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.
Public safety, infrastructure and lower property taxes will define the Dallas City Council District 13 election this year as incumbent Gay Donnell Willis and first-time candidate Priscilla Shacklett face off for the seat in the city’s northwest section.
The candidates’ campaign priorities largely align – creating a safer and more affordable area are both major platform planks for Willis and Shacklett – though their approaches may differ.
Willis, 58, said she wants to continue the work she’s done in the last two years while putting an emphasis on communication not only with her constituents, but also with her fellow council members.
“No matter how great of an idea you think you may have or how great of a need your district may have, if you can’t convince a majority of other council members that what you want to do is important and that they should support you, you’re going to go nowhere,” Willis said.
Shacklett, 74, said there needs to be more scrutiny of the budgeting process to make sure that funds are being allocated to effective solutions for the city’s problems.
“It doesn’t feel like anybody’s really accountable to answer for the spent money and what’s changed? We’re throwing more money at the very same problems,” Shacklett said. “Somebody has to be accountable who’s had some business experience and who knows how to do that kind of thing.”
Both Willis and Shacklett lean heavily on their business experiences in their pitches for the position.
Willis served as president and CEO of the Turtle Creek Conservancy for almost nine years and sat on two bond committees, one for the City of Dallas in 2017 and one for Dallas ISD in 2020. The Texas Tech grad also spent years working for a public relations and advertising firm and at a tech start-up.
It was her experience serving on city boards that inspired Willis to run for office in the hotly contested 2021 City Council race that ended in a run-off election.
“As hard as it was, it was also very invigorating,” Willis said. “I feel like I’ve carried that energy with me.”
District 13 elections, when contested, draw some of the highest voter turnouts in the city aside from the mayoral race.
The 2021 general election to fill the seat of former council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, who was ineligible to run after her fourth consecutive term, saw a total of 9,641 votes divided amongst the field of five candidates.
The runoff election for District 13, one of six council seat runoffs that year, drew even more voters to the polls with 9,808 votes cast. Willis clinched 54% of the vote, beating out Leland Burk.
In addition to votes, elections in the district bring in hefty sums in campaign funds.
The first filing deadline for the 2023 election is in April, so campaign finance reports are only available from incumbents from the second half of 2022. Willis reported raising almost $34,000 in contributions between July and December and having more than $59,000 on hand for her campaign.
Shacklett previously lived in California and worked in revenue accounting for Pacific Bell before shifting to other roles at AT&T and later a career in real estate. The University of Colorado Boulder graduate moved to Dallas with her husband more than a decade ago to help care for her grandson.
Though she raised her kids in California, Shacklett said caring for her grandson in Dallas gave her the opportunity to experience some parts of parenthood in North Texas.
“I was sitting in the school lines, dealing with teachers and meetings, and I got to be a parent,” Shacklett said.
Shacklett takes issue with the council’s Feb. 8 resolution reiterating Dallas’ stance supporting abortion access. Willis voted in favor of the resolution.
“Our City Council was acting out of purview, and I think it was very short-sighted. It’s not something that they needed to do or say or proclaim, and I’m not sure why they did it,” Shacklett said.
On the topic of crime, Shacklett said on her campaign website that she wants to increase police funding in order to attract, hire and retain the best candidates for the department. She said more also needs to be done to support traffic law enforcement to crack down on reckless driving in the region.
District 13, which includes Vickery Meadow and Preston Hollow, has one of the lower crime rates among the city’s 14 districts. The crime rate for the area increased by more than 6% from 2021 to 2022, according to Dallas Police Department end-of-year crime data.
The district tends to draw more crimes against property rather than crimes against people, Willis said.
“DPD will tell you to take, hide and lock your belongings and to not bait crime into your neighborhood, so I just work at keeping that message out there while also being responsive to neighbors if they do call me and say ‘Hey, we’re having some incidents happen,’” Willis said.
Willis supports continued spending on the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire Rescue.
The candidates both support lowering property taxes and addressing infrastructure issues.
Willis pointed to funding that has been earmarked for refurbishing alleys across the city as an avenue for infrastructure improvement and reported that at least 168 crosswalks in the district have been repainted as part of a goal to refresh the crossings.
Shacklett said fixing roads and dilapidated alleyways is a goal shared across most of the city and is one that District 13 should prioritize.