The Kirk connection

How Dallas' new mayor pulled it off

But fancy logos and catchy slogans don't elect mayors. A bona fide strategy and a well-financed organization tight enough to implement it does. And that's where campaign managers prove their worth.

In this campaign, Reed put it all together, handed Kirk his weekly schedule and his Mapsco (he's the only client she's ever had who refused to hire a driver to escort him around), and took care of all the other details. Allowing Kirk to do what he does best--be Kirk.

"We had two hurdles to cross from the very beginning," says Reed. "One was we needed to get the business community behind him because I don't care how wonderful you are, if you can't raise money, you're going to have trouble getting your message together. And while there were some key people committed to Ron early on, for the most part we didn't get the money coming in until after the filing deadline, after people had had a chance to meet all the candidates."

(Reed signed a contract to work for Kirk last October 4--when he didn't have the first $9,500 monthly payment she required. She told her new client she'd raise her own fee in campaign contributions, which she did within eight weeks. By the end of the race, Reed had so much faith in her candidate that when the campaign ran out of money, she ran up more than $20,000 in campaign expenses on her own corporate American Express card. This prompted a call of concern from American Express, inquiring what the hell she was doing. "It's really none of your business," she told the caller, before offering assurances that by the time her bill was due--shortly after Kirk's swearing in as mayor--she'd have plenty of money to pay it.)

At the end of January, with the "blame-game" theme now solidly put together, Reed commissioned an $18,000 telephone poll of 700 registered voters--a survey that only confirmed Reed's feelings about what needed to be done. "We learned that Ron was not well-known, but that his message sold," Reed says. "We had very low name ID and so did Darrell Jordan. Domingo (Garcia) had the high name ID. But by the second round of questioning--after we'd given the voter specific information about all three candidates, all of which was positive because we read it straight off their own campaign literature--we were leading."

Which brings us to the second hurdle--finding a way for the voters to meet Ron Kirk and hear his message. "It became real clear to me early on that to meet Ron Kirk was to not only fall in love with this guy, but to change preconceived notions in this town about the leadership that has been in the black community and the fears people have."

Anyone who knows Kirk can tell you why that is. He is funny, articulate, chatty, self-effacing, as colorblind as any person I have ever known, and completely down to earth (we'll hold our breath and see what 62 percent of the vote does to that, however). Case in point: "Oh, Matrice, come on--turn that off," Kirk fussed last Friday night to his wife during a phone interview. "I'm sitting here eating popcorn," he explained, "and she's watching this movie about people eating each other on a mountaintop. Oh, yech!"

Carol Reed knew she needed to display that man. That's all. So in a brilliantly simple stroke, she created a series of "Meet Ron Kirk" neighborhood get-togethers, hosted by individuals and couples from all over the city and held either in their homes, their churches, or their local rec centers. Reed's people found all the hosts, then printed, addressed, and mailed all the invitations for all the gatherings. An impressive 121,000 households, most of which were selected for including voters in at least one previous mayoral election, received invitations.

The beauty of this strategy, which cost $15,000 to implement, was that it was effective in several ways. Though getting people to meet Kirk was the number-one goal, realistically, of the 4,000-plus invitations that went out for each event, 40 to 60 people showed up on a good night. But the invitation itself was effective. "I may not be able to go, but I see my neighbors' names and Ron's name," says Reed. "Some people got four, five, six invitations. And the events themselves were very well done. On the day of the event, our people delivered campaign brochures, name tags, and yard signs to the hosts."

At the get-togethers held in the southern sector of the city, people were recruited to do volunteer work to get out the black vote--an enormous effort, coordinated by African-American political consultant Kathy Nealy, that resulted in an unprecedented 25 percent black voter turnout overall, twice the norm. That effort included registering people to vote, getting people to the polls early to cast absentee ballots, driving through neighborhoods on election day with bullhorns to remind people to vote, and walking door-to-door with Kirk's literature.

"We took the same pieces we mailed, and we knocked on the doors of people who may not have gotten the mailer, because the reality is you can't mail to a half-million doors--you just can't," says Kirk. "So we went door-to-door and gave our brochures to people so they would have something about Ron Kirk in their hands to look at."

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