Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson won’t have an opponent in the general election this spring, city officials confirmed Monday.
City Secretary Bilierae Johnson told The Dallas Morning News on Monday that the only person who filed to oppose the incumbent for the May 6 election, Jrmar Jefferson, didn’t have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
It makes the incumbent the first sitting Dallas mayor to run unopposed since Erik Jonsson in 1967. He received more than 19,500 votes en route to his second of three full terms. He served as mayor until 1971.
“It is the greatest honor of my life to serve as the mayor of my hometown,” said Johnson, who is seeking his second and final four-year term as mayor. “We have achieved significant, measurable results for the residents of Dallas over the past four years, and I look forward to continuing this incredible progress in my second term.”
Johnson is among incumbents in two races running unopposed on the ballot as of early Sunday. Also without an opponent on the ballot is District 12 representative Cara Mendelsohn in Far North Dallas.
The number of required signatures from registered voters to qualify for the election ballot ranges from 25 to 68 for City Council district races to 404 signatures for mayor, according to city documents.
The 2023 races for the city’s top elected official and 14 City Council district seats will include 13 incumbents, one former council member, 11 other repeat candidates and 14 first-time candidates.
Johnson, 47, announced in September that he would be seeking a second term and since then has been virtually running a one-person race, gaining several major endorsements and in January reporting more than $1.2 million banked in donations for his reelection bid.
Johnson has been mayor since June 2019 and before that served as a member of the state House of Representatives from April 2010. He has made public safety, workforce development, increasing parks and green space, and increasing the city’s international standing among his top priorities during his first term.
An incumbent mayor running unopposed in one of America’s largest cities is unusual and bucks trends seen elsewhere, said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg both face eight opponents in upcoming elections, for example.
“If you look at Johnson’s first term, it was choppy,” Jillson said. “He oftentimes didn’t command a majority on the City Council and tried to punish some folks on the body that had been opposing him and was ineffectual. It steadied up in the latter half, but if you looked at his first term as a whole, you wouldn’t assume that it had made him invulnerable.”
Jillson said that prominent members of the Dallas business community helped buoy Johnson to victory in 2019 and that it was clear from his endorsements thus far that he maintained much of that support, as well as from former mayors and other dignitaries.
“It likely helped ward off some challengers,” Jillson said. “You can’t win a race against an established incumbent if you can’t get enough support.”
The lack of a competitive Dallas mayoral race may also not bode well for overall voter turnout numbers, Jillson said. The citywide race is typically the reason for more people going to the polls.
In 2021, voter turnout in Dallas County for the City Council elections was 10.8% for the general election and 10.5% for the runoff races the following month.
Voter turnout was at almost 12.6% in May 2019, which included a mayor’s race where Johnson was among nine candidates seeking the position. It was almost 11.4% for the runoff that June when Johnson was elected.
Mari Woodlief — president of Allyn Media, a public relations and political consulting firm running Johnson’s reelection campaign — attributed the lack of challengers to be a direct result of the “effective” job the incumbent has done in his first term.
She said she felt his best strategy through election day would be to “continue to do a great job as mayor.”
“I think that he has addressed and been effective on all the big issues that matter,” said Woodlief. “Not only do voters see that, but also potential opponents see that and that there’s not a real viable reason for him not to be reelected.”
She declined to say whether Johnson would continue to raise money or what he planned to do with donations he already has gained.
Mayoral incumbents rarely lose. A review of Dallas voting results over the last 90 years by The News shows any sitting Dallas mayor who has run for reelection has won. Dallas mayors can only serve two consecutive four-year terms.
Jefferson on Monday disputed that he didn’t have enough valid signatures, saying he submitted more than 1,000 to the city secretary’s office before 4 p.m. Friday and they all weren’t reviewed. He said he would have submitted more if it wasn’t for the ice storm earlier this month.
“They’re trying to protect Mayor Johnson from having a challenge and make it a cakewalk for him,” Jefferson told The News. “No one should be running unopposed.”
Jefferson in November lost to now-U.S. Rep. Nathaniel Moran to represent East Texas in Congress. He won the Democrat nomination in a runoff to oppose Moran last May.
He has also run for political office several times in California, including a 2016 run for mayor in Elk Grove, Calif., about 15 miles southeast of Sacramento, as well as for a position on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in 2014.
He has also appeared as a contestant on American Idol with his twin brother, Lamar.
Jefferson said he is considering legal action to make sure all the signatures are reviewed. He said he wasn’t planning to launch a write-in campaign.
“I believe I have a claim against the city, and if I file as a write-in, I would be agreeing with the city secretary’s decision — and I do not,” he said. “We’re here to be the next mayor of Dallas, and I believe I have the law on my side.”
Polling of Dallas residents released last June showed Johnson was favored slightly more than former Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who at the time was considering a mayoral run. But a third of 500 respondents also said they were undecided on who they would vote for.
Hinojosa, the most high-profile name to publicly declare interest in challenging Johnson, in December announced he wouldn’t run.
“It’s difficult to run against an incumbent,” Hinojosa told The News in December. “Really what I wanted was a better mayor and, actually, he’s become a better mayor, so I don’t have to do the job myself.”
Write-in candidates have until Tuesday to declare their campaigns. Candidates who’ve qualified for the ballot have until next Friday to withdraw from the ballot.
The last day to register to vote is April 6. Early voting runs from April 24 to May 2.
If any of the races for City Council end with no candidate receiving more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will move to a runoff June 10.