While there is still a bit to be decided after Saturday's Dallas City Council election — namely, the fate of 671 disputed mail-in ballots and three runoff elections — there are plenty of lessons to be learned. Now that the dust has settled, let's take a look at some of what we know from the votes cast over the last couple of weeks.
1. 'For Our Community Flopped' — Regardless of what happens during the June 10 runoff elections, it's hard to see For Our Community's foray into this election as anything but a failure. The PAC is generously funded by some of Dallas' old political guard and directed by Mayor Mike Rawlings' campaign consultant Mari Woodlief. FOC poured tens of thousands of dollars into an effort to remove council member Philip Kingston from his East Dallas/downtown fiefdom. Kingston and his anti-Rawlings, anti-Dallas establishment supporters defeated challenger Matt Wood by more than 13 points.
For Our Community backed candidates in Districts 6, 7 and 8, but Monica Alonzo, Tiffinni Young and Erik Wilson are facing runoffs, despite spending a pile of cash on radio and print advertising. Incumbents who get less than 50 percent in first-round votes are especially vulnerable in runoffs because, often, those who voted for other candidates have already made their minds up about the incumbent.
A victorious Omar Narvaez, Alonzo's expected challenger pending the resolution of District 6's disputed mail-in ballots, would be especially embarrassing for For Our Community and the mayor. Rawlings made frequent public appearances with Alonzo, his mayor pro tem, in the run-up to the election while Narvaez is an ally of both Kingston and Scott Griggs, the other outspoken foil for Rawlings on the council.
For Our Community's greatest success in 2017, it seems, was making Kingston dip into his considerable campaign war chest before he makes an anticipated run for mayor in two years.
2. What's with those disputed ballots? — On Saturday evening, a memo sent by Dallas City Secretary Rosa Rios to City Council members said that 671 ballots in Council Districts 2 and 6 had been ordered sequestered by a Dallas county judge in a sealed court order. While the 245 District 2 ballots are largely meaningless — incumbent Adam Medrano beat challenger Brian Ostrander by 81 points — the 426 disputed votes in District 6 are worth paying attention to.
In the weeks leading up to the election, dozens of voters in West Dallas complained to the Dallas County Elections Board that they'd received mail-in ballots for which they hadn't applied. As a result, Dallas County elections chief Toni Pippins-Poole promised that all mail-in ballots in the district would be examined individually.
As things stand, only 48 votes separate Narvaez and Alex Dickey for second and third place behind Alonzo, so a big swing in the disputed ballots could change District 6's runoff lineup. So far, however, Alonzo has collected the vast majority of the district's mail-in votes. Of those counted by Sunday afternoon, Alonzo received 147, compared with just 28 for Dickey and 19 for Narvaez. Alonzo leads overall with 760 votes to Narvaez's 536. Dickey has received 488 votes, again as of Sunday afternoon.
3. What's an endorsement worth? Not much. — None of the notable endorsements made during the election seemed to do much good. The Dallas Morning News endorsement of Wood over Kingston meant zilch, and its endorsements of Young and Wilson didn't seem to help very much either. Former Dallas police Chief David Brown, who appeared on a For Our Community billboard ad on Central Expressway, didn't get his revenge on Kingston. Dallas' police and fire associations similarly couldn't help Candy Evans against incumbent Lee Kleinman, who's pushed back against any plan to fix the police and fire pension system that relies on city taxpayer money for more then he feels is fair. While many took their best shot, it appears that there aren't any kingmakers left in Dallas local politics.
4. Voting highs and lows. — While the breakout for the city of Dallas isn't available yet, Dallas County turnout was up a touch in 2017 at 7.81 percent compared to two years ago, when only 6.76 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2015 municipal elections. Unsurprisingly, District 14's raucous race had the city's highest turnout, by far, with 7,916 voters casting ballots for Kingston, Wood or Kim Welch. Despite drawing two opponents, Kingston won the highest number of raw votes citywide with 4,340.
Several of Dallas' council districts — which all have about 60,000 voting age adults — continued their long strings of abysmal turnout. Despite contested, competitive races in both districts, fewer than 2,000 voters cast ballots in both District 5 and District 6. Despite receiving just 944 votes, Rickey Callahan won 55 percent of the vote in the Pleasant Grove-centered district, locking up his third term on the council.
5. Where the coalitions stand. — The core four council members — District 1's Scott Griggs, Medrano, District 9's Mark Clayton and Kingston — who make up the mayor's strongest opposition on the council, will remain on the council for two more years. Rawlings kept allies Callahan, Kleinman and District 13's Jennifer Gates, but faces the potential loss of Alonzo and District 8's Erik Wilson, who will face a stern runoff test from former City Council member Tennelle Atkins. Adam McGough, who is generally friendly to the mayor but opposes one of the mayor's signature priorities, the Trinity toll road, ran unopposed in District 10, as did Sandy Greyson, who always makes up her own mind in District 12. Dwaine Caraway, who returns to the seat he was term-limited out of in District 4, doesn't belong to anybody's coalition, but will work with Griggs on the deck park near the Dallas Zoo that they both support, something Caraway's opponent, Carolyn Arnold, was unwilling to do. If Narvaez wins the District 6 runoff, Caraway could become the new swing vote on the toll road, as could Kevin Felder, if he knocks off Young in District 7.
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