Wave goodbye to the worst-kept secret in local city politics: developer Mike Ablon is indeed running for mayor.
The man who many know for his work in the Design District had filed paperwork with the city secretary just before Thanksgiving to appoint a treasurer and begin raising and spending money on his campaign. But he didn’t indicate which position he was running for. Plenty of folks would say on background that he wanted to be mayor, and Ablon was easy to spot in rooms with other candidates. But he didn’t address it publicly until Wednesday, when his campaign sent out a press release announcing his run.
“I’m the lucky one that’s a fifth generation Dallas person,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “My family came to Dallas in the 1880s. They walked here from Galveston and raised a family. … When you work here, train here, raise your family here, and start your businesses here in Dallas-Fort Worth, you start accruing some skills to put to the benefit of the community that nurtured you.”
Ablon joins a race that has added three others since he filed his paperwork. Former City Attorney Larry Casto is in, as is former Children’s Health general counsel and Hillary Clinton aide Regina Montoya. The well-known volunteer and ever-present nonprofit board member Lynn McBee has also filed to run. Oak Cliff businessman Albert Black filed way back in July.
Ablon became involved in politics just this year after a career as a real estate developer, with his firm PegasusAblon. The mayor appointed him to head the local government corporation that oversees what gets built within the 20,000-acre Trinity River floodway. Ablon said he stepped down on December 7, as the city charter bars mayoral candidates from occupying appointed positions. (Black also resigned from chairing the Dallas Housing Authority.)
Expect to hear a lot from Ablon about the importance of neighborhoods.
“We look at a skyline, but we live in neighborhoods,” he said. “You revitalize the neighborhoods, you build in the neighborhoods, and those form the fabric of our lives. This includes everything—the fixing of the roads, the improved transportation and access … supporting police and fire so our families are safer, and giving a helping hand to schools so the district can evolve into what it can be and should be.”
He points to the success of the Design District as evidence that he can do it. In 2007, his firm joined with investment group Lionstone to buy up 40 acres of land and 700,000 square feet of showroom space. The city invested in new infrastructure—sewer and water lines and roads and sidewalks—and Ablon brought in housing, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. He kept the design supply stores, galleries, and antique shops, but what once offered little else to folks who weren’t designers and homebuilders became a vibrant neighborhood with a variety of uses—albeit, those leaning toward the higher-end. Ablon sold his stake in the neighborhood in 2014.
Indeed, his press release cites his plan to focus on “expediting road and sidewalk improvements, providing better transportation services so residents can more easily get to work and healthcare, and making sure public school children get the after school assistance they need.” There are many neighborhoods in Dallas that will need much more attention than the Design District. Some lack even basic services.
“We have neighborhoods that the future of a child can sometimes be predicted by their ZIP code and that’s not acceptable,” he said, discussing how Dallas has the third highest child poverty rate in the nation. “We need to tell these neighborhoods we see you, you’re our neighbors and it’s a whole city. They need to enjoy in the measure of success we all have; every neighborhood in every part of Dallas needs to have a fair chance.”
In the interview, Ablon said one of his priorities was to address food deserts. He called for affordable housing to be located in “unaffordable areas.” He said he wanted to meet with DART officials to determine ways to shuttle people to and from job centers. He spoke frequently of figuring out ways to “integrate the fabric of the city,” both by doing big things like tearing out IH-345 (“that highway should be re-evaluated completely as opposed to just rebuilt the way it is”) and smaller ones, like improving bus routes.
“To not have our DART focused on what we have a need for at the moment is a tragic mistake, and if we don’t plan for the future it’s a tragic mistake,” he said. “We have to have a city fabric that works.”
He emphasized his support for the police and fire departments, pledging to forgo $20,000 of the mayor’s $80,000 salary and donate it to “nonprofits that assist the families of public safety officers injured or killed in the line of duty.” But the budget is the budget. The city of Dallas has about 600 fewer officers than it did in 2010, despite having added more than 100,000 residents. This year, the City Council approved a nominal tax increase to its current rate, which got the department another $16 million. City staff has said it will use that additional money to negotiate higher pay for officers, many of whom are leaving Dallas for the safer and higher paying suburbs.
Ablon says he will advocate for policies that stitch the city back together, opening opportunity for businesses and services in parts of town that lack those things. But the weak mayor system that Dallas has puts the mayor in an odd position. Ablon says he views the role primarily “to bring people together to get things done.” He called the position “a consensus builder,” and said that’s what he does as a developer—coordinating financing, construction, design, and permitting.
“Nothing works unless all of it works. You have to be a holistic thinker to build neighborhoods like the Design District. You have to be a holistic thinker to understand what people really need and what they want and then (determine) how we give them what they need and what they want,” he said. “More jobs grow the pie, they grow the revenue base, and that revenue base allows us to hire more police officers.”
The election is just five months away.