As Jeff Williams prepares to formally take office in a little less than two weeks as the city’s 26th mayor, the man he defeated in Saturday’s election says he’ll find ways to fill the most free time he’s had since he became a councilman 16 years ago.
Mayor Robert Cluck probably would have never been mayor without a near-fatal motor scooter accident that almost cost him the use of his right arm in 1994. It did cost him his “first love,” the ability to practice medicine. After a period of feeling sorry for himself, a man who didn’t even vote in municipal elections was asked to consider running for the City Council.
“The rest is history,” Cluck, 76, who was seeking a seventh two-year term as mayor, said in an interview in his office this week.
“Nobody likes to get beat, but I’m fine,” he said. “I have plenty of things to do.” Besides his day job as vice president of medical affairs at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, those include spending time with family and traveling with his wife.
In a race that wasn’t nearly as close as some observers had predicted, Williams drew 58.1 percent of the vote to Cluck’s 39.2 percent, according to final but unofficial totals. Williams won 23 of 28 precincts, trailing Cluck only in the city’s five southern- and southeastern-most voting sites.
The council is scheduled to canvass the votes Tuesday, and Williams will formally take office May 26.
Four council members — Robert Rivera, Kathryn Wilemon, Lana Wolff and Michael Glaspie Sr. — won re-election Saturday night in a city where turnout was boosted by an overwhelming vote in favor of banning red-light cameras.
Cluck said he saw the loss coming more than a month ago but didn’t give up. “I kept working at it. I guess it was just time.”
‘Great council and staff’
Williams ran a campaign emphasizing that it was time for a change — that the city had become “stagnant” after missed opportunities for economic development, specifically losing out on the Dallas Cowboys training facility, which is being built in Frisco, and on a new Toyota plant, which Plano won. In an interview this week, he said he looks forward to meeting with council members and city staffers to hear their priorities.
“I believe we have a great council and staff,” said Williams, president of Graham Associates engineering firm and chairman of the 2014 Arlington school district bond committee, which won voter approval for the largest school bond package in Tarrant County history. “I’m willing to listen. I have proved that over and over in my 30 years serving the community.”
He added, “I want them to realize that not everything has to come through the mayor’s desk.”
The 55-year-old, who grew up in Sherman but often visited relatives in Arlington and attended Rangers games as a child, said he plans to tap into the city’s citizen experts, into the Arlington Chamber of Commerce — of which he is a former chairman — and into UT Arlington’s connections at home and abroad to look for ways to save tax money and boost corporate recruitment.
“I don’t want us to be reactionary anymore,” he said.
Wilemon, the mayor pro tem, said Tuesday that she takes issue with the characterization of the city as stagnant, pointing to a multitude of projects, including:
▪ The proposed MGM hotel next to the Arlington Convention Center.
▪ General Motors’ hinted-at $1.29 billion expansion of its assembly plant.
▪ The fast-growing Viridian master-planned community.
▪ The upcoming makeover of the Interstate 30/Texas 360 interchange.
▪ The recent contract with Trammell Crow to lure corporate headquarters to city-owned land along I-30.
▪ The booming success of the Arlington Highlands retail and restaurant district and others.
Those are just some of the bigger projects, she said. Smaller ones, like an upcoming beautification pilot project that will screen unsightly fences with landscaping, are just as important to quality of life.
“We’ve got a lot of things on the ground that we’re working on,” Wilemon said from her office at City Hall. “The next step is completion. Are there things we can add to that? I’m sure there are, but they’ll have to find room. We’re always looking. Everybody is thinking every day, ‘What can we do to make it better?’ We’re not just sitting on our thumbs.”
City satisfaction surveys have shown that respondents are pleased with the city’s direction.
Cluck acknowledged that he was hurt when “some of Jeff’s supporters got very personal — I didn’t like that.”
While he declined to say the red-light-camera issue turned the tide against him, he believes that some in Williams’ camp misrepresented his position, saying that he was in favor of the cameras instead of that he wanted voters to decide. (He said he believes that the cameras reduce violent crashes.)
As for losing the Cowboys training facility to Frisco, Cluck said Arlington worked hard to win it despite being at a disadvantage on what it could offer. In the end, “Jerry Jones called me that afternoon and said, ‘We’ve just got too good a deal. We can’t pass it up,’” Cluck said.
The highlights he will look back on after 12 years as mayor include bringing AT&T Stadium to town; advocating for citywide CPR training that he says has helped the city tie with Seattle as second-best in the nation for cardiac-arrest survival rates; and the city’s triple-A bond rating with three of four reporting agencies.
But he pointed out, as he has done before, that “I’m just one vote; there are eight others on the council, too.”
Longtime UT Arlington political scientist Allan Saxe said this week that he had come to believe Williams would win the race but that the margin surprised him.
In the end, Saxe said, an extremely well-run campaign by Williams led to a political rarity: A well-liked incumbent who had done nothing scandalous or illegal was unseated by a first-time candidate whose main message was it’s time for a change. That’s how a sitting mayor in Arlington was voted out for the first time in 64 years.
“That’s a tough thing to do,” Saxe said. “And Jeff Williams did it.”
Patrick M. Walker, 817-390-7423
▪ Occupation: Graham Associates president
▪ Education: Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1981 from Texas Tech University
▪ Family: Married with three grown children; Arlington resident since 1984
▪ Current civic involvement: Committee chairman and board member, Arlington Chamber of Commerce; vice chairman, Cotton Bowl Association; committee chairman and board member, Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau; Comprehensive Planning Committee, Arlington; commissioner of the DFW High-Speed Rail Commission; co-chairman, Salvation Army annual luncheon; founding board member, Project Restore Hope Foundation; advisory board member, Arlington YMCA; committee chairman, Sunday school teacher and department head, First Baptist Church of Arlington
▪ Past involvement: President, River Legacy Foundation; chairman, 2014 Arlington school district bond committee; Vandergriff Community Leadership Award; Arlington’s 2012 Small Business of the Year; 2009 Texas Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award for work on AT&T Stadium; Texas Project of the Year for 2011 for work on Interstate 30 Three Bridges project from Texas Public Works Association