City Hall

Meet Jacob King, the 18-Year Old City Council Candidate Who Wants to Shake Up Dallas

In the race to replace Ann Margolin as District 13's representative on the City Council, Jennifer Gates has Staubach as a maiden name and the backing of the establishment; Leland Burke, a real estate investor, has the business experience that plays well in the district's Preston Hollow core; and Jacob King ... well, he's got the youthful optimism and a sizable set of political cojones.

"When elected," King says, dispensing with the conditional "if" of my question, "I would defer my full-time enrollment plans, and I would get some of my basics done in Dallas."

He's referring to enrollment in college, probably Texas A&M, where -- let's be honest -- the 18-year-old will likely wind up this fall after he graduates from Bishop Lynch. He plans to major in political science, then go on to law school. But he's willing to delay those plans for a time if voters send him to City Hall, where he plans to fundamentally change the way the city does business.

"Government is broken," his campaign slogan reads. "Let's fix it."

Specifically, he says, government is "mortgaging the future of young Americans" like himself. While prodigal spending is most egregious at the federal level, local governments, too, are on a credit binge.

"Dallas has a debt-per-resident level that is equal to Houston's, and Houston has a population twice our size," he says. "At the local level, we're living a little bit beyond our means."

Actually, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs calculates that the city of Dallas had $6.6 billion in outstanding debt as of 2011. The $642 million bond package that passed in November has added to that, but the city still doesn't come close to Houston's $13.2 billion.

Still, King stands by the general idea that government is spending too much. He takes particular issue with using city incentives to spur investment in underdeveloped areas along the Trinity River and elsewhere. They're "robbing from Peter to pay Paul," he says, since city involvement interferes with competition and steers development dollars away from property owners who might otherwise benefit.

He's not a fan of the Margaret McDermott Bridge, which he says "looks nice but I can have a nice looking bridge or I can have an ugly bridge. Either way it's a bridge." Nor is he fond of similarly glitzy baubles of the Trinity River Project, though he doesn't take particular issue with the toll road, so long as the tolls sunset once it's paid for. That's a big sticking point with him.

"We've been told several times that the tolls will go away when the road is paid for," he says, referring to toll roads in general. "I also think we've been lied to several times. I understand that it's a great selling point to say it's a public-private deal, but if it's going to be a toll road there has to be a point at which the toll goes away."

None of that means that city government doesn't have a role to play. He wants the city to resurface or rebuild the 240 lane miles of road in District 13 that need it -- not through debt or higher taxes, of course, but by shifting priorities -- and focus on improving public safety in Five Points and other high-crime areas.

He's agnostic on the performance of City Manager Mary Suhm. "Everything I've heard speaking to people and with people is that she's been a very dedicated public servant," he says. And he isn't opposed to gas drilling on city parkland, so long as any royalties the city gets are used to lower residents' taxes.

Despite his public show of confidence, King is realistic about his chances. Unlike young Demarcus Offard, the most recent example of a precociously young politician trying to break into local government, he doesn't have a groundswell of anti-incumbent rage propelling him into halfway serious contention.

But he's serious about giving it a shot -- he's started taking orders for T-shirts and is about to get yard signs -- and asks only to be taken seriously.

"I'm not an ignorant 18-year-old kid who loves doing this just because he likes getting his name in the papers," he says. "I've taken classes at Cambridge. I've spoken on the House floor."

Smart and driven kid. He's definitely going places, just not likely to 1500 Marilla.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson