The room fell silent at Mita Havlick’s election party after the final results were tallied. A mere 42 votes separated the two candidates in the runoff, giving Dustin Marshall the victory in the hard-fought Dallas ISD District 2 trustee election.
“It was close!” Havlick exclaimed, breaking the silence. And as emotions overcame her, Havlick’s supporters began to clap and cheer, some even calling out, “2017!”
Mike Morath vacated the District 2 seat last December to become the Texas Education Agency commissioner, leaving one year of his three-year term to be filled. Four candidates sought to replace him in May’s special election, with Marshall and Havlick each garnering enough votes to face each other in Saturday’s runoff.
More than $285,000 was raised during the six-month-long race — a fundraising record for a DISD race — with Marshall spending nearly 5 times as much as Havlick, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Marshall’s platform was to continue the momentum of education reform, a movement Morath championed and arguably established in the Dallas political landscape during his five years on the DISD board. Havlick painted herself as the “parent’s choice,” comparing her family’s public school investment to Marshall’s private school choice and questioning why deep pockets rather than engaged parents should decide who governs schoolchildren.
At Marshall’s election party, servers were passing out glasses of sparkling wine to celebrants when we arrived, with the trustee-elect still in a bit of shock as he took in the handshakes and backslaps.
“A nail-biter, right?” he told one congratulant. “It couldn’t get much closer.”
The lack of a mandate from yesterday’s election results is not lost on Marshall. At his party, he reflected on his surprise of how many opponents entered the initial race and the “eye-opening” nature of their traction in the election.
“Mita ran a great campaign,” he acknowledged, giving credit to her core group of volunteers.
The race grew heated, especially in East Dallas, where public school is a much more popular choice than in Preston Hollow. Facebook fights were rampant, and election results show that Lakewood, especially, was prime battleground. Its precincts had the highest voter turnout, and though Marshall was victorious in most, he and Havlick were neck and neck.
“I think it’s incumbent on her and I both to unify,” Marshall said, adding that he conveyed to Havlick during their post-election phone call that he is willing to work with her in any way and “very open” to hearing advice.
He emphasized, however, that “Mita and I have grown to have a fondness for one another and we get along fine. There’s more drama between our relative supporters. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to work together.”
Earlier in the evening, before the results were final, Havlick took the opportunity to marvel at how her “grassroots campaign” of parents who send their children to DISD schools had fared in the election.
“They now realize we’re not going away,” she told her supporters. “No matter what happens in this election, whether win or lose, this is a not a loss.”
When the final count came in, showing her 42 votes short, she reiterated that belief to the disappointed gathering.
Roughly 5,800 voters cast ballots in the District 2 runoff, accounting for about 7 percent of the district’s registered voters. The single-digit turnout is typical for a Dallas school board election, where just a few voters can determine the outcome — and in this case, they did.
Even after all of the blood, sweat, tears, money, time and effort, Marshall “really has only a year to prove himself,” said Old East Dallas Park Board representative Jesse Moreno Jr., who attended Marshall’s election party last night. The next District 2 election for a full three-year term is May 2017.
That’s not long, especially considering that if Marshall does attract opponents, campaign season likely would begin in early 2017.
But Marshall wasn’t entertaining that possibility last night.
“I’ll think about that tomorrow,” he said.