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Power and Influence in Southern Dallas: The voices of a few citizens

ROBYN H. JIMENEZ | 6/5/2017, 12:57 p.m. | Updated on 6/7/2017, 10:52 a.m.
From potholes and overgrown grass to revitalizing a neighborhood and building a new part, it’s all politics. Politicians literally run ...
A view of Downtown Dallas from an Oak Cliff office building Robyn H. Jimenez

The Dallas Examiner

From potholes and overgrown grass to revitalizing and rezoning neighborhoods or building a new park, it’s all politics. Politicians literally run the city. Groups like city council members work together with the city’s mayor to discuss and vote on the city’s tax rate, ordinances, policies, budget and more, with the expectation that they will keep their constituents in mind and vote on their behalf.

But while some people may feel that they have no control in what happens downtown, at the capitol in Austin or Washington; city, state and national control all starts with voting. On each Election Day, citizens cast their vote for the candidates that seem to best represent them.

But the average resident – especially in the Southern Sector of Dallas – doesn’t even weigh in on which politicians should be running the world around them.

Texas, at 51.6 percent, ranked third among U.S. states with the lowest voter turn out, according to a U.S. Elections Project study.

Last year, Dallas County had an estimated 2,574,984 residents, yet only 1,296,876 were registered voters – of those registered to vote, only 770,590 residents actually cast their vote during the November general election.

This year, a slight increase of 1,346,338 residents were registered voters, yet only 105,901 residents actually cast their vote during the May general election, according to Dallas County Election office that reported a 7.87 percent voter turnout.

This means that 92.13 percent of Dallas County voters turned over their right to choose who will represent them to a very small group of citizens who exercised their right to vote.

But those small groups of voters aren’t taken for granted by local political action committees – organizations that raise money privately to donate to political candidates particularly in order to influence the outcome of the election.

PACs can donate up to $5,000 per election to a candidate’s campaign. Members include individuals, corporations, labor unions, trade associations and other organizations that may be affected by the policies of the candidate’s seat.

The first PAC was created in 1944 by the Congress of Industrial Organizations in an effort to help re-elect President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today, there are over 4,000 PACs listed throughout the country.

While Dallas has close to 52 PACs listed this year, there are two top contributing PACs that have invested interest in areas that include Southern Dallas. Both groups are not just PACs; they are super PACs – able to rise and donate an unlimited amount of money to advocate for or against political candidates.

The Coalition for a Better Dallas is a new PAC and was founded by D Magazine Partners chairman Wick Allison and urban planner Patrick Kennedy. The organization’s website lists its primary concerns as rebuilding the city’s urban core and revitalizing neighborhoods. Its priorities are to support city council candidates and policies who share their concerns regarding DART, Fair Park, Deep Ellum, Interstate 345, the Trinity River and TxDOT. Dallas City Hall listed its contributions, including donations to City Council candidate Tammy Johnston. This year, its total contributions so far have been $67,279.50.

The other PAC is For Our Community, founded by political consultant Mari Woodlief, CEO, president and co-founder of Allyn Media. No website under the organization’s name was found, but Dallas City Hall did have its political contributions sheet, which showed sizable donations to City Council candidates Casey Thomas, Tiffinni Young, Erik Wilson, Rick Callahan, Monica Alonzo and Matthew Wood, as well as great opposition to Philip Kingston. This year, its total contributions so far have been $421,000.

Though the full agenda of For Our Community may not be listed, it appears to be for a Trinity Toll Road, while Coalition for a Better Dallas has opposed the toll road.

In the weeks to come, the series Power and Influence in Southern Dallas will take a closer look at PACs, candidates and the push to control Southern Dallas.