The general election for Dallas mayor and city council is May 6. This is one of several stories giving voters an overview of the battles for the 15 seats before the start of the early voting period, which runs from April 24 to May 2.
Experience is at the heart of the Dallas City Council District 1 race to represent North Oak Cliff.
Incumbent Chad West draws heavily on his record and community experience as a two-term councilman in his message to voters that the district needs to maintain a steady hand to make progress on affordable housing, protections for longtime residents from gentrification, and ensuring that important projects be included for funding in the upcoming 2024 bond election to pay for streets, city buildings and other infrastructure improvements.
“For this next term, the key is to have someone ready to go and make sure District 1 gets what it needs,” West, 46, said.
But his two opponents say West’s lack of shared life experience with the heavily Hispanic district has led to uneven representation and left many residents feeling left out. Mariana Griggs and Albert Mata, who are both Hispanic, say that even being able to communicate directly in Spanish with residents can help many feel that their concerns are being heard by City Hall and that they are well informed about developments they need to know.
District 1 has among the highest populations of Hispanic residents in Dallas — 76% Hispanic, 15% white, 6% black, less than 1% Asian and nearly 2% other, according to demographic estimates of the city’s population — but has not had a representative of Hispanic descent since 2013.
“We’re a tale of two districts,” said Griggs, 46. “North of Jefferson (Boulevard) is more engaged, and south of Jefferson is not yet engaged. We need someone to bring them together, and I think the engagement will come to drive the needs of society as a whole.”
Mata noted that a handful of majority-white neighborhoods in the northern half of the district have driven voter turnout in recent years. He said he doesn’t think most Hispanic residents don’t care to vote, it’s that they don’t get enough reason to vote.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Mata, 29. “Candidates don’t invest the time and effort to go into these neighborhoods and canvass because the residents don’t vote. But they don’t vote as much as we want them to, because when we govern, we do not consider these neighborhoods, seek out or appear in these areas.”
Griggs and Mata are running for Dallas city council for the first time. The parliamentary election will be the first since the city’s 14 districts were changed after the last census. District 1’s boundaries remained largely the same, but have expanded westward completely around Cockrell Hill, extending north of West Davis Street.
There was a push last spring by several members of the city’s Redistricting Commission to redraw District 1’s boundaries to move much of the northern half of the area, such as the Bishop Arts District, Kessler Park and Stevens Park, to nearby District 14, where white residents make up the majority.
Removing the Kessler Stevens precinct, where voters are mostly white and cast ballots at a rate higher than the city’s average turnout, could lead to better chances for a Hispanic candidate to be elected in District 1, supporters of the failed proposal said .
The two neighborhoods were new additions to District 1 when the boundaries were last changed in 2011. Then-district council representative Delia Jasso expressed concern that the inclusion could cause her to lose the seat and make it unlikely for a Hispanic candidate to win.
Her then-council colleague Scott Griggs, who was married at the time to Mariana Griggs, also noted before the 2011 map was approved that it could lead to less Hispanic representation on the city council.
Scott Griggs, who is white, ran against Jasso, who is Hispanic, in the 2013 District 1 race and won. He would continue to represent District 1 until 2019 when he left the position to run for mayor, but lost in a runoff to Mayor Eric Johnson.
West, who is also white, was first elected in 2019, and had previously been appointed by Scott Griggs to the City Planning Commission and the city’s bond panel.
An advocate for housing, bicycling and road safety, West is a U.S. Army veteran who has lived in the district for nearly 15 years. He operates at least four car washes in North and Central Texas and describes himself as a “winning attorney” after closing his personal injury and criminal defense law firm late last year. He has also previously been appointed to the city council as mayor pro tem, and is a former chairman of the Housing and Housing Committee.
Among his recent accomplishments, West points to leading efforts to help residents get their trash picked up after delays in city service, and pushing for some redesigned roads in the district to increase safety for drivers and pedestrians. He also highlighted the approval of the West Oak Cliff Area Plan, an initiative he led to address the concerns of longtime mostly Hispanic residents seeking protection for their neighborhoods as they face increasing pressure from rising property taxes, gentrification and redevelopment in the Bishop Arts District.
“I don’t see it being about race. I have seen that our district just wants a qualified candidate,” West said. “The people who take the time to show up to vote, they need to make sure the person they’re voting for is qualified and represents their values.”
Mata, a community activist born and raised in Oak Cliff who helped create the Latino community engagement nonprofit Somos Tejas, said he believes more outreach is needed in the southern half of the district. The traffic-calming initiatives West pushed for have passed through the northern half of the district, Mata said, and the West Oak Cliff area plan initially lacked input from many people who would be affected.
The plan had been in the works since 2020, but a July 2022 draft called for the rezoning of the 5 square kilometer area to ban new auto repair shops and auto shops. Most of the owners of the existing businesses in Oak Cliff are Hispanic.
Mata helped lead the effort to notify business owners of the proposal, which led to its later removal. Owner of car workshop told Dallas Morning News last summer that he and Mata went from store to store to collect signatures on the petition, and most other business owners and employees did not know what the West Oak Cliff Area Plan was.
“I’m the only candidate who has a track record of getting people who have historically been left out and socially disengaged engaged,” Mata said. “With a community like this, you have to be very deliberate and take different approaches to make sure you actually reach them, and I know how to do that.”
Mata said his priorities would be to focus on increasing regular communication in the city and City Hall with residents in English and Spanish, and to advocate for policies intended to add more housing without displacing residents, businesses and culture in established neighborhoods, and increasing the amount of parks. and green areas.
Mariana Griggs, a substitute teacher and also a community activist, has lived in Oak Cliff for 20 years. She previously worked for the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, has volunteered at The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, the Dallas Zoo and on her ex-husband’s mayoral campaign. She advocates cycling and community gardens.
Citing her familiarity with City Hall and the district among what she hopes to bring to the table if elected, she said she would focus on increasing community strength across North Oak Cliff. If more residents are taught how city hall works and how to make their voice heard, it can help make representation more fair, she said.
“I have no interest in dictating anything, because I feel my role on the City Council will be to help facilitate and teach,” Griggs said. “I feel like I need to focus on letting the community advocate for itself and making sure everyone knows how to do that.”