The Dallas Morning News
4 vying to unseat District 4’s Arnold
Challengers say progress, development come about too slowly in Oak Cliff
Dallas City Council member Carolyn King Arnold is asking voters to keep her in office this May to stop what she calls a game of musical chairs that has cost the voters in southern Dallas and Oak Cliff meaningful progress.
Since 2015, Arnold has been elected, defeated and elected again during a 2018 special election following former council member Dwaine R. Caraway’s resignation. She has held the seat ever since. “Now is not the time to stop the progress,” she said, pointing to an uptick in development in the historically impoverished District 4. “My whole focus here in this city is to make this district No. 1, by street and by block.”
But this May she faces four other candidates — including Maxie Johnson, a Dallas ISD school board trustee who is making the
case that change has been too little and too slow. Council terms last two years.
Other challengers, Lelani Russell, a corporate trainer, and Matt Canto, an entrepreneur, say they want to empower the community to fight a rise in crime and boost economic development in one of the city’s poorest districts.
The race also includes Johnny Aguinaga, a real estate developer and homelessness advocate.
Aguinaga, 41, declined two interview requests from The Dallas Morning News . And he did not fill out The News’ Voter Guide survey. He was convicted in 2000 for the intent to distribute marijuana and was later rearrested for breaking probation, according to court documents. And more recently, he was involved in a confrontation over campaign signs. In a Facebook message with a District 4 resident, Aguinaga threatened to send his cousin — who “packs heat” — to the person’s house to settle a dispute over a campaign yard sign. The incident was first reported by D Magazine.
The district, which is framed by Interstates 35E, 45 and Loop 12, is among the poorest in the city. The 75216 ZIP code, which makes up the largest chunk of the district, is predominantly Black and Latino. The average household income is $27,288 — two-fifths the North Texas average.
The disparity in District 4 is not new. Dallas’ poverty has for decades been concentrated below Interstate 30, a fact Arnold says she wants to reverse once and for all.
“We don’t want to be labeled as a tale of two cities,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to drive 30 minutes to see the doctor. You shouldn’t have to drive more than five minutes to get a good steak and potato. You should not have to drive through trash to get to your house.”
Arnold, a 67-year-old retired educator, said her work on the council has helped increase development and infrastructure from The Bottoms — a 126acre neighborhood south of the Trinity River Floodplain — to Cedar Hills and Lancaster corridor.
There are few differences among the candidates in the desire to increase economic development. But it’s unclear what Arnold’s challengers would do differently.
Johnson, 43, was unavailable for an interview. He told The News’ editorial board that economic development for the district is critical. When asked for a specific plan to spur growth, he pointed to his work at the school district investing millions of dollars into the education system.
Canto, 29, said as a businessman, he’d be able to leverage his acumen and newfound influence to woo businesses to the district, even though he admits his own ventures in commercial landscaping have been unsustainable there.
“District 4 is on the precipice of the place to be,” he said. “But you need local government to get in there. And we’re lacking the working relationship between the business community and the current incumbent.”
Russell, 27, added that while development is important, it is vital the city ensure any new housing not just be “affordable” but attainable. She said the city’s new housing policy does not do enough for the residents of District 4 who make far less than than average Dallasites.
“We’re not able to live,” she said.
Across Dallas, crime and police reform have also become a focal point in the City Council races following last summer’s protests over police violence and social justice. It is particularly acute in District 4.
Arnold said she realized her community had reasons to be wary of the police. But a city without a police force would lead to anarchy, she said. And she hopes to foster deeper trust between her constituents and the city’s police department. It would be critical, she said, to both public safety and economic development.
Each of her opponents are far more progressive on the issue — but agree that a reduction in crime will lead to progress in the district.
“Anyone in their right mind knows something is wrong and we have to do something different,” Canto said, calling for more programs to “catch people before they’re criminals.”
Russell said she was inspired to run in large part because she wanted to create a safer neighborhood for her daughter.
“If I don’t do anything, my baby can still become a statistic,” she said.
She would like to see a dramatic reduction in arrests and tickets for low-level offenses, such as marijuana possession. She also wants a larger investment in RIGHT Care, a multigovernment response team that handles mental health crisis calls.
Johnson has called for more “social services, community and neighborhood focused policing programs and deliberate community engagement.”