Blood sport

There are two to blame for the Kirk-Fielding feud

All of which is nauseating--and such a far cry from candidate Ron, mayor of all the people, who boasted that he had refused a driver during the campaign in favor of driving himself around in his own car. Kirk told me then that he just couldn't stand having someone in the car with him all the time--he needed his privacy to listen to music or stare into space. Well, not any more.

But this kind of stuff does not make or break a mayoral administration. If Kirk actually accomplishes something and doesn't become so self-absorbed that he loses sight of why people elected him, his insistence on the royal treatment will be irritating, but incidental to the big picture.

Fielding, though, doesn't see it that way. Zeroing in on the mayoral limousine, he's off on one of his obsessive tangents, demanding from City Attorney Sam Lindsay an interpretation of whether it violates state laws governing gifts to public servants. Never mind that Dallas car dealers, looking for goodwill and publicity, traditionally loan cars to our mayor (much as dealers do for the local mayor in cities all over the state).

Fielding wants a legal ruling. "The restaurant association brought the council lunch every week back in 1988 until our city attorney said we couldn't do it anymore because it was a gift," he says. "How is this any different?"

Two weeks ago, we had another Fielding frontal assault. After glancing at his council calendar one day, he noticed that one of the weekly council meetings fell on Yom Kippur, the most sacred Jewish holiday of the year. Fielding dispatched a snotty letter to Kirk--with copies to the rest of the council, of course--berating Kirk for allowing such a disrespectful thing to occur. Never mind that the previous city council (including Fielding) had adopted that schedule--voted for it, in fact. Which means Kirk had nothing at all to do with it.

These episodes follow two other perceived slights: Kirk's decision to change house rules so that the vocal minority (notably Fielding, Donna Blumer, and Larry Duncan) can't throw things on the agenda unless five council members are behind it; and Kirk's decision to give all committee chairmanships and vice-chairmanships to council members who supported him in his race, his rules changes, and his decision to dump Charlotte Mayes as deputy mayor pro tem.

These matters are clearly, understandably aggravating to Fielding, one of the four the mayor is snubbing, punishing, and generally beating about the face and neck.

But the mayor's moves are equally understandable. After all, as the Kirk cabinet of confidants will tell you, this is how the political big boys in Austin and Washington do it. This is how Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and Speaker of the House Pete Laney do it: they reward the ones who brung 'em. And after six years sitting down in Austin, lobbying those boys for the City of Dallas, Kirk is doing things as mayor the way he learned them there.

We haven't seen this kind of hardball politics in Dallas for years. Mayor Annette Strauss was so congenial--to everybody, friend and foe alike--that when citizens stood at the council chamber microphone and criticized her unmercifully to her face, she sweetly thanked them for coming. She called every single council member nearly every day, just to sweet-talk them and keep them in the loop. To this day, they marvel.

Bartlett was no such saint, but he did his skewering privately--withdrawing his support on issues, cutting off communication with council members, actively seeking out candidates to run against incumbent members he didn't like. Still, he held back in public, keeping his criticisms mostly to himself and passing out committee chairs to everyone--even arch-nemesis Fielding.

Those days are over.
City Hall politics under Kirk is now a blood sport, as state politics have been for years. As we are now seeing, when Kirk said he was going to "stop the blame game," what he meant was that he was going to cut off at the knees anybody who didn't join his team and pursue his agenda.

"Ron took me to lunch shortly after he was elected," councilwoman Donna Blumer told me, "and I was amazed that during the entire lunch, he never asked me what my goals were, or what my constituents wanted. He only talked about himself and his goals and his plans and his agenda."

And that's the way it's going to be. Let's just hope it works--at this point, it's far too early to judge whether Kirk is going to improve our collective lot, or if all his blustering is just that. If he doesn't produce--if his council coalition can't be more productive than our last administration--I'll be the first to solicit Paul Fielding's critical jabs.

And they'll be there for the taking. "I really don't see any hope for these two," says Pat Cotton, a political consultant and friend of Fielding. "Not unless they agree to go through crisis intervention. And I don't think there's a mediator in town who would touch that.

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