Kingston Wins Council Seat. The City Yawns ... and Grows No Matter What.

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The easiest thing to say about Dallas City Council elections would be that no one gives a shit. Voter participation in the council run-off election last weekend, counting everybody who mailed in a ballot or voted early, was 4.21 percent of the people who were registered to vote.

That would be the wrong thing to say, and not only because people should not use the word "shit" in print. People care when they have to. Otherwise, they have lives. Right now City Hall talks about things and does things that seem irrelevant or stupid to most people, so most people don't even vote.

But elections don't rule the world, because government does not rule the world. Look at the inner circle of neighborhoods in Dallas. You think nobody gives a shit what goes on here? Then how come there's all this incredible jazz going on, all these apartments going up and cool new restaurants opening, houses getting fixed up or torn down and replaced, all of the sheer action you see if you drift the streets in Uptown or North Oak Cliff or East Dallas or ... whoa, have you taken a serious look at downtown Dallas at night lately?

No, stuff is definitely happening here. Meanwhile, City Hall seems to have less and less to do with any of it. They plod along and do stupid things nobody wants them to do, like drilling for oil in parks or refusing to build bike trails, while the city itself, the actual city, the real-life place just flows around City Hall as if it were a stalled car in traffic.

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Philip Kingston, for those of you who care
We can still get useful information out of elections. Take what happened in District 14 in East Dallas, for example. Bobby Abtahi, a young lawyer with no history or background in the district, got trounced by Philip Kingston, another lawyer who does have a long history as an activist in that part of town. Abtahi lost by almost 9 points in the run-off.

Pretend they started off in a dead heat. They did not, because of what I already told you. But pretend they did. Even though Abtahi tried to hide it, he clearly won the support of the Dallas Citizens Council, which is the old troglodyte 1950s behind-closed-doors group that represents the money in this town.

OK, the minute Abtahi became the Citizens Council candidate, he already lost the election by at least five points. Everybody in East Dallas knows who the Citizens Council people are. They are the funky, Park Cities, cul-de-sac ancients who represent everything the new city is trying to get away from.

Then when it was obvious things weren't going well in the run-off, somebody had the bright idea of bringing in Allyn & Co., the political ad agency that does mailings for the Citizens Council. That word flew like a bullet all over East Dallas among the kind of people who were going to vote: Abtahi's got Allyn & Co. working for him. I figure at that point the poor son of a bitch was down a good 7 points.

And then the final blow, the knockout punch, the coup de grace: Someone gets former Mayor Tom Leppert, who left City Hall to run a failed wannabe-Tea Party campaign for senator, to do robo-calls for Abtahi. Abtahi, at that point, should have saved himself the trouble and withdrawn. The Leppert robo-calls are why his margin of defeat got to damned near 10 percent.

I'm not sure there was a way to make things worse for Abtahi. I guess they could have brought in Mitt Romney and had him give a speech about the danger of East Dallas being overrun by hep-cat jazz musicians. Yeah, that might have given Kingston another couple points. In practical terms, though, the Abtahi machine did a pretty through job of totally shredding its own candidate.

I'm not taking away from Kingston here. He ran a smart, positive campaign, held himself above the mud and painted the right picture -- not just the picture people want to see, after all, but the picture they do see when they look across their city now. Dallas is a place with big problems, sure, absolutely, but, more important than that, it's a city that just keeps getting more cosmopolitan, more open, more exciting with every passing day.

And there is the key. The outcome in District 14 was a victory of that positive picture, the walkable bike-able sidewalk city with good jobs and things happening, over the old, funky, fortified, cul-de-sac city where it's all about exclusivity, bling bridges and hoarding your toys behind high walls.

The old leadership of the city has aligned itself solidly against the whole creative-class back-to-the-city movement that demographic experts across America have been touting for at least a decade as the great promise of the future. That's not conspiratorial. It's way deeper than that. It's cultural. The old leaders can't see that future, because it's outside their culture, which puts it out beyond their universe.

But in the end that doesn't matter. The city is flowing around them as if they weren't even here. As that trend increases, the day will come when City Hall will actually start addressing issues the new city will care about. Then the new city will vote. It's all good, eventually. I just wish eventually didn't take so damned long.


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24 comments
bryanr01
bryanr01

You say "4.21 percent of the people who were registered to vote" decided the run-off.  That means 4.21% of the registered voters in District 14, right?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Any ideas on the barking dog factor?  If anyone in district 14 thinks as little of Avi Adelman as I do, his opposition to Kingston would have been a huge reason to vote for Kingston.

Lorlee
Lorlee

Annointed one against Jennifer STAUBACH Gates was defeated.  He had the endorsement of the outgoing council member and the 2 or 3 before that.  But in this case, the name is what carried her. 

A good consultant tells them to hand deliver it to the 4% that you know are going to vote.  Those without a history of voting are usually ignored.  That said, in the 35 years I have been involved in campaigns, that voting population has decreased significantly. 

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

I think it should read Melissa Kingston one, not Phillip. He wont be doing much. Good Luck district 14....This person who lives in Lakewood voted for Abtahi...sorry I don't fit into the cul-de-sac citizen council formula

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

You are typically overhyping the implications of the election. It is really about the power of the incumbent in Dallas Council elections since went to 14 + 1. Not only does the incumbent always get re-elected, but if interested, can anoint his successor. Has the anointed one not one in any recent council election? The only exceptions are where incumbents run against each other or as in that mess in Pleasant Grove. Like so much about our inept city, it comes down to turnout. When only 4 per cent vote, the people that got a majority at the last election have a big advantage. It would be simpler for each candidate to hand deliver the materials to the 4 per cent. It might make a better impression.

It also shows how weak our supposed kingmaker consultants and other great power brokers are. They only know how to get 2 per cent plus 1 of the electorate. They do not run campaigns. They hand out money for votes. Dallas has a great vote suppression program. We do not need manipulation. It is laziness. It is hard to believe brave people died 50 years ago so these voters could sit on their broadening behinds and complain.

StupidHippies
StupidHippies

Can you link me to a single article from the Observer profiling the candidates? 

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Thanks for the Allyn tip as it will be good to see who sends out what going forward. I wonder if they will create one for Mary Suhm telling everyone that rumors of her exit this Summer were greatly exaggerated.

observist
observist topcommenter

It basically sounds like a re-match of the Hunt vs. Leppert tollway referendum, limited to just District 14.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

that was robo-Leppert? thought I was talking to the real guy....

jmckee3
jmckee3

I knew he was done when I got a mailer accusing Kingston of being secretly Republican.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bryanr01 

No, I used a bad number, which was the turnout for the entire election, which included 'burbs. I think District 14 was closer to 6 percent. Haven't taken the time to do the math, because it reminds me too much of my friend who used to get pissed when I said she had been divorced six times. She said that was unfair because one was an annulment. Still a bad number anyway you look at it. But you raise a fair point in this case.   My turnout number was wrong for what I claimed it was. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@PersistentID2345 

So as your evidence you link me to some jerk-off newspaper columnist?

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@RTGolden1 Avi originally backed Blewett.  Looking at the numbers I am guessing the run-off had the same people that voted for Kingston and Abtahi in the general election.  Kingston had about 400 more votes than Bobby in both elections.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@Lorlee If the closest thing Dallas has to Moses wants his daughter to be on City Council, I will admit it does not work the same way.  It is still an anointed one.  In that case a higher power than a lowly councilperson did the anointing. 

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@whocareswhatithink If you live in Lakewood, then you're in District 9.  So either (1) you didn't vote for Abtahi, (2) you don't live in Lakewood, or (3) you voted fraudulently.  Which is it?

director21
director21

@MikeWestEast Apparently, you have not been paying much attention for the last two elections. In 2011, Scott Griggs, a complete newcomer, defeated incumbent Dave Neumann. Then, for this year's election Scott was "redistricted" out of his District 3 seat and had to run against incumbent Delia Jasso, whom he defeated by a substantial margin (though lower than the margin over Neumann, which was a rout) in a largly Hispanic district that should have gone to Jasso on demographics alone.

I would venture to say that the incumbent does NOT always have the advantage. Scott proved that fact two elections in a row.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@StupidHippies Although Dallas politics has a tranquilizing effect on me, I do recall one story where both candidates and their pros/cons were discussed (not the one where they were both in the same bar at the same time, talk about missed journalistic opportunities).  I vaguely remember coming away with the feeling that the DO didn't much like either candidate and pretty much phoned it in.

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

@James_the_P3 @whocareswhatithink Unless they moved Lakewood Hills out of district 14 and I did not know about it, then I guess I voted illegally ....its easier to just say Lakewood when you are talking to people that don't know the difference between Belmont addition, north stonewall terrace, Greenland hills....most people only know M streets or Lakewood when talking about those neighborhoods.

StupidHippies
StupidHippies

@RTGolden1 @StupidHippies Ok.. so one article about D14, AFTER the initial vote, and well after being lectured about how the Dallas voting public is a bunch of apathetic losers...

Good job DO. 

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