In a year when a contentious presidential election is still not completely settled, Irving residents are headed to the polls once again to make a final decision on their own city council. On Dec. 8, a runoff will be held to determine whether Abdul Khabeer or Mark Zeske will occupy Place 3 on the council.
The race pits a teacher against a local businessman for the seat being vacated by Dennis Webb, who has termed out after first being elected in 2011. He ran unopposed in 2017 and has served as the Mayor Pro Tem. Originally a three-way race, Mohammed Akbar was eliminated as the lowest vote-getting candidate in the first round.
Zeske led in the first ballot with 4,825 votes, garnering 46.5%, not enough to claim a majority. He is an English teacher at Singley Academy and has been a journalist for a variety of outlets in past years. Zeske has also been active as a youth sports coach and has taught Sunday school at his Catholic church for three decades.
Zeske points to his experience on the City of Irving Planning and Zoning Commission as key to his qualifications for the Place 3 position. He has been in that role for five years where there have been more than $1 billion in new permits each year. He also served three terms on the Irving Public Library Board, when the city built the West and South branches and started the North Texas Teen Book Festival, an event Zeske describes as “the largest event of its kind in the world.”
He is also a member of the Irving Arts Grant Review Panel, works with homeless outreach and was a member of the inaugural class of Irving 360.
Abdul Khabeer, an Irving resident for 15 years, is a businessman originally from Chicago. He has worked with several non-profit organizations, and was recently appointed to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments.
Khabeer also stands out as the favored choice of the outgoing councilmember. Webb said both candidates could do a good job on the council, but Khabeer’s background makes him particularly well-suited for Irving at this point in time.
“One of the things Abdul (Khabeer) does is, he’s a consultant to small businesses,” Webb said. “And I don’t have to tell you how small businesses are hurting right now because of the pandemic. So I think when it comes to being able to help educate the staff and the council in having a connection with small businesses he would be the better choice in that particular area.”
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Webb also said electing Khabeer would be a positive move for diversity in city leadership. Khabeer is a member of the Muslim community in Irving, a group which supported Webb through three terms in office.
“Irving is a very diverse city; very culturally diverse,” Webb said. “Basically 40-something-percent Hispanic, 18% Caucasian, 22% Asian and about 13% African American, but when we look at the makeup of the council, it doesn’t reflect our city. So from a diversity perspective Abdul helps to keep that diversity.”
Webb also points out that the Black vote could be pivotal in the upcoming runoff between the two candidates.
“I would hope that the people in District 3 would go out and vote, especially the Afican American community,” Webb said. “You know, the African American community really has an opportunity to decide this election, because District 3 is the most predominant African American district in Irving. If they come out and vote, and especially if they vote Abdul like I’ve endorsed and asked them to, then they will decide this election.”
Khabeer is receiving a wide range of support with Texas Representative Terry Meza weighing in on the race as well.
“I’ve endorsed Abdul Kabeer in the upcoming runoff election,” Meza said. “As many point out, there is a need for diversity on the Irving City Council, especially from our most diverse district. But even more important than that, I believe he’s the most qualified choice because of his business background, his experience in serving on a city board, along with his community service.”
The runoff election will be held on Dec. 8, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., in conjunction with other Dallas County entities. There will be a total of 23 polling places in the City of Irving. More information is available at the Dallas County Elections website.