A broad coalition of community-minded young professionals
By Deb Silverthorn
The Mayor’s Star Council’s 2020-2021 class, which convenes next month, welcomes a diverse group of young residents to fully engage with the City of Dallas.
“The Mayor’s Star Council is for anyone who ‘needs’ to be a part of the ‘doing,’” said Diana Einstein, a member of the 2015-2016 Council and now its executive director. “Social justice and advocacy have always been my passion and after a year on the Council, it became my place. Now, it’s my honor to work with each class to better ourselves, to better one another, and to better the whole of the city of Dallas.”
The Council, which for now is meeting remotely, participates in learning, connecting and serving, impacting the city today and for its future.
“We meet with city council members and other leaders to determine how best to affect each district’s issues,” said Einstein, former director of community connections at Temple Emanu-El. “There’s a broad range of needs: food insecurity, the arts, housing, public safety and more, but Dallas is better with every relationship built.”
Started by former Mayor Mike Rawlings and Trey Bowles, co-founder and president of InnoCity Partners LLC, the group works alongside Mayor Eric Johnson’s office.
Members of the incoming Mayor’s Star Council are Byron Bailey, Katie Benningfield, Amy Berger, Mary Blake, Travis Bruton, Dennis Clancey, Grace Cook, Courtney Craig, Keisha Crane, Marquez Davis, Lacy de la Garza, Shannon Epner, Blanca Garcia, Natashia Gerald, Benjamin Greenberg, Toni Howard Lowe, Terrance Johnson, Shamariah Jointer, Denita Lacking-Quinn, Sydnie Long, Veronica Lopez, Rhiannon Martin, Thomas McCutcheon, Yanela Montoya, Karyne Nguyen, Erin Philip, Sairam Ramisetti, Darryl Ratcliff, Sean Reed, Danielle Rugoff, Mackenzie Salenger, Terrance Sauls, Nicholas Schanbaum, Kent Sholars, Thomas Simpson Herbert Smith, Sarah-Michelle Stearns, Casey Sublett, Keya Tollossa, Jimmy Tran and Chad Zidow.
Danielle Rugoff, one of several members of the Dallas Jewish community represented through the Council, has always held tightly to her Dallas roots and, through the Star Council, is pursuing her goal to be part of her Jewish and broader communities.
“I’m excited to learn more about the City of Dallas and to work in concert with my MSC class in the spirit of tikkun olam, of repairing our world,” said Rugoff, who is director of expansion for Gen Next and the director of Venture Philanthropy for the Gen Next Foundation. She has also held leadership roles at AIPAC and Hillel International and worked for former Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro.
“The Council is a way to give back to the city I love, and more explicitly, to the larger community that has nurtured and supported our Dallas Jewish community,” said Rugoff. “I come with an open mind and the perspective of a proud citizen ready to help.”
Justin Ross, who just stepped off the Council, said the experience was eye opening.
“I grew up in Dallas, I live and pay taxes in the city but I didn’t know my city,” said Ross, a former U.S. Navy petty officer who describes veterans’ mental health as his passion. “The Council opened the lens of who and what we are, what is great and what needs our attention.
“I became allies with 36 people I’d never have met if not for the Council,” said Ross, construction operations lead with Kahn Mechanical Contractors. “I’ve expanded my own network in every capacity and exponentially enhanced my circle of now dear friends — all of whom want our city to be better.”
In June, Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Kimberly Herzog-Cohen joined Dr. Omar Suleiman, Dr. Michael W. Waters and Reverend Aaron White for the fifth online presentation of “Stay Engaged with Dallas,” co-hosted by the Council with the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
“A meaningful part of my rabbinate is to be in the public sphere and help people act on our Jewish values. We have a responsibility to be part of multifaith dialogues and the Council provides that opportunity,” said Rabbi Herzog-Cohen. “The blessing of working with Diana is I knew I could trust the care, beauty and intention of whatever she’s involved with.”
“The intention of the program, to introduce young professionals into our city and the inner-workings of community government, can only help to ensure a stronger future for us all,” said Dallas District 12 City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn. “It’s a great combination of continuing education, social action and socialization that brings the elements together to do good work.”
Elected in 2019, Mendelsohn welcomed last year’s Mayor’s Star Council class at its opening event and will do so again, albeit via virtually, with Dallas’ City Manager T.C. Broadnax, County Judge Clay Jenkins and Mayor Pro Tem Casey Thomas.
“To serve the community means to really understand all parts of the city,” said Mendelsohn. “Mayor’s Star Council provides a wonderful taste, just a start, to digging in deep about service to the community with hands on — and hearts in.”