With a key deadline now behind us, Dallas is on the road to a city election on May 9 that promises big changes, and a group called the Dallas Green Alliance is strapping in for the ride.
The Alliance formed in June 2014 as a PAC (political action group) with a goal to elect candidates who are progressive and environmentally friendly. Six open seats on the city council offer a major opportunity to effect change, says Jim Schermbeck, a veteran Dallas activist who's helping with strategy and planning.
"There's this critical mass of change going on," he says. "I don't see any other place in Texas where's there's this much grass-roots-oriented action right now."
The deadline was February 27, the day by which all candidates for office had to file for a spot on the ballot. On March 1, the Alliance met to lay out its plan for campaign contributions, fund-raising and events.
The group will interview the candidates, and a key question will be their disposition toward the controversial Trinity toll road. "Early on, we decided that our main litmus test for candidates was opposition to the Trinity toll road," Schermbeck says. "We believe the toll road is a symbol of everything wrong with the 'old Dallas' way of doing things."
Their members include political consultant LorLee Bartos, toll road activist Anna Albers, Dallas Planning Commission member Paul Ridley, drilling foes Claudia and Ed Meyer, activist and internet spitfire Catherine Garrison, civil rights attorney Mike Daniel and more. On their website, they're posting updates on where candidates stand. They'll attend candidate forums and make a showing at events such as Earth Day Texas.
They're also hosting a dinner on March 15 with a lineup aimed to lure in donors and foodies alike. Called Gather on Common Ground, it features chefs Graham Dodds, Mark Wootton and David Anthony Temple, plus other surprise chefs who can't put their name on the flyer but have committed to show up. Keynote speaker will be Angela Hunt, and the group is advertising a special appearance by anonymous online gadfly Wylie H. Dallas.
Schermbeck's previous affiliations include clean-air group Downwinders at Risk, but he says that there are a number of factors that make this election and these times different from elections past. "There's the debate over the Trinity toll road, the effort to tear down I-345 and re-route 30," he says. "Things are bubbling up from the bottom."
While everyone in the Alliance shares commonalities, they come from a wide range of sects. There are those who oppose the toll road; protest drilling; and object to development at White Rock Lake. There are members of the Sierra Club, Texas Honeybee Guild and neighborhood associations — an alliance that Schermbeck says represents an unprecedented development in Dallas politics.
"It's a broad swath of folks," he says. "It includes people who are looking at urban issues, who are plugged into the Farmers Market, who bike and hike a lot, and who care about open spaces. I've been involved with other kinds of green coalitions, and I can tell you that this is by far the broadest alignment of groups I've ever seen."
The other aspect that's new is the group's scope.
"This is first time we're looking at these issues city-wide and crossing district lines to help each other out and do it in a bigger way," he says. "It's the first time there's been a coordinated effort on everybody's part to make an impact on elections city-wide."
He says it reminds him of the Trinity River campaigns in 2007 and 1998 — "but I don't think that captures the breadth," he says. "I think it's totally unique; I don't think Dallas has ever seen anything like it in terms of municipal politics. Hopefully we can capture that lighting in a bottle and have some kind of impact on the election."