Story by Matt Goodman, Published in FrontBurner
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Texas State Rep. Eric Johnson is running for mayor. In a press release announcing his surprise run, the West Dallas native said he has the desire to make the city into one made up of “strong, safe neighborhoods where families thrive and where every child has the opportunities to succeed.”
“I have represented one of the most diverse House districts in the state for nearly a decade and I’ve shown that I can bring people together to get the job done for all of our families,” read a prepared statement.
Johnson’s House District 100, which he first won in 2010, includes South and West Dallas, parts of southern Dallas, the Cedars, Fair Park, and a swath further east to Mesquite.
Johnson’s most recent press coverage is for his years-long crusade to bring down a historically inaccurate Confederate plaque outside his office in the Texas Legislature, which stated that the Civil War was neither a rebellion nor about perpetuating slavery. Johnson, a Democrat, prevailed over the racist plaque earlier this month. If he becomes mayor, he’ll inherit the Confederate symbols that still stand within his hometown, including a large monument that lives near City Hall.
Johnson’s legislative track record bends local. The last session coincided with the working-class West Dallas neighborhoods that he represents becoming a magnet for development. The restaurant theme park known as Trinity Groves was a commercial success, and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge made the area easier to reach. The longtime residents were left without protection from rising property tax rates. Existing housing stock was being bulldozed and replaced with expensive multi-family rental complexes and pricy town homes and condominiums. The people who had lived in this part of Dallas for decades were suddenly being pushed out.
Johnson’s HB 2480 would’ve allowed tax appraisers to ignore those new developments in assessing tax rates, providing stability for the lower-income residents. It also ordered that 20 percent of the revenue from the Sports Arena Tax Increment Finance District in which the area is located be invested in stimulating affordable housing to replace some of the housing stock that has vanished. But five bomb-throwing Republican representatives from the suburbs voted to remove it from the house calendar, effectively killing the bill.
The thrust behind that legislation—that the city put in place safeguards to protect vulnerable residents from displacement—has become one of the most common talking points among the other eight mayoral candidates, perhaps trailing only an increase in funding for police and fire. North Oak Cliff Councilman Scott Griggs, who announced his own mayoral run earlier this month, even co-wrote an editorial with Johnson for The Dallas Morning News advocating for the legislation. And Griggs has long advocated for similar policies at a city-level from his position around the horseshoe. Before dropping out of the race, former city attorney Larry Casto made the policy his campaign’s priority. The city’s housing policy, which passed last year, defines the neighborhoods that are most at risk of displacement and calls for the sort of protections that Johnson tried to make state law.
“Dallas is a great city, but we have some serious challenges ahead of us,” Johnson wrote in a statement. “We need to make sure that the Dallas of tomorrow is full of opportunity for everyone. It’s time to move beyond the old divisions at City Hall and work together toward real solutions.”
Johnson is a graduate of the Greenhill School, which his press release notes he attended through a scholarship he received via the West Dallas Boys and Girls Club. He earned his undergraduate at Harvard University and his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He has a master in public affairs from Princeton. He told The Dallas Morning News that he does not plan to step down from the Texas House to run.
He enters a crowded race that seems destined for a runoff following the May elections. His challengers include Design District developer Mike Ablon; Oak Cliff businessman Albert Black, who was first to announce; the aforementioned term-limited North Oak Cliff Councilman Scott Griggs; volunteer and fundraiser Lynn McBee; lawyer and former Hillary Clinton aide Regina Montoya; Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis; former Texas State Rep. Jason Villalba; and Alyson Kennedy, a Socialist Workers Party candidate in the 2016 presidential election who earned 12,467 votes.
Johnson’s treasurer is Mel Renfro, the former Cowboy and NFL Hall of Famer.