Mayor Mike Rawlings: Preston Hollow’s ‘white person’s problem’

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Mayor Mike Rawlings is on the balcony of his downtown office at the I.M. Pei-designed Dallas City Hall. In the last year of his second and final four-year term, he’s thoughtful about city issues, education and his future. But he’s here today to talk Preston Hollow, where he’s resided for the last 26 years. He currently lives on Lennox with his wife, Micki. After attending public schools, his son, Gunnar, graduated from Jesuit Preparatory School and daughter, Michelle, graduated from the Episcopal School of Dallas. Now adults, both children live in Dallas. Rawlings is passionate about the importance of neighborhoods. “When you get to be a big city, you don’t want to lose that intimacy,” he says. “I think the neighborhood is getting stronger and better.”

What’s your daily routine in the neighborhood?

I walk in the morning or work out. I read the paper. I’m a hard-copy guy. These days, I get to work as soon as possible. We’ve lived in the same house since 2005, so we know most of the neighbors. I’m probably not the best neighbor because I’m not out bringing pies to people all the time. I’m pretty busy. My wife is a member of the neighborhood watch for Royalwood Estates. Lennox is a great street. It’s very quiet. 

What are the biggest issues facing Preston Hollow?

Let me answer as a resident and not as a mayor. With our city growing so fast, you have a lot of teardowns and rebuilds. Making sure that you have the right mix of neighbors so it doesn’t turn into a “one-size-fits-all” is important. Second is the growth of our private schools. They just continue to provide to — and need more things from — the community. And then there’s the retail side. Everybody wants a piece of Preston Hollow, whether it’s a private residence, a nonprofit or retail. And how you do that is important. On the south side, you have Northwest Highway and multi-family units going up. When anything like this happens, everyone is concerned. It really is the old joke, and I hate to say it, but it’s a white person’s problem. It’s a nice neighborhood. We’re in a good situation. We shouldn’t get so up in arms about all this. To me, ensuring the quality of the public schools is right up there. 

Where do you like to hang out in Preston Hollow?

Princi Italia. It’s close by. We go to Royal China, probably every week, mainly because it’s Micki’s favorite restaurant in town. We spend a lot of time at Fernando’s. Those are the restaurants you’d see us at the most. I’m at Central Market and Tom Thumb all the time. I’ve been going to Soul Cycle there in Preston Center. I love walking and biking at Northaven Trail. 

Where do you like to go where you’re not recognized?

I’m not as concerned about that. People are really nice to me, even when I look like a slob and I’m grocery shopping. They come up and thank me for what I do for the city. They’ll give me their opinions, but for the most part it’s a civil group. I’m seeing people of different ages, different stages of their life. New folks who have moved in probably don’t appreciate the heritage in Preston Hollow, what has happened at Hillcrest High School over the years and what it has meant to our city. So many great people grew up in that area and are leaders in our city.

What legacy are you hoping to leave?

I haven’t really hoped for any legacy. I have always felt that was someone else’s job to figure out. I know what I want to work on, and I’ve been very intentional about that work. For me, it’s about southern Dallas. Preston Hollow will be stronger if southern Dallas is stronger. It’s not a matter of slicing up pies, but of growing the pie. That’s where I’ve spent the lion’s share of my time. I care a lot about schools and education. We’re making progress. I want to be a city that is seen by the rest of the country as a progressive place where people want to move. And it’s happening. We’ll let the chips fall where they may when I’m gone.

What are you going to do next?

I haven’t figured that out. I have a private equity firm that I’m a partner of. I’m thinking through a lot of different options. But that’s my professional home. I’ve got three partners. One lives in Greenway Parks, and two others live in Preston Hollow. They’re great folks, and I like working with them. But I still have a year left in office, and I’m working hard. I always tell young people not to worry about what you’re going to do next. If you work hard and you do the right thing, somehow that takes care of itself. 

What misconceptions do people have of you?

A lot of people think I’m an establishment guy because I come from the business sector. While I appreciate some of the real values of our institutions here, I’ve never been an establishment guy. I have always been a bit contrarian throughout my professional life and even politically. But there are some folks in the city who want to position me that way so they can say, “Let’s bring the establishment down.” I understand. I wear a suit and tie. I’ve run companies, and I’m a businessperson. But my mom and dad were school teachers, and we didn’t have anything. I’ve worked hard my whole life.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Later in my life, I realized that it’s important to know yourself really well. We spend so much time focusing on what we’re not good at that we forget how to leverage what we’re good at. And the second thought is it’s not about being happy. It’s about having self-esteem, loving yourself, feeling that you’re valued in the world. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions I see with young people. “I’m not happy with my job.” Really? Are you learning something?

What strengths did you leverage?

I figured out that while I loved being a thinker and different aspects of life, my real strength was leadership. I didn’t appreciate what leadership was all about until later in life. And once I figured that out, I leveraged it in a more free manner and learned not to be shy about leading.


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