The Kirk connection

How Dallas' new mayor pulled it off

These are, of course, the same people who are now scrambling--through tight smiles--to do Kirk's next big fundraiser. And every last one of them is saying to themselves, "62 percent? How in the world did this guy get 62 percent of the vote?"

In fact, Kirk's been asking himself the same thing. "I think some of it was message," he says. "A lot was rejection of the negative campaign tactics that were used toward the end."

Nah. All of it was two simple things: Ron Kirk and Carol Reed. The candidate and his manager--two personable, bright people with bigger-than-life personalities who came together in an incredibly unlikely coupling (a black Democrat and a white Republican strategist?) to knock Dallas right on its keister.

Until last year, Kirk and Reed didn't really know each other. But shortly after the primary elections last spring, both were asked to appear on a panel for the Greater Dallas Board of Realtors to help analyze the election results. "I think we were talking about how difficult it would be for George W. Bush to pull women away from Ann Richards, and at some point in the conversation I made a comment like, 'These white men just don't get it--they have no appreciation for what women are thinking,' and Ron just looked at me in surprise," Reed says. "And afterwards we got out to the parking lot, and Ron told me he thought I was right, and we've been kind of soulmates ever since."

So when Kirk decided last fall to run for mayor, the first person he called was Carol Reed. "It is ironic," says Kirk. "Maybe it was fate that we served on that panel. Because I liked her angles, and all of that. Calling her was somewhat intuition on my part."

Their first meeting in late September only buttressed that feeling--for both of them. "We just sat and chatted about why he was running--what he was interested in," Reed says. "And I said to him, 'You know, I am so sick of listening to this town whine. I travel all over the country, and I don't see any other city that is more likable than Dallas. I can go anywhere I want in about 30 minutes, any time of the day or night. There's no corruption at city hall to speak of--not like you hear about in other cities. I'd like people to stop whining, I told him, and I'd like to clean up the city a little bit--it doesn't look so good right now."

Kirk, who will never be accused of being at a loss for words when it comes to decrying the petty political shenanigans that go on at city hall, had plenty of his own thoughts on this score. As an assistant city attorney for six years, Kirk had seen it all, unlike Reed, as an insider--he knew firsthand the devastatingly unproductive effects of the endless race-baiting that has plagued city hall for more than a decade. Reed and Kirk went back and forth on the subject long enough to start developing a bona fide campaign theme. "Whining wasn't the right word, we decided," Reed recalls. "We both knew that. But we couldn't quite come up with it."

They found it four months later, on the night before Kirk held his January press conference formally announcing his candidacy--a city hall event that will no doubt go down in history as the biggest, most highly staged blowout of black, brown, and white faces since the old Coke-on-the-mountain commercial. "We had to have the most inclusive, diverse group anyone's ever put together," Reed says, "and if we could get them out without a riot, that would be great." (In retrospect, the only thing Reed & Co. failed to do was find a way to hang the bigshots--from Nancy Brinker to Diane Ragsdale, who no doubt spent the hour smiling at each other through gritted teeth--from the ceiling of the City Hall Flag Room by their feet to get more faces in the main shot.)

There was no riot, of course. But there was that catchy refrain.
"Mark McKinnon had sent a draft of Ron's speech up to us," says Reed, referring to the Austin-based media consultant who produced Kirk's television spots. "And Ron and I were in my office half the night pulling it apart and reworking it, and that's the night we hit on the words 'blame game.' I can't tell you whether those were Mark's words or our words, but that's what came out of Ron's mouth the next day--and that's what stuck."

(Reed does remember who dreamed up the other memorable--and nauseating--campaign slogan: "Dallas needs a mayor with tomorrow in his eyes." Although campaign literature attributes this catchy little ball of meaningless froth to aging football hero Roger Staubach--faithfully propped up for every big political campaign because of his extraordinarily high, no-negatives name ID--its true author, says Reed, is political consultant Rob Allyn. Allyn wrote and designed Kirk's colorful campaign logo and all his brochures. Just so you know how hard it is to reinvent the political wheel, Kirk's nifty logo of the Dallas skyline is the same one used on the 14-1 council redistricting campaign Allyn worked on.)

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