Paula Blackmon recalls tearing up as she stood on the balcony of the mayor’s office, looking out over Dallas. The former executive staffer to mayors Mike Rawlings and Tom Leppert thought there was no reason why a small-town girl from Snyder should be standing in that office. But there she was, helping make decisions for the ninth-largest city in the United States.
“This city has been really good to me and my family,” Blackmon says. “I remember those times and that feeling. I needed to give that back to other young folks to say, ‘I’m lucky to live here. This is the best city.’”
Six years later, Blackmon is back in City Hall as the District 9 Dallas City Council member. This spring, the Hillside neighbor rose to the top of a four-candidate field and beat Erin Moore in a runoff election to win the seat vacated by two-term Councilman Mark Clayton.
The campaign trail was a familiar path for Blackmon, who has worked in politics for 25 years. The councilwoman knocked on about 1,000 doors, meeting with constituents, hearing their concerns and even receiving a jar of pickles.
A Casa View neighbor was showing Blackmon code enforcement problems on her street when conversation took a lighter turn to the cucumber garden in her backyard. Blackmon, who grew up eating homemade pickles from her mother and grandmother’s garden, left with a fresh jar of preserved pickles in hand. The bread and butter pickles with a hint of chili were a hit with her kids, and the family is on survival rations until she can get another jar.
“We’re not an Applebee’s neighborhood. It’s got a small-town feel with small-town interactions and support.”
“That gives the tone of what our community is,” Blackmon says. “We’re not an Applebee’s neighborhood. It’s got a small-town feel with small-town interactions and support. We’re all neighbors and want to share the things we’ve done.”
But leave it to politics to expose the dark and petty side of the neighborhood. Residents suspected something fishy when Blackmon told constituents at a debate that neighbors had added koi and tilapia to Briar Creek to kill the algae. The homeowners association had considered it in 2005, but the fish were never purchased because of financial reasons. The error unleashed a wave of backlash, and even her kids were reading about what neighbors now call “Koigate.”
Blackmon read the negative comments, but shouting an opinion into the social media void is not the best way to change the community, she says. The veteran politician doesn’t tolerate yelling and instead values the thoughtful discussions she encountered on the campaign.
“I got closer to our community as a whole, and it was a great way to prepare ideas and projects,” she says.
With the campaign behind her, Blackmon is ready to get to work. Her first priorities as councilwoman are to improve streets, preserve White Rock Lake and stimulate economic growth not only in District 9, but throughout East Dallas by working with District 7 Councilman Adam Bazaldua, District 10 Councilman Adam McGough and District 14 Councilman David Blewett to market the entire area.
Some may call Blackmon an establishment politician, with previous jobs as chief of staff to Rawlings, deputy chief of staff to Leppert and adviser to former Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles. But the councilwoman has a reputation for defying labels. She’s a self-proclaimed liberal who is also known for offering practical solutions that are affordable. Blackmon knows she’s capable of working with other officials to get results.
“There was always a willingness to solve complex issues that an urban city has,” Blackmon says. “I’ve seen that break down over the last six years. It wasn’t the environment to tackle problems. The mommy in me said, ‘Let me do it.’ I know I can bring a better way to get things done.”
Blackmon must again balance the responsibilities of being an elected official with those of being a mom to her three boys. It can be a tricky task, Blackmon says, but her husband, Barry, helps make it possible. Blackmon met Barry when she was 10 and he was 17. He was her brother’s best friend, and the boys grew up playing sports and eventually roomed together at Texas Tech University. After Blackmon graduated from Tech, she says they reconnected, and she stalked him until they started dating.
“My kids said, ‘Did you date when you were in high school?’” Blackmon says. “And we said, ‘No, he would have been in jail.’ But I did have a big crush on him.”
The couple’s oldest son graduated from their alma mater in May, and their younger two attend Woodrow Wilson. Weekends are usually spent watching the kids play sports or watching a Tech game on TV. Sometimes the family takes scuba diving trips to Mexico or the Caribbean, where Blackmon has completed more than 100 dives. And when life gets crazy, the yogi steps onto the mat to relax before re-entering the arenas that constantly demand her attention.
“You can’t be all one way — all City Hall, all at home, all at work,” Blackmon says. “There are some things I’ve just got to do. Council meetings? Sorry kids, I’ve got to go. But basketball games, football games, college visits, I’ve got to go to those, too, because they’ll end soon.
“You put it on the schedule, and you don’t feel guilty about it because it allows you to be a better X — fill in the blank. I know when it’s time to be a mom, wife and elected official.”