On a recent afternoon, more than 150 neighborhood residents gathered at the Filter Building at White Rock Lake to hear City Councilman Mark Clayton discuss his one-year anniversary representing District 9.
The crowd was impressive: City Manager A.C. Gonzales, First Assistant Ryan Evans, Chief of Police David Brown and Council colleagues Adam McGough and Carolyn King Arnold.
In some ways, the event had the energy of a campaign rally, not a speech from a Power Point presentation that was distributed to the audience. Lots of hootin’ and hollerin’. A year into his new job, Clayton seems to have maintained strong support in his constituency to match his 25-point victory over four opponents.
A few days earlier, Clayton sat down with the Advocate to discuss his first year in office.
“It’s been harder than I thought it would be, and it’s been better than I thought it would be,” Clayton says. “You get very few chances to take big swings in life and affect thousands, but it’s an all-encompassing, 24/7 job. I thought I knew, but I really didn’t.”
“The pace of play,” Clayton says, meaning things move slowly.
“I helped a woman in the district with a pipe issue she has been having for a while. We have a fix in place but it’s going to take a year. That’s frustrating.”
Proudest moment? Without hesitation Clayton replied: “Passing a living-wage ordinance.”
Biggest disappointment? The city’s insistence on legal action to prohibit Exxxotica from coming to the convention center.
“Listen, the council voted against the advice of its own attorney,” Clayton says. What about the recent ruling from District Judge Fitzwater in the City’s favor?
“Just a longer lawsuit and more costs for the city,” Clayton says.
If he had a do-over?
“I did not support extending Dallas United Crew’s time to raise capital to build a private boathouse on White Rock Lake,” Clayton says. “I didn’t have the chance to meet them privately prior to the vote and explain my position. I wish I would have had that chance.”
He seems to be on an extended honeymoon with neighborhood leaders. Most give him good marks but acknowledge he’s still finding his rhythm.
“The first year is always a learning curve. Who to trust and who not to trust,” says former Dallas school board trustee and Greater Casa View leader Leigh Ann Ellis. “He seems to be responsive and eager. I know people appreciate his Facebook page for communication.”
Vicki Martin, president of the Ferguson Road Initiative, believes Clayton is still “surveying the lay of the land.”
“That being said,” Martin says, “there is no doubt in my mind that he wants to serve District 9 and is proactively working to improve it.”
In particular, she points to his support (requested by her group) of the Uplift charter rezone at Ferguson and I-30, knowing that Clayton, whose children attend DISD’s Sanger Elementary, is lukewarm to the concept of charter schools in general.
Scott Robson, president of the Lochwood Neighborhood Association, echoes what others say.
“Mark has been a great asset to Lochwood and District 9,” Robson says. “He has been exceptionally responsive to neighborhood issues. What I appreciate almost more than anything, however, is his constant stream of communication via Facebook page. It keeps me from feeling, like I have so often in the past, that I am ‘in the dark’.”
Among the early accolades from neighborhood leaders, there have been some comments regarding Clayton’s consistent alliance with Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston and Adam Medrano on Council votes. Does he have “an independent voice” asks one neighborhood leader?
When addressing this question, Clayton’s earnest persona turns a little darker.
“I am tired of answering that question,” Clayton says. “I know Philip Kingston can be a lightning rod, but if I voted with Sandy Greyson or Mayor Rawlings all of the time, would I get the same questions? I vote my conviction.”
Getting things done in a deliberative body such as the City Council means building relationships. Clayton has forged an alliance with District 4 Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold. Despite not sharing gender, race, generation or district boundaries, Clayton and Arnold appear to have developed a relationship of mutual support. At Clayton’s districtwide meeting, Arnold was the only other elected official or city staff to take the mic.
Arnold told the group she and Clayton “share a similar commitment to the community” and that Clayton was “not afraid to travel across the Trinity.” Some of their respective staff has started calling them “twins.” Arnold said she appreciates Clayton’s “jokes” when the Council is tackling tough issues and needs to relieve some tension in the room.
Arnold, noting her support for more money for street improvements in Clayton’s District 9 after driving to the meeting, made her case to people living in East Dallas for a “real grocery store” in South Dallas. Two days later, Clayton introduced an amendment to a council resolution approving $3 million for a North Dallas Costco location that requires the City’s Office of Economic Development to come up with a plan to provide $3 million to land a grocery store in the food desert of South Dallas.
Clayton said his amendment was a “sincere attempt to proactively turn around parts of the city in desperate need.”
Don’t ever doubt that all politics are local. While interviewing neighborhood leaders for this story and listening to discussion at Clayton’s district meeting, no one spoke about Clayton’s work on the Trinity toll road (he favors the meandering parkway), the proposed Fair Park governance proposal (he is skeptical and wants to go slow), or the Exxottica litigation (he opposes the city’s lawsuit).
Clayton’s first year is being measured by what’s happening across the street, not what’s happening across town.
In the Advocate interview, Clayton gave City Manager A.C. Gonzales and his senior staff a grade of B-. Clayton’s constituents seem more benevolent in their assessment of him.
Clayton might argue he earned the higher mark. Either way, his cheery style and optimistic approach, at least for the time being, have maintained the positive momentum coming out of his election victory one year ago.
Clayton seems to take his job really seriously; he just doesn’t take himself too seriously.
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