The Kirk connection

How Dallas' new mayor pulled it off

It was a beautiful afternoon, one week before the Dallas mayor's race, and Ron Kirk was in the unusual position of having 45 minutes to kill.

Political candidates in the home stretch of the fight do not have lives, let alone free time. But Kirk had just emerged from a small fundraising lunch at the Grand Kempinski Hotel in Addison, and his next event--a TV interview--was about an hour away.

Not enough time to go by his law office downtown, he figured. Not enough time to drop by his campaign headquarters. Not enough time to do much of anything, except maybe his favorite thing--second only to eating, sleeping, being with his family, and running for mayor.

"The Kirks have a saying," says the mayor-elect. "It's "Veni, vidi, Visa--we came, we saw, and we did a little shopping."

Our new mayor, besides quoting Julius Caesar badly, is a man with a discerning eye and a snappy wardrobe requiring regular maintenance--preferably when the sales are going on. Walking out of the hotel that day, Kirk could not help but notice the newly remodeled Larry's Shoes store facing him across the Dallas North Tollway--10,000 square feet of shopping heaven, including a foot masseur, a shoe museum, and a cappuccino bar.

In five minutes, Kirk's comfortably worn, white 1984 BMW (with 201,000 miles) was parked outside the store. Inside, fate awaited--and I don't mean just shoes. "He walked in the door, and I said, 'Hey, what's going on, Ron?'" recalls a still-excited, 35-year-old Larry's salesman named Reggie Tinner. "He just looked at me like 'What--you don't know who I am.' But he had a name tag on, and I'd been seeing him on the TV news, and I told him a friend had just called me, telling me I had to support Kirk for mayor. I knew him right away."

He knew, too, Tinner says as an aside, that Kirk's Cole-Haan loafers needed replacing. "They were kind of beat up and chewed--these old brown kilty shoes, like a little moccasin--which were inappropriate with the suit," Tinner says. "I said, 'Here you are running for mayor--you can't go looking tacky.' And he laughed and said, 'Yeah, my wife hates these shoes.'"

So Ron Kirk bought shoes--though it was no easy task. To Kirk's utter amazement, he was suddenly surrounded by a small mob of awestruck employees and customers, acting as though Nolan Ryan or George Foreman had just breezed through the door. "All these guys came up to me," says Kirk. "And one of them says, 'I just love your commercial--what's that thing that you say? Cut the crap? No. Stop the whining? Come on, you say it.' And I said, 'The blame game is over, and nobody's won.' And they all went nuts. One of them took out his checkbook and wrote me a check for $100. I couldn't believe it."

And he couldn't avoid feeling a bit hopeful. "I couldn't help but start thinking, 'I'm going to win this thing,'" Kirk says. "Because we'd been working real hard to get the vote out in South Dallas, and I knew that was working because early voting was strong. These anecdotes were just starting to pop up in North Dallas. But you never knew if it was just dumb luck--running into the five white guys who were going to vote for you."

He need not have worried.
So here's the fairy tale.
An enormously likable but obscure guy (he had 12 percent name identification with registered voters as recently as February, according to his own polling), is suddenly seized with a passionate, heartfelt desire to tie all the fractious elements of the city together as the first black mayor of Dallas.

He does this at a time when the city is fed up with its new, racially diverse city government of the '90s--from its tough-guy city manager, to the 14 keystone cops on the council, to its fork-tongued--"No taxes for an arena--except sales taxes, liquor taxes, and hotel-motel taxes!"--mayor.

Add to this the basic backdrop of the past decade: that the most consistently high-profile black politician in town is the ever-unpredictable, often volatile, always controversial Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price--a man feared and loathed by many of the Anglos Ron Kirk will need to woo to win.

Ron Kirk for mayor? Yeah, right.
"I have a lot of clients in this town that I worked on," says Kirk's campaign manager, well-known Republican political consultant Carol Reed, who is also the queen of corporate PR and blue-ribbon fundraising. "I'd call them and say, 'You need to meet Ron Kirk.' And they'd say, 'Oh, well, we don't get involved with local politics.' Or 'we have to work down at the city so we don't want to get involved.' And if you pushed it, they'd say, 'It would be just fabulous if you could just do this, but there's just no chance that North Dallas won't elect Darrell Jordan. There's just no way. And you know how I feel about you. And you know how I feel about Ron.'"

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