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Local News

On Election Night, Eric Johnson Becomes Mayor and Scott Griggs Says Goodbye

| 1 week ago

At Eric Johnson’s election night party, the crowd, like the candidate, took its time. Maybe the group was so confident that they were willing to spend a few more minutes at home or pop over to another candidate’s gathering first. From here, the result seemed like a foregone conclusion. Johnson’s campaign had even printed the phrase “VICTORY PARTY” on the staff and media passes. Regardless, it made for a strange moment when early voting results appeared on the county’s election website at 7 p.m. The party had yet to take off, but Eric Johnson had won.

There were a few slow conversations at the sparsely populated tables inside the Fairmont Hotel’s International Ballroom, in downtown. One gentleman at a table was on his phone, maybe checking the results and maybe not. There had been months of buildup to this moment, with nine candidates, dozens of forums, millions of dollars spent. Johnson emerged with what proved to be an insurmountable lead—a full 7,000 votes up, 16 percentage points.

His opponent, North Oak Cliff Councilman Scott Griggs, hadn’t arrived at his own party when those results were published. His campaign had booked the historic Longhorn Ballroom in the Cedars, a 2,500-person venue that attracted maybe 250 to 300 during the peak of the night. At one point, the power even went out—an ominous sign. There had been hope that Griggs’ message resonated with voters in the month before the runoff election. The candidate courted support from the largest police and fire unions and called public safety his top concern. In May, there were 40 homicides in Dallas, the most in a single month in almost three decades. It became the headline-grabbing topic of the many debates—Griggs calling it a “crisis,” Johnson arguing that the mayor should instead keep a cool head about it.

The two had emerged as very different candidates, with Johnson courting support from the city’s business class. Griggs mostly stayed at the neighborhood level, garnering more donations in the runoff but about $500,000 less than his opponent. When there were nine people vying for your vote, it was tough to tell what set them apart. With two, you saw Griggs the policy wonk, a man who took to forums the depth of knowledge that comes with being a councilman for eight years, doing his best to avoid the alphabet soup of acronyms that sustains city policymakers. Johnson, meanwhile, spoke in broad terms about growing the tax base in southern Dallas and reforming the ethics policies at City Hall, a place where multiple council members had admitted to taking bribes in recent years. Johnson tied Griggs to his allies, namely the hawk-eyed but volatile Councilman Philip Kingston, whose bombast Johnson said was partly why he decided to seek the mayor’s seat in the first place.

Johnson argued that he was the man to bring the city together, that Kingston and Griggs had done more to create an unhelpful us-versus-them atmosphere.

Like in any Dallas municipal election, you are speaking to a narrow slice of registered voters. About 10 percent of the registered voters went to the polls. So true or not, Johnson’s pitch was welcomed by far more. By the end of the night, Johnson had vanquished Griggs by 11 percentage points, and Kingston had been defeated by a man whom he had beaten easily in 2013, the mortgage banker and father of seven David Blewett.

“I saw my city at a turning point,” Johnson said. “At a very, very important juncture in its history where we had a choice to make as to whether or not we were going to double down on division and name calling and lack of decorum and lack of unity of purpose and lack of unity of spirit. Or we were going to change direction?”

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Outdoors

Take Your Dog Hiking on These Dallas Trails

| 2 weeks ago

My 9-year-old Husky/Malamute mix, Chaco, was rescued from a puppy mill when he was around five. He was used for breeding, and was chained up most of his life. His front teeth are completely worn down from his efforts to chew through those chains. He has skin issues, which are a result of the mange he was found in. And he never stops pacing.

The rescue group we got him from, Samoyed Rescue of Texas, spent a year rehabilitating him. And then, for reasons I still don’t understand, they trusted us with him.

We are eternally grateful. Chaco is the most amazing dog. He has sad brown eyes, huge paws, and is often confused for a wolf. For some reason, a few months ago, he decided that strangers are more than okay, they’re great. He no longer hides from scratches; he demands them.

But his favorite place is on any trail that allows a little freedom and many, many smells.

So that has led my husband and I (and our pack: besides Chaco, we also have Reno and Ecco) on a path of exploring Dallas’ most dog-friendly trails. Below are Chaco’s favorite trails in Dallas. He understands that this list is by no means comprehensive, and would love to hear where you and your pups go to explore.

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Business

Suzy Batiz Is the Ethereal CEO

| 2 weeks ago

It’s not unheard of for a new product to quickly sell out. Trader Joe’s often seems to be out of whatever specialty item you’re looking for. Perhaps by design, streetwear brand Supreme’s new t-shirt lines tend to rapidly disappear after a “drop.” But cleaning supplies, historically a less-than-sexy product, don’t always fly off the shelves. At least not until October of 2018, when Suzy Batiz’s Supernatural, an essential oils-based natural cleaner, sold out within two hours on Goop.com. After partnering with Batiz ahead of Supernatural’s official launch, the team at Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand had ordered what they assumed would be a three-to-five-month supply. It was gone within two hours.

Supernatural’s thoughtful branding may have played a role. Dallas-based Batiz is also the entrepreneur behind Poo-Pourri, an odor-eliminating toilet spray that boasts the wittiest scatological-related ads of our time, and whose purposefully pretty packaging (to counteract the odure of it all) resembles an antique French perfume container. With Supernatural, Batiz didn’t have to tackle toilet humor, but she still took an aesthetically appealing approach—reusable glass bottles pair with iridescent vials of essential oil concentrates for bath and tile, wood and floors, counters and granite, and glass and mirrors—with just a touch of provocation. (Packaging on one bottle teases, “then turn me around and open gently.”)

But the swapping of scatological puns for earthy and ethereal vibes and visuals doesn’t just speak to the change of focus from toilets to tile, but to the current state of mind of an entrepreneur who has spent more than a decade earning the freedom to execute a radical new vision. Just before the idea for Poo-Pourri came to Batiz, she declared bankruptcy for a second time in her life. (The first was after inventory ran out at a bridal shop a teenage Batiz bought in her small hometown in Arkansas.) “I had really just given up,” she recalls. “I didn’t want anything to do with the business world.”

Batiz took a sabbatical and focused on yoga and painting. She visited a hypnotherapist who pointed out that she lacked a spiritual connection to anything in life. She picked up a book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and began an inner journey. “I had always been so focused on living life and surviving, I never really thought about those bigger questions like, ‘What am I doing here? Who am I?’” Batiz says. “When the idea for Poo-Pourri came along, I felt alive. I entered the business world differently, thinking, ‘I’m going to have fun. I’m going to do what I want, because I know I can lose everything at any moment.’”

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Travel

The 10 Best Weekend Escapes Within a Drive From Dallas

| 3 weeks ago

Basecamp Terlingua

West Texas

The last hour of the long drive to Terlingua, after you pass through the tiny town of Alpine and exit civilization, reminds you why you have sought out the remotest corner of Texas. Highway 118 winds up through the foothills of the Davis Mountains before leading down into the expansive flat of the Chihuahua Desert. The road runs straight as a gun barrel through the wide-open landscape, and mountains that loom on either side welcome you into the majesty of Big Bend country.

Big Bend is as rugged as it is beautiful, which has long meant that its natural wonders were reserved for adventurous sorts who pack a tent or brave the limited, Spartan lodging in the area. More recently, Airbnb has made finding a place to stay a little easier. But earlier this year, Basecamp Terlingua, a new “rustic resort” right on the outskirts of the tiny Terlingua Ghost Town, introduced a way to experience the scenery of Big Bend with some of the creature comforts of a luxury hotel.

Basecamp Terlingua offers a range of accommodations, from tepees and lotus tents decked out with queen-size beds, minifridges, and Keurig coffee makers, to campsites outfitted with power and USB outlets, running water, wifi, and a nearby bathhouse. But the highlights of the resort are the two Basecamp Bubbles. Designed by the French company BubbleTree, the air-conditioned inflatable plastic spheres sit on concrete bases sunken into the soft undulation of the desert floor. In a landscape that itself looks somewhat Martian, the bubbles look like lunar stations out of a 1960s sci-fi film. They share all the tents’ and tepees’ amenities with one critical bonus: they have a window to the heavens. In the morning, while lying in bed, you can see the sun peek out over the distant Chisos Mountains. In the evening, after relaxing around a campfire in the pit dug just outside the bubble, you can crawl under the covers and still watch the stars emerge.

It’s like camping in a hammock, but with the comfort of cool air, showers, and high-thread-count sheets. And the location can’t be beat. A drive to the east leads straight into Big Bend National Park. To the west, there’s the underappreciated but no less spectacular Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are outfitters in town who can fix you up with your desert sport of choice: canoeing, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking (even small airplane tours). And don’t overlook the treasures of Terlingua, including two of the best watering holes in Texas: the famous Starlight Theatre Restaurant & Saloon and the evocative, cavelike La Kiva bar. Peter Simek

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Advice

7 Easy Lessons on Winning Negotiations

| 1 month ago

#1—You’ve Got to Know When to Run

I have a special place in my heart for Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler,” due to a memorable client experience from many years ago. Our client was trying to acquire a major competitor. At the target company’s invitation, we traveled to meet in the offices of its lawyers.

The meeting did not go as expected. Not too long after it got started, the lawyers for the company started asking my client about his conduct involving the business operations of the target company. Based on their line of questions, it sounded to me that they had a beef with my client for interfering with the target company’s business. That was further confirmed a little later, when the target company’s lawyers indicated that they were litigators and not merger and acquisition lawyers like me. That is when it became clear that they were trying to figure out what claims the target company had against my client. So I then hurriedly suggested that we break into two separate groups for lunch so that each group could go over what we had discussed in the morning.

As soon as they left the conference room, I told my client, “Pack up your stuff right now! We need to get out of here. This meeting is not about them selling their company to you. It is about them suing you right here in their backyard for tortious interference with their business. I bet that if we stick around here much longer, a deputy sheriff is likely to walk in and serve you with a lawsuit.”

He got the message. We quietly ducked out of the conference room and ran down several flights of stairs to the street, where we hailed a cab and headed straightaway to the airport. We were safely back in Dallas in just a few hours.

The takeaway from this story is mirrored in the familiar lyrics of “The Gambler”: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

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Business

Former Rodeo Star Ricky Bolin Has Big Plans for Stetson

| 1 month ago

Ricky Bolin was 15 years old when he bought his second car. It was the same year he graduated from amateur rodeos to riding professionally—a rare exception granted before the age-18 minimum, with support from Neal Gay and Jim Shoulders, both members of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

The new ride replaced the Buick LeSabre he bought when he was 14, which came with a license plate that read “HA T750.” Even back then, Bolin had the feeling it meant something. “It wasn’t a vanity plate or anything; it had to be a direction,” he says. “I’ve always remembered that.”

Today, Bolin heads up operations at Hatco Inc., which produces a million hats a year for brands such as Resistol, Charlie 1 Horse, and Stetson, arguably the most well-known hat in the world. Every hat is handcrafted in the company’s factory and headquarters in Garland, but the brands they fall under are entirely their own. Resistol, the oldest sponsor of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, targets the working cowboy and country music fans, with collections from both George Strait and Jason Aldean. The more fashion-minded Charlie 1 Horse, founded in the 1970s and made famous by wearers such as Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, and retired NASCAR driver Richard Petty, are finished off in a special corner of the factory, where hand-cut leathers, beaded headbands, and feathers are added to give the hats their own distinct themes and personalities.

“I have a lot of opportunity to put my opinion in for Stetson and Resistol’s Western hats, but when it comes to Charlie 1 Horse, I pretty much keep my mouth shut,” Bolin says with a laugh.

Hatco purchased the license to manufacture Stetson in the 1980s. The brand was founded nearly 160 years ago by John B. Stetson. It was famously worn by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood in Old Westerns, and more recently by John Travolta in Urban Cowboy, Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, and even Madonna, during her early 2000s cowgirl phase.

Stetson’s sales success has fluctuated through the years, but its recognition has never faltered. “I’ll pinch myself every morning, to think that I could be part of a product that’s known all over,” Bolin says.

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Outdoors

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Dallas

| 1 month ago

For many years I’ve heard people say there’s no hiking in Dallas. This list is my retort.

The hiking trails here share several things in common. They all include hiking on natural surfaces—not just concrete. Most are long enough that you can get some exercise. There are notable natural features. All offer a sense of isolation and peace. All can be reached within 30 minutes from the heart of Dallas. And I’ve hiked and enjoyed every single one, some quite often.

To go beyond the Katy Trail and find Dallas’ hidden beauty, all you need is a sense of adventure, some planning, and good walking shoes. Every single season I see wildflowers, beautiful towering trees, fall colors, flowering shrubs, clear streams running over limestone, and an abundance of birds. This winter, deep in a forest, I watched great horned owls.

While it’s true we don’t border a national forest, we do have the largest bottomland, hardwood urban forest in the U.S. It was given the name Great Trinity Forest by the late naturalist Ned Fritz. A small, intrepid group of us hike there most weekends.

Before we get to the trails, it’s worth it to run through a few words of warning. Some of the trails are poorly marked and maintained. Spring Creek Forest Preserve, Cedar Ridge Preserve, and Dogwood Canyon have very active groups who do trail building and maintenance. Those hikes offer better laid out and clearer trails. But on most of these trails, there is very little signage, if any. On that point, a quick note to the city: while we continue to mull over multimillion-dollar trails throughout Dallas, the city would do well to consider the outsized return on investment available in simply putting up some cheap signage. But in the list that follows, I’ve tried to include notes to counteract this deficiency.

These are urban hikes. Because of this it’s likely you’ll encounter the trash that is a ubiquitous sign of modern urban life. Poison Ivy is abundant. (Leaves of three….Let it Be…Let It Be…Let it Be…whisper words of wisdom.). And we have all the Texas varieties of venomous snakes; all of them can be avoided by just watching your step or reach. More hazardous are loose limbs, which can cause tripping or can themselves fall without warning. None of this should keep you from getting out there and taking in Dallas-Fort Worth’s natural offerings.

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Local News

Scott Griggs Is Betting It All in the Runoff

| 1 month ago

Scott Griggs is late. It’s a little after 7 p.m. on Saturday, and early voting returns have just been published. The term-limited councilman begins in second place in the mayoral race, trailing only the state Rep. Eric Johnson. Everyone at Trees seems to understand that Griggs is set; turnout will be low, and the molehill of a lead Griggs has is probably still too much for anyone to climb. So maybe it doesn’t matter that he isn’t here, and that he won’t be here for another two hours.

The cocktail tables are full of supporters munching on tacos and nachos and trying to avoid dribbling the food on their phones, which are all zoomed into the county’s election website. The curiosity at this point is focused on Lynn McBee, the volunteer and nonprofit CEO who is behind Griggs by a hair under three percentage points. The other curiosity is Councilman Philip Kingston, Griggs’ closest ally who began early voting at a 200-vote deficit to former SMU football player David Blewett.

But first, McBee. District 13, the Preston Hollow enclave that has attracted voters like something resembling a magnet, has only a handful of precincts reporting. The collective wisdom is that high turnout in this district and its neighbors will benefit McBee and developer Mike Ablon, who lives there. Ablon’s immediately in fourth, about 800 votes behind McBee and just under 2,000 below Griggs. Only 45,635 people voted early. Eight hundred votes is a lot to make up when you’re spreading out votes like bird seed.

“I’m feeling good about tonight,” says Councilman Adam Medrano, another Griggs buddy who cruised to an easy victory in District 2. His face is in his phone. I ask if he’s worried about Kingston. “I mean, yeah, but we’ll be all right.”

Kingston is at the bar speaking to a few people, nursing a beer. “Let me talk to you a little later,” he says. Omar Narvaez is here, too. It’s sort of his celebration as well, a progressive bloc party. He was challenged in his West Dallas district by the woman he ousted two years ago, Monica Alonzo. Like Medrano, he won easily. “I declare victory already,” he says a little before 8 p.m. “I did what I came to do.”

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Local News

Miguel Solis Did Not Make the Runoff, But He Will Take His Campaign With Him

| 1 month ago

Miguel Solis’ campaign ended where his career began. The mayoral hopeful and his treasurer, Chequan Lewis, started their Election Day by greeting voters about 100 feet away from the Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy, the middle school where Solis realized he wanted to teach. Until then, on the advice of his mother, he had wanted to practice law. “I used to tell him that all the time, ‘You need to be an attorney because all you want to do is argue with me,’” his mother, Sherrlyn Solis, remembers.

That dream faded. The young teacher, inspired after serving as a staff member on President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, found a home at the front of a classroom. Some of his students even joked that one day  young Mr. Solis would become president. First, he became the youngest trustee to serve on the Dallas Independent School District’s board. Now he wanted to be mayor.

“Hello, my name is Miguel Solis,” the 32-year-old candidate would say, over and over, always flashing an easy smile to passing voters. “I’m running to be your next mayor. I hope you consider me.” Some recognized Solis and shook his hand. Others smiled as they walked by. “Vote for Solis,” Lewis would add.

This dance between candidate, campaign treasurer, and voters repeated for the entire day. From the cool morning outside of Thomas C. Marsh that smelled of wet grass, to the breezy afternoon outside of Unity Church of Dallas. They stood under the shade of trees and used their hands to block out the afternoon sun. They killed time between pitching themselves to voters by quoting poetry—William Ernest Henley’s Invictus that speaks of an unconquerable soul and Tennyson’s Ulysses—and talking about the merits of the Wu-Tang Clan. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Solis and Lewis stopped and visited no fewer than 10 polling stations.

It became Pavlovian. See a car and wave while wiggling that orange “Miguel Solis for Mayor, Together for Dallas” sign. See a person and say hello; if you’re close enough, shake their hand. “Hello, my name is Miguel Solis,” the candidate would repeat countless times, like he has for months.

The years of dreaming and talking, the months since January when Solis announced his candidacy at a small home turned community center in Dolphin Heights, was coming to an end. Perhaps, with this end, something new would begin.

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Civics

Ernest McMillan Continues His Life Long Fight

| 2 months ago

It’s March 23, and Ernest McMillan is in an empty church gym in Far East Dallas. It’s barely big enough for a good half-court game, mostly a place to store mismatched stacks of chairs. How many times has Ernest been in a room like this? Hundreds? It has to be in the thousands now, after almost 60 years. These are the places where the hard work of community organizing happens, and even though it is a relatively new battleground for Ernest—environmental justice—he knows how to do that. So he’s here, even when most people wouldn’t be.

When would you have stopped? When you came home from Georgia and Alabama in the ’60s with post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms because you half-expected to disappear every day for two years, to wind up at the end of a rope or buried in an earthen dam? When you couldn’t leave your mother’s house, couldn’t even get out of bed, for three months? When you were forced to run to Canada, then France, then various African countries, then Cincinnati, of all places? When you lost three years of your life to prison, all over a broken bottle of milk, just because you wanted something better for your people?

Even now, at “nearly three-quarters of a century,” as he puts it, Ernest has not stopped. His hair, once a storm cloud hovering above his head, has retreated to a horizon closer to his ears, but his face is mostly unlined and he’s trim in a gray t-shirt and black cargo pants. He still has the same energy. He has set up a carafe of coffee on one table and a box of doughnuts on another, and between them are copies of the agenda for this morning’s meeting of the Dallas Environmental Justice Network and a neat stack of handouts that explain the four roles of social change—helper, advocate, change agent, rebel.

But maybe Ernest should give the people who show up this morning—young activists like Temeckia Derrough from Joppa—a copy of his story instead. Because he has played all those roles at some point over the past six decades. He’s seen how things have changed and how they haven’t, and that’s why he is still putting in the work.

Helper, advocate, change agent, rebel: McMillan has played every role in the fight for social change during his six decades of involvement, beginning with “stand-ins” at segregated theaters in downtown Dallas in the 1950s.

“He is a very skilled facilitator of conversation,” says Bill Holston, executive director of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. “How Ernest calls people to dialogue and collaboration are skills he learned the hard way in the hardest days of civil rights activism. I respect him completely. We are fortunate that he has not hung up his activist label. We need him more than ever.”

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History

Oak Cliff Eyes the Mayor’s Seat. In 1990, Some Wanted Out of Dallas.

| 2 months ago

In 1990, Oak Cliff tried to split from Dallas. After decades of City Hall mismanagement and neglect, some residents felt the Cliff would be better on its own. Writing in the Dallas Morning News amid the furor over de-annexation, journalist Bill Minutaglio compared the proposal to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In his estimation, Oak Cliff secessionists wanted to turn their neighborhood into a “Lithuania-on-the-Trinity.” Cold War humor aside, the statement contains a larger truth.

Oak Cliff has been called a lot of things. It was once “the Southwest’s greatest playground.” Later, it was the city’s “red headed step child” or “Dallas’ own Jerusalem.” Then there was that reference to a Baltic republic. What runs through those comparisons is that something was just a little different here. It was a neighborhood a bit out of step with the rest of the city. Maybe Oak Cliff just hasn’t quite been Dallas enough for Dallas. This view has, historically, permeated City Hall. For decades city leaders have been all too comfortable disregarding the black and brown residents who have long called Oak Cliff home. The hardening lines between the north and south of this city have left folks below Interstate 30 wanting reflective representation on the City Council and improved access to city services.

Later this year, they may have one of their own in the middle seat of the council’s horseshoe.

As this May’s election draws closer, some candidates in the race to succeed Mayor Mike Rawlings have deep ties to Oak Cliff. Scott Griggs has represented North Oak Cliff on the City Council since 2011. Albert Black grew up in South Dallas and built a successful business in Oak Cliff years later. Jason Villalba is an Oak Cliff native, but now lives in North Dallas. This isn’t the first time, either. Former Mayor Laura Miller called North Oak Cliff home before she moved to Preston Hollow.

Historically, Oak Cliff residents have been uncomfortable with their second-class status in the city. Change has been halting, incremental, and incomplete.

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