Dallas’ longest tenured City Council member faces two familiar challengers in the election race to represent the city’s southernmost district.
Incumbent Tennell Atkins says he feels progress in District 8 has been slow and steady with him as its representative, but points to developments over the last two years in more housing, basic infrastructure and food security as reasons voters should elect him to the City Council for the eighth time in 16 years.
“This is an area that needs more homes, jobs, grocery stores, basic amenities — and all that’s happening,” said Atkins, 66. “But it takes time and leadership. Improving folks’ quality of life like this doesn’t happen in a day and without established partnerships.”
But repeat candidates Subrina Lynn Brenham and Davante “Shawt” Peters say they believe the residents need a new voice to more aggressively push for change District 8 residents can immediately feel and see.
Both admit that Atkins’ name recognition in the district makes them long shots to defeat the incumbent in the May 6 election. Brenham and Peters also acknowledge that the district is seeing some progress, but say it’s long overdue and point out that some projects are years away from coming to fruition.
“We’ve known this area has needed more resources forever, and we’ve had the same leadership forever,” said Brenham, 60, and who has previously run for City Council in 2013, 2015 and 2021. “It’s hard for people to not feel forgotten when your councilman puts energy behind building a new convention center and meanwhile folks have no sidewalks and have trouble getting approved for the city’s home repair program.”
At 54 square miles, District 8 is the city’s second-largest district and the only one where Black residents make up the majority. According to city population demographics estimates, Black and Hispanic residents make up roughly 46% each, 6% white, less than 1% Asian and 2% of residents identify as another race.
It runs from the Redbird area in the west near Duncanville to the Kleberg – Rylie area in the east and the northern boundary borders parts of Loop 12. The area is home to the Inland Port, the University of North Texas at Dallas and Paul Quinn College, but also has some rural areas lacking paved roads, sidewalks and connections to the city’s wastewater system.
Brenham and Peters were part of a four-person race in the 2021 City Council election that Atkins won outright that May. Of the about 2,700 votes casted, Atkins received about 74%, Brenham gained 17% and Peters around 6%.
Atkins was first elected in 2007, continued to win reelection until hitting term limits in 2015, was voted back onto the council in 2017, and has served as the longest tenured member of the body since then.
Atkins, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said he believes his experience and institutional knowledge of City Hall will help promote more growth in the southern district.
Among the developments Atkins points to as wins for the district are the February reopening of a grocery store in an area food desert, the Environmental Protection Agency in January beginning demolition work on a shut-down electroplating facility that created highly toxic chemical waste, city approval last year of a 270-acre new mixed-use development near UNT-Dallas expected to include more than 1,500 new homes, adding hundreds of new jobs with the opening of a Kroger grocery warehouse last summer, and UT Southwestern opening a medical center at RedBird.
The City Council last week approved giving nearly $6 million in incentives to Tom Thumb to bring a grocery store at the RedBird redeveloping mall site.
If reelected, Atkins said he wants to focus on fostering more affordable housing, push for improving transportation options for residents without a car, upgrading more streets and sidewalks, and bringing in more commercial development.
“I’m always working, people know that, and that’s why I keep getting elected,” Atkins said.
Peters, a health store owner and musician who helped spearhead renaming part of Lamar Street to Botham Jean Boulevard, said he believes he is a more seasoned candidate than in his previous two City Council bids. As a small business owner, he said he has a better understanding of how vital that type of development is to Dallas’ growth and wants to push for more city financial aid to increase the amount of small- and mid-sized businesses in the southern half of the city.
“We have a lot of potential in our district, but people need the means and low barriers to get there,” said Peters, 29. “Without it, the disparities we all see will continue, and we’ll never catch up to other areas of the city.”
Peters said he would also be in favor of the city finding more ways to give residents help in paying their rents and mortgages, working with Dallas County and other groups to reduce health care service disparities in the district, and increasing efforts to address root causes of poverty as a way to decrease crime.
“Crime is often a symptom of our community’s needs not being met,” Peters said. “Yes, we need the police. But we also need to put more funds in jobs, training, education and other approaches that aren’t police focused.”
Brenham, a tax service business owner, said she believes the district needs better community outreach to keep residents informed and make sure their concerns are heard. She said many voters she’s spoken to say they only learn of developments coming to the district after they’ve already been approved.
“People don’t feel like they’re part of the process,” said Brenham. “I really think you have to make everybody feel like you’re working with them and for them, not just that you’re working.”
She said if elected she would advocate for a wider mix of housing options to attract more middle- and high-income residents to the district, push for a new police substation based in District 8 to improve 911 response times, and call for more air quality and environmental testing around the area to identify and address health disparities.
Dallas City Council members are elected to two-year terms. Early voting for the May 6 election begins April 24 and ends May 2. If any of the races for City Council end with no candidate receiving more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will move to a runoff June 10.