As he looked for work after his honorable discharge from the U.S. Marines, Jim Ross held out for a job offer from the Arlington Police Department. Texas’ job market was booming in 1983 — much more so than his hometown of Detroit.
What made him stay in Arlington and become hyper-involved with several organizations and business ventures was the people, Ross recently recalled from his law office that overlooks the entertainment district.
“They just stand by you, they stand with you, they fight for this community,” he said. “They’re here for each other like there is no tomorrow. It was the people by far who made me fall in love with this city.”
Ross found that support from big-name Arlington residents, as well as people who could relate to his hard times — including a divorce and financial stuggles during law school — and tenacity. He will take the helm as Arlington mayor on Tuesday after decades of involvement throughout the city, from his time as a police officer, where he helped form the first training academy, to his namesake law group becoming the official partner of the Texas Rangers.
And after decades of learning new trades and skills, Ross said he will bring the same approach to his role as public servant.
“I tell people we have a blue-collar attitude and a white-collar job, and I guess that’s just the way I look at being a mayor as well,” Ross said.
‘I can do better than that’
In 1983, Ross chose Arlington over several offers other North Texas cities. During his 13 years with the police department, he said he had the opportunity to do “all the fun things.”
He joined the city’s first SWAT team and investigated illegal narcotics trafficking locally and with the Drug Enforcement Agency. After wondering why the agency sent trainees away for police academies, he helped create Arlington’s own, and served as coordinator for the first two academy classes.
“I always want to find a better way, a more cost-effective way or a way that streamlines things,” Ross said.
He’s also looking for bigger, better ways to do things, he said. Ross left the force and enrolled in law school at 36, after years of watching lawyers in action while he testified on the job and as a use-of-force expert. He earned his juris doctorate from Texas Wesleyan in 28 months, half a year quicker than most finish law programs.
“I just remember watching lawyers in trial going, ‘I can do that. I can do better than that,’” Ross recalled.
He spent his first several years working on cases around the country and most notably worked with environmental activist Erin Brockovich. In 2009, he opened his own firm. Jim Ross Law Group now has offices in Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas and staffs around a dozen lawyers and 30 employees.
Another opportunity for something bigger and better popped up for Ross when Cacharel, a French restaurant that operated in north Arlington since 1987, abruptly closed in 2017.
He and his friend, Zack Moutaouakil, had joked about opening a restaurant in Arlington. Ross convinced Moutaouakil, who has owned Mercury Chophouse in downtown Fort Worth since 2008, to open a steakhouse at the top of the building overlooking the city.
Outgoing Mayor Jeff Williams said he admired Ross for jumping on the opportunity to open the restaurant.
“It has been a great place to help sell our city and also for our citizens to be able to celebrate their anniversaries, birthdays and special times,” Williams said in a phone interview.
Ross bought Moutaouakil out in early 2020, and he said the business has held strong through the pandemic.
“Our restaurant has just been blowing and going,” he said.
Ross has also been an active Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce member since Michael Jacobson has served as its CEO, Jacobson said in a phone interview.
“Whether you’re a general member or whether you’re our largest donor, everybody knows Jim,” he said.
Ross the candidate, mayor-elect
Ross initially laughed at the idea about running for mayor, when a friend brought up the possibility over drinks at a campaign fundraiser. The city and residents were in the middle of discussing term limits, which cap mayors and council members to six years in office, and Ross was concerned about who could continue Williams’ work.
“I was concerned that all of that effort would go for naught if somebody didn’t step up who had a similar vision and who could keep us on path to get to that next level,” Ross said.
Ross’ friend took a sip of his beer.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Well, you’re going to be mayor,” Ross recalled.
The comment became a consideration over the years, after term limits won approval at the polls, and Williams embarked on his third and final term. Ross did not see anyone he could support in the mayor’s race, so he entered the contest with his children’s blessings.
“Without one shred of hesitancy, all four of them said, ‘No, we’re behind you,’” Ross said.
So was Williams and several other Arlington elites and notable groups. Ross spent much of his campaign discussing how he would continue Williams’ work, while trying to show people he was not a carbon copy of the outgoing mayor.
Ross said he also owned his hard times and blue-collar background on the campaign trail as he does in life.
“It’s not unlike the average family out here,” he said. “It’s been challenging, it’s been fun, it’s been rewarding and I think all of those life experiences come into play when I start to draw on what I need to be mayor here in Arlington.”
His campaign drew support from conservative groups, as well as all four local police associations and the firefighters union. Ross said his supporters have run the gamut of political ideologies.
Jacobson said Ross’ propensity to to build trust and relationships will serve him well in the mayor’s chair.
“You know where Jim stands,” he said. “He’s very upfront and he has built really amazing relationships.”
The chamber of commerce does not endorse candidates.
Ross has spent his days since his June 5 runoff victory meeting with city employees and council members as he prepares to take the oath. He said he plans to soak up information on issues and city procedures like he would a legal case.
And, as he has in other jobs, projects and proposals, Ross said he plans to get things done and keep going.
“I believe in being resilient,” Ross said. “If something pops up and it’s like, ‘You can’t do this?’ Well, OK, maybe not, but we’re going to find a way to make it happen, and we’ve been really lucky in doing that.”