As of Friday, with Election Day happening today, just 804 people have voted in the special election runoff to determine District 4’s next City Council member. This is the Oak Cliff slot vacated by Dwaine Caraway, who stepped down in August as he pled guilty to felony corruption charges.
The lackluster numbers come after a whopping 14,297 people cast votes in the District 4 special election in November. At that point, 13 candidates were involved. Previous Council member Carolyn King Arnold and activist Keyaira Saunders received the most votes, but neither won a majority, so the decider became this mid-December runoff.
In 2017, Caraway edged Arnold by taking 1,760 votes compared to her 1,553. District 4 did not require a runoff that year, but the ones associated with that election—Districts 6, 7, and 8—yielded between 2,000 and 2,500 votes, give or take. It would require an unlikely final push to reach those numbers this year; during those runoffs—which were in June—only about 18 percent of the total vote came on election day.
But despite the poor turnout, there is plenty at stake here for the slice of Oak Cliff covered by District 4, and for the rest of Dallas. The winner holds influence during a crucial five-month stretch for the city, leading up to the election of a new mayor, while grabbing an inside track to their own re-election for a full two-year term in May.
All things considered, the candidates are quite dissimilar. Arnold, 65, comes in with a couple years of Council experience, having served D4 from 2015 to 2017. Her appearances in our archives from that time are not what you’d consider flattering. She was widely criticized for opposing the deck park that linked North Oak Cliff and the zoo.
For this election, she’s putting housing, job training programs, strengthening community policing, and developing a public safety plan to address the root causes of crime among her top priorities. She has boasted about her experience during her campaign against the 29-year-old Saunders, but she didn’t return a call from us seeking more information about her platform.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Saunders comes from a background in activism, having been a part of the founding of the Next Generation Action Network, which you may recognize as having organized protests in the wake of Botham Jean’s shooting death earlier this year. She ran in 2015 and garnered just 177 votes, about 6 percent of the total and good enough for fifth place among those that ran, but surprised by earning 17 percent of the vote in November.
In an interview with D, Saunders didn’t dive into specific policy issues so much as run through the boiler plates: “The issues are the same, and it seems its been that way for some time now. People are concerned about the roads, beautification projects, crime, safety, jobs.” She said that she wants to make sure her community gets the little things right, such as sidewalk access. And she also spoke openly about her desire to serve a community she feels she so closely represents, a point that was turned against her, she says, in the Dallas Morning News’ endorsement of her opponent.
The DMN gave the nod to Arnold while calling out Saunders’ past financial struggles:
More concerning, court records from Collin and Denton counties indicate apartment complexes have sought to evict Saunders in recent years. A mother of three children, Saunders said she had fallen on hard times financially but settled debts and was never evicted. Nonetheless, we find this troubling.
On the phone, Saunders became emotional talking about that time in her life, which she says was a convergence of several factors—she lost her job, her life partner (outspoken activist Dominique Alexander) was in jail, and her grandmother died of a brain aneurysm. She says overcoming those difficulties should be seen as a positive.
“I’m a representative of my community because I’ve experienced most of the hardships that my community has,” says Saunders. “We expect people that can’t relate to lead us. That doesn’t make sense.”
We’ll find out tonight where District 4 stands—at least the residents who make it to the polls.