By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Steve Salazar had a birthday last week.
Salazar is a freshly minted Dallas city councilman. This means that he's still scoping out men's room locations, never mind figuring out where all the political land- mines are buried at Dallas City Hall.
Which is precisely why he never would have expected one to pop up at his own birthday party. (This guy, who is former councilman Domingo Garcia's successor and personal pal, is all of 30 years old, believe it or not.)
So here's what happened.
Salazar's administrative assistant, Juanita Arevalo, arranged a small, intimate party in a fifth-floor conference room near the council members' offices. "It's more or less of a tradition," she told me, referring to staffs throwing their bosses birthday parties.
It was a low-key affair, to be sure. Just the council members, their staffs, and City Manager John Ware were invited. In Salazar's case, a cake was ordered from Kroger--which forgot, incidentally, to put the words "councilman" on the cake. Arevalo brought the chocolate and vanilla ice cream. No drinks.
"The whole thing was maybe 15 minutes at the most," Arevalo said. "We sang 'Happy Birthday.' The council members came in and out. People had a piece of cake and talked to each other for a few minutes."
Or antagonized each other.
In other words, welcome to the fifth or sixth round of the Ron Kirk-Paul Fielding heavyweight championship of Dallas.
"I've got a summer intern working in my office who's a senior at Harvard University," Fielding told me with barely restrained relish the other day. "And he looks like a senior at Harvard--bright green pants, button-down Polo shirt, a real yuppie. And so I take him over to Salazar's birthday party to introduce him around to everybody--everybody."
Well, not quite everybody.
"Every council member and staff member--except the mayor," Fielding concedes. "It really wasn't an oversight. I must have done it subconsciously."
Well, the mayor responds--in a big-man way, I might add--by striding over to introduce himself to this kid in the hurt-your-eyes green pants. John Ware, who may have been equally intrigued by the only city hall employee in a Newport, Rhode Island garden-party wardrobe, accompanied Kirk.
One of the two men asked the kid, who is white, where he was going to school. "He's a senior at Pinkston," Fielding quickly responded, referring, of course, to the large, predominantly minority high school in West Dallas--which, of course, prompted mass confusion on the intern's face. Kirk and Ware then began asking the kid polite questions about Pinkston. Fielding cut back in. "Actually, he's a senior at Harvard," Fielding said--you can be sure with a gleeful smirk.
But the game wasn't over. "Kirk gets this real smug look on his face, and he says, 'I'll bet you don't even know where Pinkston is,' Kirk says to the kid. But the kid's done some volunteer work at a shelter near Pinkston--and that really puts the mayor in his place."
Actually, the mayor doesn't recall much of any of this except that he introduced himself to some nice young guy in the room whom he didn't know. Yeah, Fielding tried to pass the fellow off as a Pinkston student, but Kirk had no idea why--and he didn't spend more than a millisecond trying to figure it out.
"It was just a birthday party," Kirk says, baffled when asked about the exchange. "The council meeting was over, and we were just laughing and having some fun."
Yup, it was a real barrel of laughs.
Here it is, bottom-line: why intelligent men and women cannot appease a sports franchise, snag a car racetrack (from Fort Worth, of all places), come up with some kind of recycling program.
They cannot stop pecking each other's eyes out. Not for a minute. Not even at a 15-minute birthday gathering, where they use politically unadulterated youths as fish bait.
Since the inception of the charter changes four years ago that brought us a slightly more empowered mayor and 14 narrowly focused caped crusaders, there's been hell to pay. First there was the Brawl at City Hall--Steve Bartlett and Jan Hart's bitter power tussle that eventually sent Hart packing for the private sector. Though no less hateful than the animosity between Kirk and Fielding--which has caught fire like a match to Sterno in two short months--Bartlett and Hart did display more class. They dueled strictly, albeit furiously, behind the scenes--with prickly memos, hard-boiled glares, and quiet power grabs. Both being rather charmless and anal-retentive types, their battle raged on for a full 11 months before it became publicly known that the new mayor was actively gunning for the manager's head--and Hart was aiming a little lower down.
Then there was the Thrilla on Marilla--the lightweight bout between Fielding and Alphonso Jackson which kept us occupied for a few weeks in the winter of 1993. The councilman and the Dallas Housing Authority chief, you may recall, got uniquely physical during a tense meeting in Mayor Bartlett's office. When it was over, no one was at all surprised that someone would want to stomp grapes on Paul Fielding's face--his major in college was, no doubt, the art of bringing out the worst in people. What surprised everyone is that Jackson actually did it.