He could be the subject of a Horatio Alger story: a young man from humble beginnings in a tiny town climbs up to sit in the highest seat of a very large metropolis.
Meet Mike Rawlings, who has done just that. Originally from Borger, an oil patch dot on the Texas map, he is now in his second term as Mayor of Big D.
This may be the stuff of legend, but it didn’t just happen. Our city’s leader labored tirelessly to create his own success. Born in 1954, he “invaded” Dallas 22 years later — with just $200 in his pocket. Elected Mayor in 2011, Southern Methodist University praised him the following year with this introduction as a conference speaker: “Through hard work and determination, he proved that Dallas truly is The City of Opportunity.”
Certainly, education helped. Mike first went from Borger to Boston College, where he earned a letter in football as well as his Bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in philosophy and communications. These two subjects helped launch Mike’s ambitious plans for making this city even bigger and better. He truly believes in improving the lives of Dallas residents – including himself, his wife, and two grown children — and he’s proved himself able to convince his constituents how they can do just that.
It was hard work in the Dallas business world that gave Mayor Rawlings his personal boost. He began his climb from an entry level position in a major advertising agency to eventually becoming its CEO. Then, following two decades of unquestioned success, he moved his marketing know-how into the top position at Pizza Hut. After making another positive mark there, he went on to CIC Partners, a successful business dedicated to helping other businesses find their own successes.
Mike was elected mayor in 2011 following a proven record in public service that paralleled his achievements in private business. He had already chaired the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, served as Park Board president, and was widely known as the city’s “Homeless Czar” for his advocacy of the Dallas Bridge shelter. The top priority on his platform was to highlight southern Dallas as the city’s greatest untapped resource. Almost immediately after election came the launch of GrowSouth, an ambitious plan of action to revitalize those sectors of the city.
“We have a vibrant business community that is succeeding and growing,” he wrote in a public “Dear Friends — Message from the Mayor” “before the opening of Dallas’ now-signature bridge in early 2012. “Our downtown is coming alive with increased convention and visitors’ business, and the excitement of a world-class arts district. Perot Museum and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge will redefine our city. We must develop southern Dallas.” His early efforts prompted The Dallas Morning News to comment that: “After only six months, Rawlings has accomplished more for southern Dallas than many of his predecessors managed in their entire terms.” He is presently continuing the effort, and just last November, the city unveiled its comprehensive plan for the revitalization of Fair Park.
The mayor’s other areas of concentration have included the Dallas Men Against Abuse campaign to combat domestic violence, furthering the arts, and the city’s economic growth across the board. He’s now in his second term following reelection in May 2015, and city statistics for that year show a drop in unemployment paired with rises in both sales tax revenues and property tax values.
But The Senior Voice was most eager to learn the mayor’s views on what matters most to us, and maybe to him as well – after all, Mike Rawlings is, at 61, already a well-qualified senior himself. The Senior Source in Dallas, the non-profit that has provided a half-century of assistance to aging locals, recently mounted a campaign to make more and better recreation facilities available to its clientele. The Mayor understands both the needs, and the very real problems in meeting them.
“Our population is going to be made up of more and more seniors in the future,” he said. “Do the basic math: 300,000 now, and growing. So we’ve got to make sure our city resources are customized and delivered effectively.” Substantial progress was made when the Dallas City Council set its budget priorities for 2016. As chief elected officer who presides over city government, the Mayor is on board with adding a Senior Division to the Parks and Recreation Department.
“We’re already spending more money in our recreation centers and providing more for seniors in those centers,” he said. “We have to dial that up, using capital resources to create even more.”
Many surrounding municipalities now have full-service centers for seniors. Dallas has only a single designated senior center, and the push is on for a second, more modern one. Mayor Rawlings is cautiously in favor: “We’ll look at the 2017 bond election for capital products. Should that be one? All things being equal, I’d be in favor,” he told us.
The Mayor also has some additional ideas about service not only for seniors, but by them as well. “There’s a lot of passion about building a senior resource center,” he said. “Where would it be? We don’t want this to be divisive. Our senior citizens must concentrate on details for the whole city to get behind. Could the community figure out how to use a new center to increase senior volunteerism? In a central location, seniors could be trained, assigned, and sent out to go and do. There are so many needs out there to connect with seniors’ passions, like being reading partners for children, or working with other seniors. My mother did that,” he recalled.
But there may be some exciting opportunities for seniors even before any new center is built, because Mike Rawlings is issuing a call for their participation.
“We need more senior voices around Dallas City Hall,” he said, “more seniors to volunteer from a leadership standpoint, to serve on Boards and Commissions.” He’s encouraging them to “Meet with your City Council representatives; they’ll get to know you and your expertise.”
The Mayor sees Dallas’ senior citizens as a human resource, just as he saw high school juniors and seniors and college students when he created summer internship programs for them in business settings, or to learn more about politics and government. All residents are part of his long-range dream for the city he loves, and loves to serve:
“As citizens of the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country,” he said, “we have a duty to develop and foster our cultural identity, ensuring that Dallas continues to be a great place to live, work, and play.”