By Michael Sudhalter
Earlier this month, Rowlett Mayor Blake Margolis had an opportunity to honor Jewish American Heritage Month with a proclamation during a city council meeting.
Margolis, the 23-year-old mayor of a city in the diverse eastern Dallas County/western Rockwall County area of approximately 70,000 citizens, regularly issues proclamations, but there was something especially personal about this one.
Margolis, a proud secular Jewish person, said honoring Rowlett’s small Jewish population is important. He is also committed to fighting antisemitism.
“You’re seeing the scary rise in antisemitism,” Margolis said. “After the world’s history of treatment toward Jews, it is very unfortunate to see this rise in antisemitism based on some crazy wackos who are controlling some of the messaging in our politics.”
Margolis recently met his great-uncle, who shared his extensive Jewish family history, going back to Eastern Europe.
“We had some relatives immigrate to the United States to escape the Nazis and some relatives who didn’t make it out,” Margolis said.
Margolis is one of the youngest mayors in Texas and certainly the youngest of a city larger than 50,000 citizens. But the lifelong Rowlett citizen refuses to let his age define him.
It never comes up, even jokingly, among city council and municipal employees.
“We have mutual respect for each other — they know I’m young, but that doesn’t impact either of us,” Margolis said. “I’m a serious person — I’m all about business. At the end of the day, we’re here to do what’s best for the citizens of Rowlett.”
Margolis’ first foray into politics came when he was 6 years old. He kept seeing “coming soon” signs for a park near his home and wondered why it hadn’t been built yet. He attended a town hall meeting, questioning the mayor and council about the delay.
That park still hasn’t been built, but Margolis now understands why.
“We have other needs and priorities that are more critical right now,” Margolis said.
After that, Margolis had a normal childhood, attending Garland ISD elementary and middle schools in Rowlett.
At age 14, he was appointed as a junior alternate to the Rowlett Parks Board. That piqued his interest in municipal government to the point that he started homeschool as a high school freshman.
Margolis didn’t hesitate to say that he had no interest in pep rallies, football games and proms. He was focused solely on public service.
At age 18, he was elected to the Rowlett city council before he earned his high school diploma. It garnered headlines throughout the Metroplex.
The news cameras went away, but the work was just starting.
Margolis never expected to deal with a public health and economic crisis as a council member but, in 2020, he was making important decisions when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world, including his small corner of it.
“We didn’t understand how bad it would get and didn’t understand how many people would become sick and die,” Margolis said. “We put together a group that would respond to the needs of the business community as a result of them having to shut down. It was a bit of a scary time for everybody.”
It especially hit close to home when Drew Howard — a person with whom Margolis collaborated on economic development in Rowlett — became the first person in the city to die of COVID-19.
Rowlett collaborated with the neighboring cities of Garland and Sachse to vaccinate thousands of citizens.
Margolis served two terms on council and was elected mayor last year in a landslide victory. He expects to earn his bachelor’s degree in national security from Liberty University this summer.
Margolis ran for council and then mayor so the city could have a larger vision for itself, rather than focusing solely on day-to-day operations.
“We should be focused on what we could and should be as a community,” Margolis said. “I feel like we have that strategic vision. When I was on council, I didn’t initially want to run for mayor, but things fell into place where I felt obligated to do it.”
Margolis said there’s been progress in Rowlett. Earlier this month, citizens voted to approve a tax increase that would build a new police and fire headquarters. The city also recently hired a new city manager, David Hall, from Glenn Heights in southwest Dallas County.
“Our citizens understand sacrifices have to be made for the betterment of the community,” Margolis said. “They saw the need for the public safety headquarters and were willing to owe just a little more in property taxes.”
Rowlett has term limits of two three-year terms for both council and mayor. Margolis could serve through 2028. He knows the city is expected to have 100,000 citizens by 2033 and wants to ensure responsible growth.
“I want to get things done and put the city on a good track,” Margolis said. “Once I’ve done that, it’s time for me to go.”
After that, Margolis wants to work in national security for the federal government. He plans on beginning a master’s degree soon.
Margolis looks back at a news interview after he was elected to council as a teenager and laughs in disbelief. He told the reporter his ultimate goal was to become Texas governor.
“I can’t even believe I said that,” Margolis said. “You can get the most done at the local level. You have the most impact on the community. This is the right spot to be.”
Municipal politics are nonpartisan, at least in theory; Margolis adheres to being above partisanship in word and deed.
“I’m personally not a fan of the two-party system,” Margolis said. “I am an Independent with my own very specific beliefs on various things — I’m not going to be put in a box. That’s what the party system is. We’re all individuals and we have our own unique positions on issues.”
Margolis’ bio on the Rowlett city website lists a dozen committees, within the city and regionally, in which he serves, including chair of the Ethics Sub-Committee, Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition and council liaison for the Texas Municipal League.
He understands the value of working collaboratively with other mayors and local leaders. He often works with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins (D) and Rockwall County Judge Frank New (R) on issues pertaining to Rowlett. Earlier this year, Margolis traveled to Washington, D.C., for a mayors’ conference.
“I learned so much and made so many connections — including issues like filling out grants for public safety and federal infrastructure,” Margolis said.
Margolis has dedicated a great deal of time to outreach and transparency, creating a podcast and the Mayor’s Spotlight newsletter.
He’s focused, not on hot-button social issues, but rather the mundane yet essential matters of the “Miller Road expansion and the Merritt Road interconnector project.”
Margolis hopes to see a revitalized downtown Rowlett and perhaps more programming around Lake Ray Hubbard. Rowlett sits on the western shore of the Lake, while Rockwall — on the eastern side of the lake — is often more associated with the lake because of its marketing and programming efforts.
“We have to find ourselves as a city and it’s extremely important that we figure that out,” Margolis said.