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Prominent donors to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson are doling out thousands to challengers in 3 City Council races

Past donors to the mayor have now contributed to John Botefuhr, Donald Parish Jr. and Yolanda Faye Williams

Seven prominent Dallas business and professional leaders who previously donated to Mayor Eric Johnson are contributing to the campaign coffers of three candidates seeking to unseat City Council incumbents next month, records show.

The seven, including car dealership magnate Carl Sewell, have all given to three eastern district challengers during the first quarter of this year, according to campaign finance records released last week.

They’ve all donated the individual contribution maximum of $1,000 each to Yolanda Faye Williams, Donald Parish Jr. and John Botefuhr, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of the donations.

In the May 1 election, Williams is challenging Jaime Resendez to represent District 5, which covers Pleasant Grove. Parish seeks to push out Adam Bazaldua in South Dallas’ District 7. And Botefuhr is up against Paula Blackmon to represent the White Rock Lake area in District 9, where the mayor lives.

All three incumbents voted in opposition to the mayor last fall when they approved reducing police overtime funding in the city’s latest budget. Bazaldua, Blackmon, Resendez and Johnson were elected in 2019.

Johnson hasn’t publicly endorsed anyone for the 14 City Council seats, though on social media he has tended to favor posts from the three challengers. Johnson declined to comment when contacted by The Dallas Morning News.

The seven donors previously contributed $112,500 to Johnson, who is in the middle of his first four-year term as the city’s top elected official. Those donations, made between February 2019 and November 2020, almost all ranged from $10,000 to $20,000, records show.

Public safety is the top issue in the coming City Council election, and the political fallout from decisions made in the fall could play out at the polls as some people equate the overtime reduction to “defunding” law enforcement.

When asked by The News how they would have voted on the issue, Williams, Botefuhr and Parish all said they would have sided with the mayor.

Only one of the seven donors responded to calls from The News about the donations.

Joe Popolo, CEO of the private investment firm Charles & Potomac Capital, said in a text message that he knew of no outside coordination or involvement by the mayor.

“I carefully consider all requests for campaign donations and who I support,” Popolo said. “The candidates I gave to this cycle are ones I believe will be good for the future of our city in terms of education, economic opportunity and growth, and for the safety of our citizens.”

Candidates’ ties to mayor

The trio of challengers told The News they didn’t know one another. They have different ties to the mayor.

A first-time candidate, Parish is a pastor and founder of the youth mentorship nonprofit A Steady Hand. He said he and Johnson are “like brothers” whose families are close. Parish, who has previously donated to Johnson, said he has known him since before the mayor’s political career began. Parish’s father, who also is a pastor and community leader, ran for the City Council in 2007 and 2009.

Botefuhr, a chiropractor with his own practice, serves on the board of directors for the Greater East Dallas Chamber of Commerce. He is a past donor to the mayor.

Williams is a supporter of Johnson. This year brings her fifth bid for the City Council since 2005. Her community service includes about five years as a member of the city’s Park and Recreation Board.

All three said they were not aware of any external coordinated effort to get them elected.

“But I think this speaks to just how people in general may feel about the current council,” Parish said. “It also doesn’t surprise me that there are people who appear to want to get people on the council who have been strong in the community before this and — win or lose — will still be strong in the community after.”

The three contests, along with races to fill three open seats, give Johnson a chance to add allies on the council, a majority of which has said that the mayor doesn’t directly communicate with members.

Johnson has most notably clashed with his council colleagues on budget matters involving the Police Department, particularly in the 11-4 vote in September to cut $7 million from the overtime budget.

Johnson has said it was one of the main factors that prompted him, in a 9-6 vote, to oppose the city’s $3.8 billion budget.

During his public State of the City address in December, Johnson said he voted against the budget because he felt it “failed to do enough to fund the basics, especially for our Police Department.”

As recently as this week, the mayor called the council’s police overtime budget reduction “foolish and imprudent” in a written statement to residents, saying they “deserve better.”

High-profile donors

Money from prominent donors started trickling in a few days ahead of the Feb. 12 election filing deadline, according to The News’ analysis of campaign records.

Sewell, chairman and CEO of Sewell Automotive Cos., gave $1,000 each to Williams, Parish and Botefuhr on Feb. 10, campaign finance records show. Popolo and his wife, Christine, separately gave $1,000 to each of the three candidates on the same day, as did lawyer Robert “Skip” Trimble.

Henry Beck III, executive chairman of The Beck Group architecture firm, donated $1,000 to each of the three on Feb. 23, records show.

Steve Idoux, senior vice president at the insurance brokerage Lockton Dunning Benefits, gave $1,000 to each of the three candidates on March 11. Robert Murchison, founder of the investment firm Murchison Capital Partners, did the same on March 12.

G. Brint Ryan, CEO of the tax consulting firm Ryan LLC, gave $1,000 to Botefuhr and Williams on Feb. 14. His political action committee, Ryan Texas PAC, gave $2,500 each to Botefuhr, Williams and Parish on Feb. 10.

Several of their relatives also donated to some or all three of the council challengers. Sewell’s wife, Peggy, gave $1,000 each to the candidates. Their son, Carl III, donated that same amount to Parish’s campaign, and his wife, Josie, gave $1,000 to each of the three.

Silent support

Despite not naming candidates he backs to represent parts of Dallas, Johnson has almost exclusively shown support on social media for the campaigns of Williams, Parish and Botefuhr.

On Twitter, the mayor has frequently spotlighted and “liked” tweets from the three. From late February to the first week of April, Johnson liked 35 tweets in all from Parish, Botefuhr and Williams. He retweeted several of the tweets he liked.

In a tweet last month, Parish touted his endorsement from NFL Hall of Famer and Dallas Cowboys star Mel Renfro and his wife, Liz. Renfro was Johnson’s campaign treasurer in 2019, and the couple are the co-chairs of Parish’s campaign.

“The Renfros are the best and so is @DonaldRParishJr!” Johnson wrote while retweeting Parish’s message on March 22.

Johnson also liked tweets in which Botefuhr, Parish and Williams displayed their campaign signs. Another tweet featured Williams citing her community advocacy experience as a reason to vote for her. A separate post showed Botefuhr encouraging people to sign up to volunteer for his District 9 bid and get a campaign T-shirt.

During the same time period, the mayor liked only four tweets from an incumbent — all from Cara Mendelsohn. They included two tweets on April 3 in which she talked about campaigning for reelection in Far North Dallas’ District 12.

Mary Poss, Botefuhr’s campaign treasurer, said she wasn’t aware of any coordinated effort to elect her client, Parish or Williams. Poss is a former council member who served as acting mayor in 2001. Her letter of endorsement of Johnson’s 2019 mayoral bid is one of two featured on his campaign website.

Poss said she assumed Johnson could be backing Botefuhr because the mayor lives in District 9 and was “very disappointed” in incumbent Blackmon’s vote on the police overtime budget.

She said she didn’t think it was odd for a sitting mayor to express support for other candidates, “particularly when they’ve been in disagreement with the incumbents on major issues.”

Parish, Botefuhr and Williams said they would all accept the mayor’s public endorsement — if he gives it.

And they welcome the cash infusions to their campaigns — regardless of the reasons.

“I don’t know much about the donations, but I know I’ve been at this for a while and people take notice,” Williams said. “When I give money, it’s because I believe in that person.

“I imagine that’s what’s happening here … and honestly, I consider it all a blessing.”

In This Story

Everton Bailey Jr.. Everton covers Dallas city government. He joined The Dallas Morning News in November 2020 after previously working for The Oregonian and The Associated Press in Hartford, Conn.

everton.bailey@dallasnews.com @EvertonBailey
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