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Dallas’ next mayor will be either Texas Rep. Eric Johnson or City Council member Scott Griggs after the two emerged from Saturday’s election as the top two finishers in a crowded race.
That means Johnson — the son of West Dallas backed by the city’s business elite — and Griggs — an anti-establishment leader known for his opposition to big projects — will spend the next month before the June runoff in a high-profile contest to replace term-limited Mayor Mike Rawlings.
Johnson, 43, finished first, comfortably ahead of the field, while Griggs, 44, held off nonprofit CEO Lynn McBee to make the next round in June.
"Nobody loves this city more than I do," Johnson said Saturday night. "I’ve know that I wanted to spend my life in Dallas since I was a kid. … It’s an honor to have the opportunity to possible represent the city I love as mayor."
At his election night party, Griggs thanked volunteers and stuck to his usual script.
"I am excited about the runoff and ask that voters stay engaged," he said.
Scott Griggs greeted supporters at Tree in Dallas Saturday night as he waited for final election results to make sure he had made the runoff in the mayor’s race.
Johnson has been in the Legislature since 2010 and Griggs on the council since 2011. After Saturday’s result, it’s clear that the veteran politicos — both lawyers — were able to mine their bases and outmaneuver the competition, perhaps through experience.
If Johnson wins, he’ll become the city’s second elected black mayor, after Ron Kirk’s historic 1995 effort. And Griggs would be the first mayor from Oak Cliff since Laura Miller beat Tom Dunning in a 2002 special election.
"It’s been interesting and very unlike past mayoral races that have seemed clearer," said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. "Most of the Dallas money will flow to Johnson, who says he’ll balance the need for development with stable neighborhoods. Griggs will cast himself as more neighborhood-oriented."
Dallas political consultant and former city election manager Brooks Love agreed, saying familiar alliances would emerge in the runoff.
"You’re going to have white progressives vs. the African-American community and North Dallas business community. He would put together the Ron Kirk coalition again," Love said of Johnson. "Griggs’ main line of attack will be ‘Johnson is a Citizens Council guy,’ and Johnson will cast himself as a candidate with broad support who can unite the city."
Johnson’s political career began with a 2010 state House primary win over Terri Hodge, who had resigned after pleading guilty to tax evasion in a City Hall public corruption probe but whose name remained on the primary ballot, with some of her allies campaigning for her anyway.
He was most recently re-elected to the Legislature last year, when he beat former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw.
The lawmaker’s 11th-hour mayoral candidacy caught the Dallas political establishment — and his rivals — by surprise. Candidates who had been in the race for months watched as Johnson went on a torrid fundraising binge in which he hauled in hundreds of thousands of dollars, including big money from the city’s business elite.
Raised in West Dallas and a product of the Greenhill School, Johnson steamrolled candidates such as businessman Albert Black Jr., who had hoped to gain much of the city’s black vote. But with a state House district that that touches parts of Oak Cliff, West Dallas and eastern Dallas, Johnson commanded support that boxed out several other candidates, including Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, lawyer Regina Montoya and even Griggs.
Johnson didn’t spend a dime of his campaign cash on television ads, instead pouring resources into field operations, while keeping a heavy presence on social media and in emails.
Now Johnson will have a stash of cash to propel his runoff effort.
"This was not an easy campaign. I was fortunate to have a great team and great people behind me," Johnson said. "I look forward to having a deeper conversation with the people of Dallas."
Up from the neighborhood
Griggs is a veteran of many tough races. He won his council seat by beating incumbent Dave Neumann. Two years later, he won a redistricting battle of incumbents against Delia Jasso.
Griggs has now spent nearly eight years on the council and was an early front-runner because he was one of the few candidates with an established political base in a low-turnout municipal election. He was able to marry his Oak Cliff backing with support from other areas of the city, including East Dallas, where his ally Philip Kingston is headed for a runoff against David Blewett in District 14.
He was a leader in the fight against the Trinity River toll road, VisitDallas’ contract, gas drilling in the city limits, the proposed turnover of Fair Park to a group led by former Hunt Oil executive Walt Humann and buffered bike lanes. He also helped push for the creation of the Oak Cliff Streetcar line and the Trinity Skyline Trail and presided over the rapid development of the Bishop Arts District.
Griggs didn’t have the robust campaign funding enjoyed by Johnson and other mayoral election rivals, but he’s comfortable with grass-roots campaigning.
"We ran a lean campaign," he said. "We know how to win doing that. Money doesn’t define an election."
Runoff more focused
Unlike Saturday’s mayoral election, which featured nine candidates, the runoff offers an opportunity for voters, the media and the candidates to narrow their focus.
Some candidates were reluctant to throw barbs in the first round because it was unclear who the front-runners were. With the race down to two, the strengths and weaknesses of the contenders are more pronounced.
"The first round was the horse race," Love said, just before the running of the Kentucky Derby. "The next round is more of a boxing match."
He added that the issues in the runoff will be clearer and the contrasts sharper.
"You have a defined target right in front of you," he said.
Dallas political consultant Carol Reed, who managed the successful mayoral campaigns of Kirk and Tom Leppert, said the race would be won in northern Dallas.
"Just win the north," she said. "Nothing else matters much. That’s where the votes are."
Reed said Johnson would be nearly unbeatable, since he figures to beat Griggs handily in fundraising and do well in northern areas, where development is not a bad word.
"It’s over," Reed said of the race.
But Amanda Domaschk, 32, of East Dallas, said at Griggs’ election-night party that the four-term council member was the better choice.
"I was looking more for temperament and ability to get things done this round since I knew there would be a runoff," she said. "Griggs seems like that guy based on reading about him and watching him at council. He is smart and well-tempered."
For the other major contenders, the night was a disappointment. McBee, the CEO of an education nonprofit group, recently moved from Highland Park to a Dallas apartment and led the field in fundraising. She outdueled Mike Ablon, a developer, in their battle for the north but couldn’t match Griggs’ strength elsewhere.
Ablon, who campaigned largely on more cops and less City Hall corruption, used hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money for the campaign and was the first candidate on television. But he was unable to get traction in the north, a place he had to win to advance to the next round. And Johnson trounced him in southern and eastern Dallas.
Solis, 32, was the youngest candidate in the field and had hoped to develop a field program that got younger and new voters to the polls. But close to 80 percent of the electorate was over age 50.
Montoya, who chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty, couldn’t gain traction in a crowded field, and Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of her appeared not to help.
Former state Rep. Jason Villalba openly campaigned as a Republican but didn’t have the resources and support to be a major factor in the race.
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