Philip Kingston: Chris Arrant

On June 24 Philip Kingston, an attorney specializing in commercial litigation, was sworn into office as our new District 14 councilman, replacing longtime city council lightning rod Angela Hunt, who served her maximum of four consecutive terms in the East Dallas district. Kingston represents a sizable section of East Dallas, from Northwest Highway past La Vista. Kingston says he believes in the power of city politics, although not in the way you might think. “I think everyone has visions of elected leaders as being powerful people who say what should happen and that’s how it goes, but that is not what a city council person does or should try to do,” he says. Instead, Kingston is a big believer in hearing everybody out and finding consensus, which is something he’s learned from years of listening to city leaders before him, including his predecessor, Hunt.

 Why was it important to you to run for city council?
I knew I could do this job well. I don’t mean to sound arrogant about it, but I’ve spent an awful lot of time prepping for this, in doing neighborhood volunteer work and in engaging with the city staff and city political bodies. I recognized that I’d honed a set of skills that allowed me to really take grassroots concerns and convert them into outcomes — that’s what people want.

And by “grassroots concerns,” you mean …
“Grassroots concerns” is such a shortcut term. It means details of life, and that’s a big part of what the campaign was, that we wanted to improve basic quality of life for our citizens. It’s a really simple concept, but there are a million details that go into that. It’s not real easy, and the first thing you have to do is reach a political consensus on what that means and which of those concerns have priority. Where are we going to spend our money, where are we going to spend our time and our resources? Those are all political questions that take a lot of time to figure out, to get everyone’s input, and everyone needs to be heard. And if you don’t take the time to get it right, then you won’t be giving people what they want.

If you could describe your leadership style in one word, what would it be?
I’m going to hyphenate and claim it’s one word: consensus-seeking. Everybody needs a seat at the table. Everybody needs to be heard. It doesn’t mean that everybody gets everything they want all the time. Obviously that can’t happen, but that’s not the point of the process. You win some, you lose some, you compromise. That process is really healthy, I think.

What’s your vision for East Dallas?
Dallas at its best attracts the most capable, creative, effective people from around the country to come and live in these neighborhoods. When you draw in people like that and you give them great places to live, I think people who want to serve those people — businesses and investors — follow along, and you get this terrific cycle of growth. In East Dallas, in terms of detail, I think that means we’re going to see continued improvement of our established neighborhoods. They need stability and protection. They need excellent public safety. That’s really a given in any neighborhood, but people are very concerned about that in East Dallas. They need their infrastructure improved. The infrastructure is really poor in East Dallas, and we’re going to address some of that. This last bond package has a lot of streets money in it, and a lot of drainage money in it.

Could you briefly sum up why you were endorsed by Angela Hunt?
The short answer is, we have a similar philosophy for city government. All of that blather that I just gave you about my vision for East Dallas, I didn’t come up with that on my own. Angela might’ve put it in different words — those are my words — but those are things that I learned from her and a hundred neighborhood leaders here over the last 14 years. She has a real strong commitment to that small-scale, from-the-bottom-up view of how a city ought to serve its citizens, and that includes an energetic pursuit of transparency and accountability at City Hall, and that’s where she’s developed some of her reputation as a fighter.

Do you plan to follow in her footsteps, or do you hope to deviate from her style and establish your own?
Yeah, I’ve been asked that a lot. The main difference between us is just the calendar. She was, I think, 32 when she ran for office the first time. You know, I threw her first fundraiser in my backyard. I’m 40, so I’ve had eight more years of doing this stuff at a lower level than she had, where I’ve been in neighborhood meetings, where I’ve worked hundreds and hundreds of hours, listening to my neighbors, figuring out how you do this kind of leadership.

You mentioned infrastructure earlier. Is that something pretty high on the agenda?
The second half of the bond package has some of the streetscape improvement in it. Now some of that streetscape improvement looks better than we anticipated because my wife, with the help of a lot of our neighbors, talked Walmart (on Lower Greenville) into providing more in terms of landscaping and site improvement then they already were required to do, and frankly, thanks to them for that. But we’ll be implementing that as fast as possible. They’re already selling those bonds now, so that money should become available fairly quickly. Henderson got the most of any single street project in the city, I believe, and that is going to be fantastic. It is going to be a massive improvement, just to drive down it, not to mention better pedestrian access.

What about some of Hunt’s leftover projects, like the trail system? How involved do you plan to be in that?
Trail connections are a huge priority. This connector trail inside the levee in the Trinity is a hugely frustrating issue. The city announced it, everyone agreed to it, the money is there and city staff just flat won’t do it. What is the explanation for that? Angela had threatened to withhold her portion of the bond funding if they won’t do it right, and I have to say I agree with that. That’s what I’ll do as well. But there are plenty of other things we can do. The downtown circulator system is a big priority. It’s set to start in August or September. John Crawford (the president and CEO of DOWNTOWNDallas), and I have some concerns about making sure it’s successful. If that thing works right, you suddenly have transit options that link East Dallas, Uptown, Downtown, all the way down to Oak Cliff because that trolley will eventually start running.

We broke ground on the Mockingbird Pedestrian Bridge at the Katy Trail. That’s another project that has taken forever, and again, that is another project I’m very dedicated to. Angela was just desperate to get the ground breaking done before she left office. The more we link those trails up, the more utilization we’re going to see because when they serve not just as a recreational resource, but also as an actual transit option, there’s going to be — I think — just an explosion in the use of them. I’m going to try to bike into City Hall as much as possible.

Looks like McMansions are making a comeback, which is an issue close to many East Dallasite hearts. Do you have anything to say about that?
It’s not a matter of saying this style is good, this style is bad; it’s a matter of a responsible builder, and there are a lot of them looking at East Dallas, and it’s for each neighborhood to figure out on their own. I would always prefer to see a neighborhood come together and say, “Here’s what we, coming to a consensus, want.”

Do you have any major projects in your sights?
This is a really broad thing to say, and it’s going to result in a to-do list of a lot of smaller items on it, but refocusing our budget priorities. I’ve said that so many times, I’m afraid I’m boring people with it, but it continues to be an issue. The way a city budget should work is: Pay for all the stuff we need, as in public safety, transportation and infrastructure, drainage and utilities, maintenance on the stuff we already own. Pay for quality-of-life stuff first, and then if we have anything left over, let’s talk about doing other kinds of creative things with city budget, or let’s talk about a tax break. We have the highest tax rate in the North Texas region. I guess I feel like a radical saying I feel like we need to exercise some sort of household budgetary restraint.

How would your family or close friends describe you?
I really don’t know. My wife describes me in all kinds of different ways, depending on her mood. I will say nobody was really surprised when I decided to run for office.

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