It didn’t begin with a phone call. That’s just when it became much more interesting. Early in his run against Ann Margolin for District 13’s open City Council seat, Brint Ryan, 45, was doing some shoe-leather politicking: walking blocks, knocking on doors, meeting his potential constituents. Behind one door, he came upon a neighbor of former councilmember Donna Blumer. After listening to Ryan’s pitch, the neighbor told him he was going to call Blumer to find out what his former representative had to say about all of this. Not later. Right then, with Ryan sitting in his living room. When Blumer found out Ryan was there, Blumer asked to speak with him. Blumer and Ryan more or less agree on the substance of their conversation: it’s not your time. “She was less than positive about my candidacy, and let’s leave it at that,” Ryan says. Blumer adds she was merely looking out for him and his family.
“I said he was too young, he had a lot of children”—Ryan and his wife have five kids—“and I tried to impress upon him how much time it takes to be a councilmember,” she says. “I said, ‘You don’t have time to run a business, to raise a family—the way it should be raised.’ During the eight years I was on Council, I didn’t go to a movie, I didn’t read a book for pleasure. I said, ‘It’s an all-consuming job, if you try to do it right. I said, ‘Why don’t you wait until your children are grown, and then run?’ ”
Blumer’s explanation works if you take it merely as a council veteran imparting hard-won wisdom to a candidate seeking to take her old job. But Blumer isn’t an impartial observer. She is, in fact, the honorary co-chair of Ann Margolin’s campaign. (She admits she never gave Margolin a similar lecture.)
Ryan was less than inclined to believe Blumer’s suggestion was benign. Thus kicked off what is shaping up to be the most expensive council race Dallas has ever seen, given that the candidates spent more than $80,000 before January even rolled around. (They need only to top the $300,000 range, pretty much a given at press time.) It’s also the only race where a man set to move into a $9.9 million home—and who has Tom Hicks as his campaign treasurer—can fairly be labeled an underdog. (And conversely, where a woman who lives in a house worth almost $2 million can claim populist status.) Beyond that it offers a look behind the curtain at how the mostly white, affluent North Dallas district engages in the sort of ward politics normally associated with the black southern sector. The kind of politics where there aren’t really elections so much as sanctioned transfers of power.
That is why the race for District 13 stands out, even though the upcoming City Council elections are rife with subplots and interesting characters, each race offering its own compelling narrative. Just to name two juicy races: in District 7, DISD trustee Ron Price and gun enthusiast Charles “Chazz” Redd are squaring off with incumbent Carolyn Davis in a campaign that promises no winners. And there is LeVar Thomas, the grandson of divisive former councilman Al Lipscomb, who has his eyes on Tennell Atkins’ spot in District 8.
The District 13 drama didn’t have to play out this way. Margolin’s showdown with Ryan could have been avoided if Blumer and others who tried to warn him off the campaign had done a little research.
Ryan made his money partly because he has a head for numbers and partly because he is hardheaded. At 27, he left a good job with Big Six accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand to strike out on his own. His former employers scoffed at the notion. Eighteen years later, Ryan & Co. has almost 800 employees and is the largest tax transaction practice in North America. No one tells Ryan what he can’t do.
“I’m the type of person that, yes, that does fire me up,” Ryan says. “It charges me up.”
It’s safe to say Ryan is sufficiently charged. Since he announced his candidacy—“I think the stars kind of aligned, in that there’s clearly a need, and I think my skill set meets that need in a lot of different respects,” he says—people have been telling him he can’t do it or, at least, that he shouldn’t.
Like Mitchell Rasansky, District 13’s current representative around the horseshoe and the other honorary co-chair of Margolin’s operation. He had a similar conversation with Ryan, when the candidate came to see him hoping to secure his endorsement. (Which goes to show you can run a multimillion-dollar company but still be naïve.) For an hour, Rasansky delivered the same message Blumer had: it’s not your time. Wait. Serve on a few boards. Then we can talk. That’s how Blumer did it, that’s how Rasansky did it, that’s how Margolin is doing it. What he didn’t say, but what is clear from the past decade and a half of North Dallas politics, is this: Ryan was cutting in the line of succession. Blumer passed her seat on to Rasansky (whom she had appointed to various boards and commissions), and he was passing his seat on to Margolin (whom he had appointed to various boards and commissions). She had waited her turn.
Margolin’s ascension was supposed to be easy. Ryan’s appearance changed the dynamic substantially. He has exploitable flaws, such as the raft of speeding tickets he has piled up over the last two decades, but they are minor. (About the tickets, Ryan says, “Well, it just proves that not all accountants are boring.” He owns a 2006 Aston Martin DB9 and a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo.)
Ryan is the last person Margolin—and Blumer and Rasansky—want in the race. He’s not part of their establishment, he’s stubborn, and he has both credentials and a pile of screw-you money. Even if Margolin wins, it’s going to cost a lot more to do so. It’s already costing them their patience. Ryan’s entry into the race has so upset the order of the way things were supposed to happen that it has Rasansky feeding reporters opposition research without prompting: “He has never voted. Period. Etched in stone. For anything. And you can check that.” In the same breath, he spins conspiracy theories.
“This man wants to buy an election,” Rasansky says. “He’s been asked to run.” By whom? “Who do you think? [Margolin] came out and said she was against the convention center hotel. Two weeks later, he decided to run.” In case I missed it, he later puts a fine point on it: Ryan is Mayor Tom Leppert’s hand-picked candidate, and the way Rasansky spits it out, he means Ryan is Leppert’s puppet. “I just hate to see somebody like this come in, but it’s a free world,” Rasansky says. “Anybody can throw their hat in.”
And in District 13, anyone can encourage that person to kindly pick up his hat and wait until he is asked to throw it back in. But Ryan doesn’t care.
“I guess my view of it is: the citizens of District 13 ought to choose their next representative,” he says, letting it linger there for a moment, “and not Mitchell Rasansky.”
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.