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?”Read More