Blood sport

There are two to blame for the Kirk-Fielding feud

A diminutive, soft-spoken, horn-rimmed-glasses type, Jackson simply gathered himself into an absolute fury and, like a bull at Pamplona, rammed Fielding face first into the unyielding metal frame of a partially opened door. Blackening eyes. Mangling facial nerves. Sending ears to ringing.

Jackson blew his opportunity to become a sympathetic figure in the eyes of Fielding detractors when he panicked, dissolving into a choke mode--not only denying that he'd beaten Fielding up, but frantically concocting off-the-wall scenarios about what happened. In one, the mayor, who actually witnessed Jackson's handiwork along with half the mayor's staff, was blamed for the bludgeoning.

Now, God knows it's true that the mayor would have enjoyed throwing Fielding into a door. But that's just not his style.

Which brings us to the next Holy War at City Hall: Fielding vs. Bartlett.
This was the longest-running battle yet. In fact, it lasted the entire four years that Bartlett served. As in his conflict with Jan Hart, though, Bartlett was determined to keep it as private as possible. Fielding, consistent with his style, wanted it on the front page and 6 o'clock news every day. The result was a rather lopsided skewering, with Fielding tossing off scathing insults of the mayor on a daily basis and the mayor replying with those enigmatic jokes and that tight, disingenuous smile.

Fielding on Bartlett in March 1992, at the mayor's 100-day mark in office, referring to Bartlett's relationship with the rest of the city council: "The honeymoon is over. I think the spouse has been meeting with the divorce lawyer."

Fielding to Bartlett in September 1993, when Bartlett privately encouraged, then publicly abandoned, Councilwoman Donna Halstead's efforts to throw John Wiley Price and his Warriors off Northwest Highway: "I used to think you were a weasel, but a weasel has a spine; you're just a worm." And so on.

If you detect a pattern here, you're not alone. Of the three biggest personality clashes over the past four years, Fielding was a star player in two of them. And he made headlines in two other high-profile rants. One was against Charles Anderson's bloated, undeserved, and possibly illegally negotiated severance pay upon being ousted from DART. The other was against the city-funded Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters for bringing a well-known Jew-hater to town for a speech; the speaker ultimately took specific aim at Fielding, calling him a "hook-nosed, bagel-eating" so and so.

Fielding's tirades are often--down deep, below the vitriol--based on valid points. As in the two cases discussed above. But, unfortunately, those points all too often become lost in the cacophony of the moment, leaving people with just the memory of the screaming.

The Dallas Morning News ran a nasty cartoon of Fielding last week; the daily spares no opportunity to trash the man on a regular basis because he opposes many of the sacred-cow issues the paper cares about.

But this is not a self-righteous diatribe against the councilman.
Because this is a smart man. This is an ethical man. This is an honest man. On complex issues at City Hall, he wields a verbal scalpel--making mincemeat out of dense city staffers and showing up any council member who dares oppose him on an issue's merits. Fielding believes in open government, unlike the majority of his brethren. He serves the public without political motive or opportunistic bent.

But he has one fatal flaw, and perhaps for the first time since he's been on the city council, it seems destined to overshadow his many fine qualities. "If Paul doesn't like you, he's not going to be nice to you, no matter what," says a close friend of Fielding. "On the other hand, if he's your friend, you're not going to have a more loyal friend."

Which is great for friends. Murder for enemies. And two short months into his mayoral term, Ron Kirk is Enemy No. 1.

"It's difficult to work for someone you don't respect--and I have no respect for him at all," Fielding says of Kirk. "This is a man who won't sit still for five minutes--he gets up constantly in meetings, leaves the room, doesn't listen to what's going on. He's not interested in being mayor. He just wants the pomp and circumstance. This guy makes Bartlett look in touch."

As usual, there are kernels of truth--just little alarms worth watching out for--in what Fielding says.

Kirk is very much into the pomp and circumstance at this point. But that's to be expected, I suppose, when you pole-vault a young, obscure person into the most high-profile political job in town. The guy can't go out to eat without being mobbed as though he were a rock 'n' roll star.

And so you have the inexplicably ostentatious white 1995 Lincoln Continental. And you have Kirk, instead of driving himself in his own tattered old BMW, summoning one of his two fulltime, city-paid drivers to pick him up last Saturday at his Lakewood home (where the driver cooled his heels outside for almost a half hour waiting for the mayor to emerge). The driver ferried Kirk to Oak Cliff for a one-hour cameo at a Baptist church, after which said driver--to whom the taxpayers were paying overtime, mind you--escorted hizzoner back home to Lakewood.

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