The Dallas Morning News called the District 13 election results a “trounce” by incumbent Jennifer Gates against former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. And at a commanding 66 percent to 34 percent, who am I to argue?
Delving into the precinct-level numbers, an interesting picture appears. Miller was a one-trick candidate, focusing her campaign on anti-development messaging surrounding Preston Center and the Pink Wall. As you can see in the map above, District 13 is a lot more than Preston Center. The myopathy of Miller’s message wasn’t lost on voters outside the Preston Center orbit. Oh, and constituents really like Gates. By contrast, Miller didn’t even win her own precinct, where neighbors voted for her opponent, two-to-one.
In total, Miller carried just three precincts within District 13 – essentially the Pink Wall and Preston Center along with a tiny precinct out by Marsh Lane and Walnut Hill (although not as tiny as the 16-vote precinct to its right that was one of two reporting a tie).
The Pink Wall
I would hazard a guess that the precinct containing the Pink Wall between Preston and Edgemere Roads was one of the most heavily politicked in the district. In addition to rampant signage, meetings, flyers, door-to-door canvassing, and cold-calling, residents could sign up for transportation to take them to the polls.
We can all agree that Miller made this city council race a referendum on development – particularly within the areas surrounding Northwest Highway and Preston Road, specifically behind the Pink Wall and neighboring Preston Center. But with all that focus, Miller only carried the precinct in a 60/40 split. This is a far cry from Miller’s routine assertions that 90 percent of residents opposed Jennifer Gates and the process she’s enabled to bring PD-15 up to date. The tables turned back to Gates east of Edgemere, with Gates besting Miller by 56/44 percent in that precinct.
Sadly, it says something more. As I pointed out from the beginning, Laura Miller’s ownership of an Athena condo within PD-15 would create a big conflict of interest surrounding any area action. While Miller repeatedly denied any conflict, ethics experts from SMU to City Hall all said it was an obvious violation. Even for those distrusting of experts, the front page of the city’s plain English ethics statute says, “For example, you cannot approve a city project that would affect the value of real estate that you own.” I’m not sure how much more plainly obvious it can be.
And yet, in order to get their way, some 60 percent of precinct residents were OK with their candidate proudly denying/violating city ethics rules so long as it benefitted them. Even sadder is the fact that the age of Pink Wall residents means they were voting in the 1980s when Gary Hart’s second presidential run was scuttled by an affair with Donna Rice on the yacht Monkey Business off Bimini Island. Younger versions of today’s voters acted on questionable ethics by politicians like Hart. They knew if they acted poorly before being elected, there was no telling what they would do in office. Today’s older, “wiser” versions of those voters now weigh their own personal gains above a candidate’s ethics. Sad indeed.
The same can be said of the 80 voters in the Preston Center precinct who similarly voted 61/39 percent for Miller. The bulk of those voters came from 8181 Douglas and The Shelton. Billionaire Darwin Deason, the father of Miller’s campaign finance manager, lives on the top two floors of 8181 Douglas and vehemently opposes the proposed development of Saint Michael and All Angels’ Frederick Square lot (as does Miller). Deason’s reasoning is all too common – view protection. Long before Miller decided to run, Deason met with Gates to offer $10 million to help fund a park on top of the Preston Center garage. Miller has held up the unsecured donation as a failure by Gates. But according to Gates, “When I met with the donor (Deason) to discuss the idea, it was clear that the gift was conditioned upon opposing an upcoming zoning case on property owned by Saint Michael. The offer was, at the very least, unethical and did not move forward.” Forty-nine of the 80 total voters who supported Miller were A-OK with that series of relationships.
Looking Forward For PD-15
I think the election handed Gates the tools she needs to quiet the concerns of those in City Hall. Many were curious as to whether Miller’s frequent claims of 90 percent of Pink Wall residents’ opposition to PD-15 changes were anywhere near accurate. I think Gates has air to continue the process of updating PD-15. I think it gives her a solid foundation to address the concerns about Saint Michael and All Angels’ plans and stay the course on the Preston Center garage. What I don’t foresee is a sudden attempt to capitalize on her win by radically expanding her goals or initiating a developer free-for-all.
The election also showed how vicious, and frankly unprincipled, the opposition can be. And maybe – just maybe – the drubbing of Miller and her antiquated way of doing business signals Dallas is moving beyond such politics (I know, huge hope). Love Gates or hate her, everything is out in the open – at least judging from the sheer number of meetings I’ve attended and documents I’ve read.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.