job done. She won the runoff with about 55% of the vote.

Adam Bazaldua will continue leading District 7 after beating his opponent Kevin Felder, a former council member for the area, by about 27%. But as D Magazine pointed out, the District 7 seat could still be up for grabs.

South Dallas pastor Donald Parish Jr. was one of seven candidates looking to unseat Bazaldua. Just 27 votes locked him out of the runoff this weekend. In a petition filed last month, Parish Jr. argues that voters were disenfranchised as a result of hours-long closures of several polling locations.

If the Dallas County district court decides through an investigation that the election results “rendered uncertain by fraud, unlawful activity, and/or other irregularities,” Parish Jr. said he wants another race to be held. The pastor, who criticized the council for its police overtime budget cut, had the mayor’s endorsement.

Felder has also criticized Bazaldua and the council for voting to reduce the police overtime budget. But Bazaldua stood by his vote, saying that funds need to be allocated to policing alternatives to get crime under control in Dallas.

It was a different story in District 14. Incumbent David Blewett came in second to Paul Ridley and the race went to a runoff. In the runup to the runoff, Blewett tried appealing to more conservative voters, changing stances on his previous vote to cut DPD’s overtime budget, saying he wanted it fully restored. But the flip flopping and his tendency to side with developers may have hurt him in his race against Ridley. The former city plan commissioner took home 61% of the vote in District 14, despite Blewett raising about four times the funds.

"We have a city council that never went low and voters noticed." – Soraya Santos, local activist

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Anthony Page, former vice president of the Oak Lawn Committee, said District 14, perhaps more than any other council district, faces extreme pressure from developers. As a result, Page said a successful council member for the district must know how to accommodate urban growth in the area “while simultaneously protecting the integrity of established neighborhoods and the environmentally fragile Turtle Creek corridor.”

“It appears that Paul Ridley’s deep domain expertise in this area (having years of experience as the D14 City Plan Commissioner and in the leadership of the Greater Dallas Planning Council) resonated with voters who are seeking to ensure that sound urban planning principles, transparency and collaboration guide future growth," Page said.

District 11 voters had to choose between Jaynie Schultz, former city plan commissioner for the district, or lawyer Barry Wernick. Schultz had the endorsement of her council member Lee Kleinman, and Wernick had the endorsement of the Dallas Police Association. During the campaign, Wernick held a hard stance against any cuts to DPD’s budget. But, that didn’t seal the deal for Wernick. It may have hurt him because he lost to Schultz who secured about 54% of the vote.

Schultz, who represented the district on the plan commission for six years, wants to secure positive development in the area, find some way to lower crime and tackle homelessness and panhandling.

In District 2, voters chose former park board representative Jesse Moreno over Sana Syed, an ex-Dallas city spokeswoman and current executive at a real estate investment firm. Moreno’s years of experience serving on city boards and commissions earned him outgoing councilmember Adam Medrano’s endorsement.

Moreno has lived in Dallas his whole life and says his priorities for District 2 include affordable housing, public infrastructure and cracking down on street racing. In a Facebook post, Medrano said he feels he’s leaving the district in good hands.

Reform Dallas' Santos said this election proved that a strong ground game with committed, passionate volunteers works and that the city's voters "see through the BS and lies about 'defunding the police.'" The voters are paying attention, she said.

"I think there was a message sent to Mayor Johnson as well," Santos said. That message? "You've stopped listening. Maybe now you will. Less drama and photo ops with Ted Cruz, more listening to constituents."
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn