Friday, May 12, 2023

City Council Election 2023 Aftermath

Election 2023 is in the books. We have a new mayor-elect. We have two new council persons upcoming. Elections were run. Doors were knocked on. Mailers sent. Hands were shaken, and fists bumped. There were winners and losers, not necessarily those running for elections. On the 15th-floor penthouse of the Chase Bank building at US-75 and Main St., the Richardson Echo's crackerjack staff (meaning me) have been working overtime (meaning when I had time) to bring you this analysis of what transpired.

Previously I called this "Richardson's Most Important Election in a Generation." I stand by that. I said, "Richardson will Elect a New Mayor... and That is a Good Thing." I stand by that. Nothing has changed those interpretations. 

The Richardson Echo recommended candidates in six of the seven races and five of those six won. We did not make a recommendation in the Mayor's race.

Before we get to the actual races, let's look at the winners and losers that did not run for office.

The Richardson Coalition
Result: LOSER
Citizens of Richardson: WINNERS

The Richardson Coalition's picks, except Place 3 candidate Stephen Springs, won. Why are they losers, then? Because all of the other selections were easily predictable and not tricky choices. With the mayor, they did not make an endorsement. (In full disclosure, neither did I.)

It is almost like they did not have much influence. Maybe they didn't.

This election marks their second consecutive loss after no losses in any previous election. In 2021, they endorsed Kyle Kepner (an incumbent), who lost to Joe Corcoran.

Their power has been imagined by people saying to me that "Chuck Eisemann is pulling the strings [of the council]" or "The Coalition is running city hall." If those aren't exact quotes, they aren't far off. For many election cycles, I have argued to candidates and others (privately because I didn't have this blog) that the Richardson Coalition's influence is more illusion than reality. All it would take to break that illusion would be someone challenging them and winning. That has now happened twice.

It is still not clear who the decision-makers of the Richardson Coalition actually are. Among the people listed on their supporters' page are at least one person who was deceased long ago, at least one who doesn't live in Richardson, and at least two who have not always supported their candidate choices.

Richardson Area Democrats
Result: WINNER
Citizens of Richardson: LOSERS, Maybe (Well, some of them anyway.)

If there was doubt that partisanship had injected itself into these nonpartisan municipal races, then let that illusion be shattered. The Richardson Area Democrats (or RAD) used its organization as a political action committee to influence the election. They used their email, social media, and direct mailer resources. Other PACs and persons did not endorse Place 3 candidate Dan Barrios but RAD was the only player that did. Barrios did not need RAD's endorsement to win but it was likely a factor in his margin of victory.

I do not see this as a positive development. Party politics of actual partisan elections are divisive and poisoned enough at higher levels of elected office. The last thing we need is that spirit dragged into Richardson municipal politics.

RAD will argue that they are trying to create public engagement. OK. Fair point. They held a candidate forum. The event was run well. On the other hand RAD board members told me the focus was getting Democrats elected and therefore they censored neutral information in their social media channels. Well, which one is it?

They will argue that they endorsed Republicans. They did, but what choice did they have when races have two Republicans? Use it or Lose it. (The ability to endorse being "it.") The Richardson Coalition was formed (more or less) to reappoint Gary Slagel as Mayor, yet they continued to endorse the Mayor to be deposed, Steve Mitchell and other candidates they might not have endorsed had more suitable candidates been available. Thus, RAD endorsing a Republican can be seen merely as "politics makes strange bedfellows."  (FYI: Texas does not have party registration. That means Republican or Democrat usually means someone who voted in the primary of a political party.)

If "Potholes don't have a party" then we do not need an ideological tilt built into city politics. Maybe I can write a full length piece explaining my position at a later time.

Old School Richardson Politics
Result: Kicked to the Curb
Citizens of Richardson: WINNERS - in some ways.

In the words of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, "The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away."

Anyone who has been around Richardson politics knows there is an "in crowd." That crowd tends to be an old school pro-business, pro large scale economic development, Chamber of Commerce golf course centered crowd.

If you went along, then you could be in. If you had new ideas, then you were thought of as suspicious but might get a look. If you gave honest critiques no matter how gentle or factual you were out.

Now this nebulous group has differing interests and directions. It is now one of many groups of interests. The citizens of Richardson are winners because now they can have a greater voice through different groups and sympathetic council members that might not have otherwise fit the "in crowd."

They might be losers because Richardson might evolve without a unified vision and a lack of unity may prevent good, big bold ideas from percolating to the top. Political jockeying and internal differences may prevent progress. We will see. I would delight in seeing this paragraph proved wrong.

Richardson Echo Nonpartisan Spirit Award
Winner: Council Member Jennifer Justice.

The Collin County Republicans and the Richardson Area Democrats sent out questionnaires to candidates. Jennifer Justice refused to participate in either. She was the only candidate to do so.

One or more candidates may have refused the GOP questionnaire but since I do not have access to them I cannot say. I am disappointed no other candidate refused to answer to the extent Ms Justice did.

The GOP questionnaire asked, "Do you support the platform of the Republican party of Texas? Yes or no?" RAD asked, "What values of the Democratic Party do you share and which are most important to you?"

In speaking with Justice, she said that such questions do not align with municipal elections' nonpartisan nature. She isn't accusing either of wrongdoing but wishes to adhere to the nonpartisan nature of these elections. (Note: This is my paraphrasing of her response.)

Council Races (in order of least to most interesting.)

Place 5.

WINNER: Ken Hutchenrider
LOSER: Todd Hunter

Hutchenrider repeated the case that he had the experience and the record. Well, Ken… You do. I endorsed Hutchenrider.

Hunter had a low-money campaign with no community experience whatsoever. Hunter is the only candidate I did not know before the race began, and many people I spoke to said the same thing. Like all candidates, I met him and he seemed sincere. Hunter would have to climb a big hill to overcome Hutchenrider's straightforward argument of experience and record.

There was some noise about alleged conflicts of interest involving Hutchenrider and his Methodist Richardson Medical Center position. As far as the campaign goes, this amounted to noise.

Hutchenrider, in his interview with me, seemed to clearly grasp what is at stake in in the next two years. I hope he uses his voice and experience to push that understanding to new council members. I hope he does not back down on some of those ideas he expressed to me.

Place 1.

WINNER: Curtis Dorian
LOSER: G Scott Waddell

Simply stated, Curtis Dorian had the energy and the endorsements. I endorsed him. He presented himself as someone involved who wanted it. Dorian's experience in different parts of Richardson from the Arts to his neighborhood association presidency to the Chamber of Commerce was a big selling point.

Waddell has leadership experience and accomplishments. I do not think anything was wrong with Waddell's aspirations or platforms other than him seeming to lack a convincing and direct focus on why he was running. His recent move into Place 1 worked against him. While everyone votes throughout the city, Waddell is a relative unknown in Place 1.

I believe Dorian will need to learn a broad view of not just how the City Council functions, but of the mechanisms of cities in general. He is a smart person who runs a residential design business and deals with real budgets on real physical projects. That sets him up to understand the machinations of cities.

Place 3.

WINNER: Dan Barrios
LOSER: Stephen Springs

Barrios handily won this race. Two easily identifiable reasons emerge. First, Barrios's primary skill is that he is a politician. There are two completely different parts of being a city council member: Getting elected and doing the job. Barrios already has the skills for the former.

He has slick videos. He hires a consultant. He "presses flesh," as they say. He is personable. He is a likeable person. His website claims are so general that they could be from any city.

He has a limited amount of community experience in Richardson. He never served on a Board or Commission.

and, he won. That's a credit to Dan, the politician. A lot will be made of RAD's endorsement but I think Barrios would have won if they had endorsed nobody (all other things being the same.) That again is a credit to Barrios going door to door, meeting people and (to use his words when I interviewed him) "meeting people where they are."

I hope readers do not write off those extensive face to face interactions with a shrug or think this is a denigration of Barrios. Barrios has the distinct advantage of having directly interacted with a huge number of people he will now represent before he enters office. Few incoming freshman have that record.

In my decades in Richardson, I am not sure Richardson has seen anyone like Barrios.

The second reason is that his democratic ties played a part. I asked a few people I know across the city how they got a Dan Barrios sign in their yards. Several said they came from Democratic precinct chairs. Dan received donations from known Democratic figures. One can argue that Barrios was the most partisan candidate in the race. He might object, but his democratic ties are clear from his history and social media.

Springs, who I endorsed, ran a reasonable campaign but not with the outreach, time, and energy as Barrios. Springs could have overcome this, but it would have required an incredible error-free massively expensive time, money, outreach, energy, and groundwork game. Springs sold his experience and extensive ties to things within Richardson. Without getting out and connecting to people more extensively those qualifications were not heard widely enough.

In running for office, Stephen Springs resigned from our City Plan Commission as required by our City Charter. He was easily the best and knowledgeable voice with the broadest institutional history on the commission. He has not been replaced with an equal caliber person.

I have high hopes for Barrios to learn what he needs to learn to make decisions. His skills as a listener and his ability to connect will serve him and our city well.

MAYOR – Place 7.

WINNER: Bob Dubey
LOSER: Janet DePuy

In full disclosure, I know both candidates well. Bob Dubey and myself were in Class 24 of Leadership Richardson. Janet DePuy and I are former neighborhood association presidents and have worked together on those issues. I was also on DePuy's campaign team in 2019.

Bob Dubey operated an extensive campaign. That said, it was Janet DePuy's race to lose, and she lost. I would give DePuy the advantage if both candidates ran extensive and equally hard campaigns. But she lost. Why?

DePuy failed to convince the Richardson Coalition, RAD, me (not that it matters much), and others to endorse her. These non-endorsements worked in Dubey's favor.

DePuy won Collin County but not Dallas County. This indicates that Dubey's RISD connection might have made a difference. I believe certain DePuy votes were anti-Dubey votes.

While DePuy had the advantage of being endorsed by current Mayor Paul Voelker, she also had the reputation of voting with him lockstep and showing no independence. While that reputation might not have been apparent to a large amount of the voting public, it might have been enough difference in the 300 vote final margin.

Dubey sold himself as a listener which may have been a direct response to DePuy's (and to a certain extent soon-to-be-former Mayor Voelker's) reputation(s).

As far as I can see, DePuy's campaign was not as broad and did not have a strong "ground game." Dubey had an extensive and surprising ground game.

For these reasons, although Dubey ran a strong campaign, Depuy could have prevailed if she had avoided or lessened these pitfalls. She didn't. Dubey worked hard into that void and won.

Dubey made many more personable connections than DePuy as far as I can tell. DePuy struggled in that department according to voters I spoke to. Indeed, even though I already knew Dubey, I was surprised by his openness during our interview. I am sure voters picked up on that.

If Mayor Dubey makes good on his broad representation and active listening platform, then he has an opportunity to be a great mayor.


This is the most unique campaign season I witnessed. This cycle did not follow the usual pattern. We will have one of the youngest and least experienced councils in memory when we have some of the most heavy lifting necessary in the next two years.

Council Members will be sworn in at the Eisemann Center on the evening of May 15. Congrats to all of the winners.



  1. "We will have one of the youngest and least experienced councils in memory when we have some of the most heavy lifting necessary in the next two years."
    This worries me a lot. The City Council is inexperienced. The City Manager and City staff are not. Can the Council hold its own in these interactions?

  2. I would add to Mr. Laska's account Councilman elect Barrios was running his second campaign for Richardson City Council. True; he had the institutional and financial support of the DEM Party at state, county and local levels. Given that from my vantage point of 50 plus years in electoral politics I will assert there is no substitute for campaign experience in winning an election. Mr. Barrious ran a textbook camapign against an inexperienced opponent leveraging all of his electoral advantages.