The general election for Dallas mayor and the City Council is May 6. This is one of several stories giving voters an overview of the races for the 15 seats ahead of the beginning of the early voting period, which runs from April 24 to May 2.
Experience is at the heart of the Dallas City Council District 1 race to represent north Oak Cliff.
Incumbent Chad West largely points to his record and civic experience as a two-term council member in his message to voters that the district needs to maintain a steady hand to make progress on more affordable housing, protections for long-time residents from gentrification, and making sure vital projects get included for funding in the upcoming 2024 bond election to pay for streets, city buildings and other infrastructure improvements.
“For this next term, having someone who’s ready to hit the ground running and make sure District 1 gets what it needs is key,” said West, 46.
But his two opponents say West’s lack of shared life experience with the heavily Hispanic district has led to uneven representation and many residents feeling left out. Mariana Griggs and Albert Mata, who are both Hispanic, say even being able to communicate directly in Spanish with residents can help many feel their concerns are being heard by City Hall and that they are being properly informed of developments they need to know.
District 1 has among the highest population of Hispanic residents in Dallas — 76% Hispanic, 15% white, 6% Black, less than 1% Asian and almost 2% other, according to city population demographics estimates — but hasn’t had a representative of Hispanic descent since 2013.
“We are a tale of two districts,” said Griggs, 46. “North of Jefferson (Boulevard) is more engaged, and south of Jefferson is not yet engaged. We need someone who can bring them together, and I think that engagement is going to drive the needs of the community as a whole.”
Mata noted a handful of white-majority neighborhoods in the northern half of the district have driven voter turnout in recent years. He said he doesn’t believe most Hispanic residents don’t care to vote, it’s that they’re not given enough reason to vote.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Mata, 29. “Candidates don’t invest their time and effort walking in those neighborhoods and doing outreach because the residents don’t vote. But they don’t vote as much as we would want them to because when we’re governing, we don’t pay attention to those neighborhoods, do outreach or show up in those areas.”
Griggs and Mata are running for Dallas City Council for the first time. The general election will be the first since the city’s 14 districts were remapped after the latest Census. District 1′s boundaries largely stayed the same, but have expanded west completely surrounding Cockrell Hill, and stretching north of West Davis Street.
There was a push last spring by several members of the city’s Redistricting Commission to redraw District 1′s boundary lines to shift much of the northern half of the area, such as the Bishop Arts District, Kessler Park and Stevens Park into nearby District 14, where white residents make up the majority.
Removing the Kessler Stevens area, where voters are largely white and cast ballots at a rate higher than the city’s average turnout, could lead to better chances for a Hispanic candidate to get elected in District 1, supporters of the failed proposal said.
The two neighborhoods became new additions to District 1 when the boundaries were last remapped in 2011. The council district representative at the time, Delia Jasso, expressed concern that the inclusion could lead to her losing her seat and make it unlikely for a Hispanic candidate to win.
Her then-council colleague Scott Griggs, who was married at the time to Mariana Griggs, also noted before the 2011 map was approved that it could lead to less Hispanic representation on the City Council.
Scott Griggs, who is white, ran against Jasso, who is Hispanic, in 2013 in the District 1 race and won. He’d go on to represent District 1 until 2019 when he vacated the position to run for mayor, but lost in a runoff to Mayor Eric Johnson.
West, who is also white, was first elected in 2019, and had previously been appointed by Scott Griggs to the City Plan Commission and the city’s bond task force.
A housing, biking and traffic safety advocate, West is a U.S. Army veteran who has lived in the district for almost 15 years. He operates at least four car washes in North and Central Texas and describes himself as a “recovering lawyer” after closing his personal injury and criminal defense litigation law firm late last year. He was also previously appointed on the City Council as mayor pro tem, and is a former chair of the Housing and Homelessness Committee.
Among his recent achievements, West points to heading efforts to help residents get their trash picked up after city service delays, and pushing for some redesigned roads in the district to increase driver and pedestrian safety. He also highlighted the approval of the West Oak Cliff Area Plan, an initiative he led to address concerns of longtime mostly Hispanic residents who sought protections for their neighborhoods as they face growing pressure from rising property taxes, gentrification and redevelopment in the Bishop Arts District.
“I don’t see it being about race. I’ve seen that our district just wants a qualified candidate,” West said. “The people who take the time to show up to vote, they are going to ensure that the person they vote for is qualified and represents their values.”
Mata, a community activist born and raised in Oak Cliff who helped create Latino community engagement nonprofit group Somos Tejas, said he believes more outreach is needed in the southern half of the district. The traffic calming initiatives West pushed for have run through the northern half of the district, Mata said, and the West Oak Cliff Area Plan initially lacked input from many people who would be impacted.
The plan had been in the works since 2020, but a draft as of July 2022 called for rezoning the 5-square-mile area to ban new car repair and auto shops. Most of the owners of the existing businesses in Oak Cliff are Hispanic.
Mata helped lead the effort in notifying business owners of the proposal, leading to it later being removed. An auto repair shop owner told The Dallas Morning News last summer that he and Mata went from shop to shop gathering petition signatures, and most other business owners and employees didn’t know what the West Oak Cliff Area Plan was.
“I am the only candidate that has a track record of getting people who have historically been left out of the loop and civically unengaged to be engaged,” Mata said. “With a community like this, you have to be very intentional and take different approaches to make sure you actually reach them and I know how to do that.”
Mata said his priorities would be focusing on increasing regular city communication and town halls with residents in English and Spanish, advocating for policies meant to add more housing without displacing long-time residents, businesses and culture of established neighborhoods, and increasing the amount of parks and green spaces.
Mariana Griggs, a substitute teacher and also a community activist, has lived in Oak Cliff for 20 years. She has previously worked for the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, has volunteered at The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, the Dallas Zoo and on her ex-husband’s mayoral campaign. She advocates for biking and community gardens.
She cites her familiarity with City Hall and the district among what she hopes to bring to the table if elected and said she’d focus on increasing community empowerment across north Oak Cliff. If more residents are taught how City Hall works and how to make their voices heard, it can help representation be more equitable, she said.
“I have no interest in dictating anything because I feel my role on City Council would be to help facilitate and to teach,” Griggs said. “I feel I need to focus on allowing the community to advocate for themselves and making sure everyone knows how to do that.”