Sandra Crenshaw and FrontBurner go way back. In 2008, she was serving as a precinct chair in a presidential election. Some stuff went down. We wrote about it. Crenshaw jumped into the comments and wrote a 3,000-word account of her actions that involved a reference to Mountain Dew as “cactus juice,” which got its own entry on Urban Dictionary. Then, in 2014, after the Morning News endorsed Crenshaw in her bid for House District 110, we reported that an affidavit for an arrest warrant two years earlier had described how Crenshaw had rented a Nissan Versa from a Budget car rental near Love Field and refused to return it for three months. Her nephew said she was living in it. When the case was dismissed in 2013, court documents indicated Crenshaw was “mentally ill.”
You know what Crenshaw did when we reported all that? She wrote us a long note admitting that she’d had mental health issues. “There is a joke among genealogists that the easiest way to get research for your family tree is to run for office,” she wrote. “I believe and know now that the greatest way to bring exposure of the plight and discrimination against the mentally ill is for the mentally ill to run for office.” You can read the rest of her letter here.
So yeah. Sandra Crenshaw. I thought she was brave to publicly confront what she was dealing with. That was the last exchange I had with her, eight years ago.
Then this morning I saw that she’d gotten more votes than any of her three opponents in House District 100, the sprawling, gerrymandered district that Mayor Eric Johnson once represented. (The previous representative, Jasmine Crockett, is headed to a runoff for Eddie Bernice Johnson’s longtime congressional seat, in U.S. District 30.) Of the 8,428 ballots cast, Crenshaw got 2,883 or 34.2 percent. She’s now in a runoff with Venton Jones, a real estate agent endorsed by the News who got 728 fewer votes than Crenshaw.
That this is the first story specifically about what happened yesterday in the District 100 race (as far as I can tell) is a depressing reflection of the current state of local news media. I mean, according to her latest campaign filings, Crenshaw, who is her own treasurer and has no campaign website, accomplished this upset with just $500. By contrast, Jones spent about $20,000. This is awesome. Jones spent something on the order of $9.30 for every vote he got; Crenshaw spent 17 cents.
I gave her a call to ask how she did it.
First thing I learned is that Crenshaw has had two strokes, in 2019 and 2020. She apologized for her slow speech. I told her she sounded absolutely fine to me, which was the truth. “I still speak as well as Tennell does,” she joked, referring to District 8 Councilman Tennell Atkins, who occupies a seat she ran for in 2007. She told me, “We all knew Tennell had a stuttering habit. So he attended no debates.” She remains unafraid to say whatever is on her mind.
As for how she performed so well in the primary, Crenshaw said she works hard in the community—not just when she’s running for office. And her message about not ignoring mental health issues resonates with the people she meets. “Anytime I go somewhere, I usually have 10 or 15 people surrounding me, saying they are depressed, they are dealing with something,” Crenshaw said. “There’s no shame in getting help. White people do that.”
Early in our conversation, Crenshaw said her phone was blowing up with folks calling to congratulate her and that she couldn’t talk long; thirty-five minutes later, I was the one telling her I had a meeting and had to go. She had a lot to say about the 13th Amendment converting plantations into prisons, about how if she’d been enslaved she would have killed herself, how we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. Criminal justice reform, she said, is mainly what she has chosen to focus on during this run. Well, that and simply educating the folks in District 100 about how the electoral process works.
I asked her if she’d talked to either of the losing candidates about whom they’ll support in the runoff. Crenshaw said it was a bit early for that. Though she had talked to Marquis Hawkins before the election about what his plans were. “Marquis has always told me that if he didn’t make the runoff, he’s going to Mexico,” Crenshaw said. “He’s going fishing.”
Don’t expect to see Crenshaw debating Jones in this runoff race. She referred again to her compromised speech and said Jones would be too much for her to handle. “I can’t debate him,” she said. “Simply because you’re a good debater, though, that doesn’t mean you’re up on the issues. Just because you’re good at the lip doesn’t mean you have anything in the brain.”
She had me laughing. Before we hung up, I asked Crenshaw if she’d send me a photograph of herself. The only one we have on our server is from that 2008 dustup on election night, and it’s not very flattering. She went on about how the News recently used a screen grab of an old video of her speaking at City Council. It was blurry, and her eyes were closed. “I’m a pretty woman,” Crenshaw protested. “I get it from my mom.”
I don’t know what to tell you about this District 100 runoff. When I followed up with her this afternoon about the photo, I caught her leaving the MLK Jr. Community Center, where she said she took some teasing for pulling up her campaign signs to “recycle” them. If Sandra Crenshaw can get her hands on another $500, Venton Jones is going to have his work cut out for him.