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Politics

It Is Time for Dallas to Adopt Ranked-Choice Voting

| 9 hours ago

Amid all the postgame analysis that has been flying about in the aftermath of last Saturday’s municipal elections, one simple and striking fact bears mentioning: up until a few election cycles ago, sitting council members were rarely challenged. That has changed – big time. Last Saturday’s elections saw competitive races in nearly every district, and three incumbents—David Blewett, Adam Bazaldua, and Carolyn King Arnold—have been forced into runoffs. In general, that’s a good thing. More candidates mean more ideas are brought to the table, more citizens are engaged in the electoral process, and council members are more responsive to the constituents who put them in office.

But this new era of Dallas politics has also created a situation in which runoff elections are almost inevitable, particularly in crowded races where there is no incumbent. This means the city’s general election basically functions like a primary. We saw this in the 2019 mayoral election and in the 2017 mayoral election. When 9 or 10 candidates are running for a single office there is virtually no way one of those candidates is going to secure 50.01 percent of the votes. The first election narrows down the field; the real decision is made in the runoff. That’s a problem. Municipal voter turnout is already very low, and it is even lower in the runoffs. They’re also expensive. But there’s a simple solution: ranked-choice voting.

Ranked choice voting — which we’ve mentioned before — is an electoral process that is gaining popularity throughout the country, particularly in local elections, precisely because it remedies some of these problems. According to FairVote.org, 22 municipalities and states have adopted ranked-choice voting, including some large cities like New York, Oakland, and San Francisco. Ten additional cities and states, including Alaska, are considering or have adopted ranked-choice voting for future use. Austin just adopted it over the weekend.

So, what is ranked-choice voting and how does it work?

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Local News

Black Workers in Dallas Are Being Left Behind, Unemployment Data Show

| 9 hours ago

Here’s the most damning statistic you’re going to see today, from a Bloomberg report on how the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving behind minority communities in cities across the country. In March, while the unemployment rate for White workers in the Dallas metro area was at about 5 percent, the jobless rate for Black workers fell to more than 14 percent. The overall national unemployment rate is about 6 percent.

Per Bloomberg:

Bloomberg calculated the above local unemployment rates using the monthly Current Population Survey of about 60,000 households, which is sponsored jointly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, and will be following their progress throughout the year.

This analysis—combined with regional data such as housing prices, job listings and small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program—shows that many minority communities are currently lagging behind. The latest metro-area vaccination rates, which tend to outpace the country as a whole, aren’t showing up in the March unemployment rates as a differentiator, but may play a bigger role in the coming months.

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Leading Off

Leading Off (5/6/21)

| 11 hours ago

Robert Jeffress Invites You To Get Jabbed. With demand falling, Dallas County is trying new ways to convince people who have been hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine that it’s OK to get the shot. That includes reaching out to younger folks—health officials are partnering with Deep Ellum bars—and Christian evangelicals, which is why the senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas is opening up his church for a vaccination clinic on May 16.

Hot Takes Abound on Short-Term Rentals. Almost 100 people spoke at a public hearing on whether Dallas needs regulations for rental properties booked through services like Airbnb and Vrbo. Everything from an outright ban on the short-term rentals to a more robust licensing system is on the table.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Continues to Lead a Complicated Life. Paxton was already under indictment for securities fraud. He’s being investigated by the FBI over corruption claims. He’s fighting a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four former employees. Now you can add another, separate “securities fraud debacle” to the list of things keeping him busy when he’s not fighting the release of texts he sent while attending the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Dallas County’s First In-Person Trial Since Start of Pandemic Ends in Conviction. A jury found Neil Noble, 53, guilty of stalking Messina Madson, a high-profile lawyer who essentially ran the district attorney’s office during the absences of former District Attorney Susan Hawk in 2015. Noble was sentenced to four years of probation in the first jury trial held offline here since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Crime

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia Has a Plan

| 1 day ago

Let’s take a look at what Mayor Eric Johnson today called “the most important document that’s going to come out of City Hall this year.”

The Dallas Police Department 2021 Violent Crime Reduction Plan, presented to City Council members this morning by Police Chief Eddie Garcia, outlines a new approach to policing in Dallas. It focuses on the “hot spot” areas where the vast majority of violent crimes occur, and suggests that police will work more closely with public and private organizationsincluding city code enforcement, community organizations, and even local businessesto address the root causes of crime.

The report admiringly cites “broken windows” theory, the idea that fixing up vacant lots, repairing broken windows, and otherwise cleaning up disorderly streets can help turn back blight and prevent more significant crimes. The model has seen some success in Philadelphia, where in the last several years police worked with code and nuisance abatement to see that more than 300 vacant lots were “treated.” Overall crime declined by more than 4 percent in the areas where this was done. That effort had previously been recognized by the Dallas mayor’s task force on safe communities. The report mentions all that. It doesn’t note the years of debate over whether broken windows policing really does work, or how the theory should be applied in practical terms.

When the broken windows theory has come under fire, it’s largely been from critics who contend it leads to an overly aggressive crackdown on minority communities, with residents of these communities punished disproportionately for low-level crimes. This is not that, Garcia stressed. “It’s not a dragnet approach,” he told council members, and is in fact “the opposite” of the kind of stop-and-frisk policing that has created claims of widespread civil rights violations in places like New York City. In other words, the crime reduction strategy seems to advocate literally fixing the broken windowsand not over-policing residents for minor infractions.

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Politics & Government

The Voter Suppression in Dallas That No One Is Talking About

| 1 day ago

In his last year in office, former Mayor Mike Rawlings made it known there was one more big thing he wanted to do: move city elections from May to November. For City Council and mayoral races, voter turnout in Dallas is among the worst in the country. Moving these elections to November, when voters here tend to put up more respectable numbers deciding on state and national contests, would increase participation in local politics. Almost nobody disputes this.

Simple enough, then. Move local Election Day to November and watch turnout shoot up. But Rawlings couldn’t get it done by the time his term ended. He didn’t really get that close. And among elected officials in Dallas, this was—and remains—a lonely position.

“Politicians don’t want it, because they want to stay elected. As long as they keep turnout down, they think they’ve figured out how to stay elected,” Rawlings said this week. It’s been more than two years since he left office, and more than two years since he failed to get local elections moved to November. It’s still pretty easy to get the former mayor fired up on the subject.

We’re worse off as a city when a small amount of voters decide who has power, Rawlings says, and he’s “blown away” that people opposed to restrictive new voting rules being considered by the Texas Legislature aren’t also “out rallying about” how holding municipal elections in May privileges a select few voters. (A separate bill now being floated by state lawmakers would allow Texas cities to change their local election dates; more on that in a bit.)

“I find very few elected officials that think this is a good idea,” he says. “Sad to say, most of them believe an educated small group of voters is better than a large amount of turnout. The last time I looked, that’s voter suppression.”

Politicians prefer the status quo and the media doesn’t cover it, and so many voters understandably don’t even know when Election Day falls in May, he says. Turnout for Saturday’s Dallas City Council elections was as low as ever. Dallas County registered a turnout of less than 10 percent of registered voters, which is especially bleak when compared to the record-breaking 66 percent who showed up for last November’s presidential election.

“As you will see with the City Council election runoffs in June, in some of these races there will be 50 or 100 people who decide the future of major issues in this city,” Rawlings says.

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Local News

Leading Off (5/5/2021)

| 1 day ago

Mesquite Police Kill Man With History of Mental Illness. Police responding to a 911 call and an alleged assault were confronted by Ashton Pinke, 27, who they say charged at officers wielding a knife and club. Rather than using their top-notch training to tase or disarm the man, they shot and killed him. Pinke’s family says Pinke had a history of mental illness.

Neo-Nazi Gets Prison Time for ‘Swatting Call.’ John Cameron Denton, 27, participated in a nationwide, racist harassment campaign that prosecutors say is linked to several murders. In November 2018, Denton placed a call to 911 in which he claimed to have a pipe bomb and was going to attack Dar El-Eman Islamic Center in Arlington. It turned out to be a “swatting call,” in which perpetrators make fake threats to prompt local SWAT teams to respond to the targeted location.

Wild West Shootout in Grapevine Leaves 3 Wounded. Around 4:45 p.m. yesterday, two men in a black Dodge Charger and two men in a white Nissan exchanged fire at a Grapevine 7-Eleven. Police later found the wounded men in the Charger at a nearby Jack in the Box, and the driver of the white Nissan was arrested after he sought medical help for his wounded passenger from DFW Airport police.

Natural Gas Driller Turns to Cryptocurrency Mining. If there is a silver lining in this story about a Frisco firm that is using excess natural gas at drilling sites to power cryptocurrency mining rigs it is that it makes explicit the underappreciated fact that crypto mining is a disaster for the environment.

JC Penney Cuts 650 Jobs. The struggling department store was purchased by its two largest landlords after filing for bankruptcy a year ago. One hundred of the job cuts came from the company’s temporary corporate offices in Lewisville. Penney is still looking for a permanent home after moving out of its Plano HQ last year.

Daily Reminder that COVID is Still a Threat. Dallas County reported five new deaths and 170 new cases. Half of the county’s residents have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. There are plenty of doses available. Be cool, get jabbed!

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Local Government

How Much Does a Dallas City Council Vote Cost?

| 2 days ago

As the results of the city council election were coming in Saturday night, a familiar storyline took shape. There were plenty of intriguing political subplots building up to the election. And now we have weeks of limbo as we await a staggering six runoff races that will determine the make up of the next council. But the big takeaway was low turnout.

Every election cycle we are reminded that the city’s government is determined by precious few voters. This year, 67,788 people voted in the council elections, which is about 14 percent fewer than who voted in 2019 (when the mayor was also on the ballot). This year’s turnout was up around 46 percent from the last council-only election in 2017, but turnout was still fewer than 10 percent of the total number of registered voters.

Per usual, northern council districts drew more voters than southern council districts, another depressingly familiar statistic. But what was different about this year was that, in the weeks leading up to the election, Mayor Eric Johnson attempted to influence some of these southern Dallas council races. His influence drove more dollars into the campaigns in an effort to unseat two of his rivals on the city council. It didn’t work, but it got me thinking. There was a lot of money spent on this year’s council election but that money did not translate into huge voter turnouts. It seems like council candidates spend a ton of money each election cycle to win very few votes. But how much?

How much money do council candidates have to spend to turn out a single vote in their favor?

I spent yesterday crunching the numbers, tallying up the 2021 expenditures for the top finishing council candidates in all 14 districts. In some close races, I analyzed the top two or three candidates. In races in which incumbents didn’t face serious opposition, I tallied the expenditure totals for all the candidates. Most new candidates did not report spending in 2020, so I didn’t include incumbent spending in 2020 (there wasn’t a ton save a few candidates, such as Chad West) because it was too difficult to determine if 2020 spending was directly related to the 2021 campaign. These numbers also reflect the latest publicly available figure filed, so they may miss the last week-and-a-half or so of last minute fundraising. In other words, these numbers may be imperfect, but they are pretty close.

The results offer an imperfect metric for determining the effectiveness of council campaigns, but they also reveal several fascinating disparities in how campaign spending drives election results. Here’s one glaring example: District 13 candidate Leland Burk spent about $61.41 for every vote he received in Saturday’s election. His opponent in the runoff, Gay Donnell Willis, spent just $10.31 per vote. So what does this tell us about that race?

I break down the rest of the data and offer some interpretations after the jump:

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Transportation

Northaven Trail Pedestrian Bridge Over US 75 Will Link Disconnected Neighborhoods

| 2 days ago

Rendering courtesy of TxDOT.

Dallas’ trail system is about to get a little more connected. On Saturday, crews will break ground on a bicycle and pedestrian bridgespanning U.S. 75 just north of Royal Lane in North Dallasto connect Northaven Trail to trails east of the highway, including White Rock Creek and Cottonwood Creek. The half-mile expansion of the Northaven Trail, which the Texas Department of Transportation is building with a $9.3 million price tag, is expected to open by spring 2023.

“This bridge really will bring neighborhoods closer together,” says Jeff Kitner, president of the Friends of the Northaven Trail, who was out walking the trail when he called Tuesday morning.

Right now, it can be a hairy trip for cyclists and pedestrians who have to go under Central to get from Northaven Trail’s current eastern terminus in North Dallas to points farther east. This bridge will make that crossing a whole lot more pleasant and go a long way toward linking up some key Dallas trails. A TxDOT fact sheet says it “will stand as a regional example of the positive benefits of appropriate location and design aesthetics for future bicycle and pedestrian trails and amenities.” And of course, as a general rule, the more we do to encourage people to get out of their cars, the better.

Fittingly, Kitner is encouraging people to walk or bike to the 10 a.m. groundbreaking ceremony, at the southwest corner of Northaven Road and the southbound U.S. 75 frontage road near the Cindi’s NY Deli. Kitner says Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Mayor Eric Johnson, and TxDOT Commissioner Robie Vaughn are expected to be on hand for the groundbreaking. Word on the street is that outgoing Councilman Lee Kleinman is even bringing breakfast tacos.

Some renderings from TxDOT are below. In principle and appearance, it somewhat resembles the bridge that opened in 2017 to span Mockingbird Lane and connect the White Rock and Katy trails. Construction of the Northaven Bridge will also create some dedicated parking for anyone who wants to get there in a car and use this spot a sort of trailhead.

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Local News

Leading Off (5/4/21)

| 2 days ago

COVID Update. Dallas County reported 455 new cases and eight deaths yesterday (remember that’s a two-day total, because the county doesn’t report on Sundays). For the past two weeks, the average number of new daily cases in the county is 240; for the previous two-week period, the average was 263. Get vaccinated!

How About That Weather? Fox 4 has video of yesterday’s weather action, including some impressive hailstones and semis blown over on I-35E. It’s unclear if a tornado did that or if it was straight-line wind. (Am I the only one who thinks of Cardi B every time Fox 4 talks about its weather app, aka its WAPP?)

DMN Calls Mayor Powerless. A day before the election, the paper gave the mayor a warm hug when he granted a rare hour-long interview. Now that his candidates got trounced, he’s again not talking, and the paper is pointing out how poorly he read the political landscape and saying “he will return to City Hall more isolated and more dis-empowered than he was before this election.”

Eddie Garcia to Present Crime-Fighting Plan. The Dallas police chief will officially lay out his plan tomorrow, but here’s a preview.

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Local News

Polling Hiccups, the Mayor’s Bad Bets, and More to Know From Dallas Elections

| 3 days ago

At about 1 a.m. Sunday morning, we learned the results of a typically low-energy municipal election. Fewer than 10 percent of Dallas County voters cast their ballots, which is pretty close to what we saw in May 2019. Of course, the mayor wasn’t on the ballot this time, so maybe this is a small win. In 2018, the national rate for municipal elections was 27 percent, according to the New York Times. Dallas would probably kill for that.

The top-line results: three incumbents failed to get 50 percent of the vote and are heading to runoffs. Those include South Oak Cliff’s Carolyn King Arnold in District 4, who earned 46.56 percent against Dallas ISD Trustee Maxie Johnson. Councilman Adam Bazaldua, in South Dallas/Fair Park’s District 7, will face former Councilman Kevin Felder after logging 39.41 percent of the ballots cast. And Councilman David Blewett, who represents Uptown, downtown, and East Dallas in District 14, narrowly forced a runoff after nabbing 32.10 percent of the vote against former Plan Commissioner Paul Ridley, who finished with 45.65 percent.

Unexpectedly, the three open seats vacated by term-limited councilmembers also ended with runoffs. Former Park Board member Jesse Moreno (38.95 percent) will face former city spokeswoman Sana Syed (24.5 percent) in District 2, which includes Deep Ellum, the Cedars, and the Medical District. Former Plan Commissioner Jaynie Schultz got 36.22 percent to attorney Barry Wernick’s 38.08 percent in North Dallas’ District 11. And over in Preston Hollow, developer Leland Burk faces businesswoman Gay Donnell Willis, who were separated by a little over 100 votes.

Both propositions, which would have allowed Dallas residents who didn’t have American citizenship to serve on boards and commissions, failed mightily.

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Local News

Leading Off (05/03/2021)

| 3 days ago

Election Results Don’t Look Great For the Mayor. First off—and I hope if you bother to read these Leading Off posts that you are invested enough in this city that you actually voted, so this isn’t for you, but it most likely is for someone you know, so go and tell them—VOTE. It is embarrassing that so few people vote in these municipal elections. Under 10 percent of all registered voters participated in Saturday’s election, which is a joke. This is where more of the matters that actually affect you are decided, and the numbers are like a frisky student council race. Step it up, Dallas. Anyway, eight of the 11 incumbents on the council were re-elected, and three will have to stand for a runoff, with one (David Blewett) facing the biggest challenge. Three open seats (in districts 2, 11, and 13) will also be decided by runoff. Mayor Eric Johnson backed two challengers in districts 5 and 7, and they did quite poorly. Not great.

Mavs Swept By Kings. This is making me remember why I despised the Kings from like 2000 through 2006. Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle were both ejected with just 31 seconds remaining. Luka now has 15 technical fouls—one more and he will receive an automatic one-game suspension. The loss cost the Mavs the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. So super result all around.

Cowboys Draft Grades. I kind of checked out but it looked like it did not go so well.

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Local News

These 12 Dallas ZIP Codes Have Hit 80% Herd Immunity

| 6 days ago

Earlier this week, we learned that experts at the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation pushed back their estimate of when Dallas County might hit herd immunity—the point at which at least 80% of us will have either been vaccinated or already had COVID-19—to late June or July. That’s due largely to a dropping demand for vaccinations. Right now we’re at about 64% of that herd immunity threshold, Dr. Steve Miff told Channel 8.

The PCCI did name 12 ZIP codes that have already hit 80%, which include sparsely populated industrial areas (75247) as well as the two ZIP codes covering most of downtown Dallas. You’ll also find 75225, covering parts of North Dallas and University Park, which isn’t too surprising: White, wealthy residents have been immunized at higher rates in general, reflecting long-standing healthcare inequalities that have complicated the vaccine rollout. (The median household income in 75225 is $161,296, per U.S. Census data.)

I’m more intrigued by 75204 (parts of Old East Dallas and Uptown) and 75208 (parts of north Oak Cliff and a slice of West Dallas), which are relatively dense, relatively diverse, and have a broader mix of incomes—at least when compared to University Park. (The median household income in 75204 is about $81,000; it’s $63,000 in 75208.) But if there’s any single takeaway here, it’s that we have a lot of work to do in getting the vaccine to everybody who wants and needs it.

Because I’m a visual learner with a rudimentary knowledge of which ZIP codes are where, I looked up each of them on Google Maps, took screenshots, and uploaded the maps below for our edification. Here they are:

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