Leave it to Keever

DISD's new leader has ambition and ideas--if anybody'd let him finish a meeting

The mayor wasn't eating.
This was noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which is that our mayor, if nothing else, is a man of enormous appetites--for politics, for the spotlight, for animated conversation, for a rousing ball game on TV, for good food and drink.

So it was unusual, to put it mildly, that Mayor Ron Kirk had gone to a restaurant--especially one that serves tasty, calorically significant Santa Fe-style food--at 7 o'clock on a Wednesday evening and had not ordered dinner.

"Kirk didn't eat," Loma Luna restaurant manager Trey Harris told me with authority last week after checking with the chef. "He picked off another person's plate."

It's not particularly significant what he was picking at--in this case, the restaurant's signature dish of blue-corn cheese enchiladas (served flat, not rolled, and accompanied by a traditional, Santa Fe side dish of posole, or hominy stew.) What is enormously significant, though, is that the plate the enchiladas were sitting on belonged to John Scovell, chairman and CEO of Woodbine Development Corp., the well-known, Ray Hunt-owned, real-estate company that has very deep, consistently influential roots at Dallas City Hall.

Scovell and Kirk were not dining alone. They had come to Loma Luna with Dallas school board president Bill Keever. The three had agreed to meet there--on the ground floor of this shiny bank complex at the corner of Preston Road and Sherry Lane, a stone's throw from Scovell's house--to forge a peace. It was a peace between Kirk and Keever--at this moment two of the city's most high-profile, most strikingly at-odds elected officials.

For several weeks now, Keever had been taunting the mayor publicly--calling on him to take a strong stand against the handful of increasingly noisy and aggressive black activists who were incensed that yet another white man had acceded to the Dallas Independent School District board throne.

"I want Mr. Kirk's help...in alleviating the concerns of the African-American community," Keever said on May 19--shortly after being elected board president and just a few days after a small group led by the New Black Panthers had momentarily shut down his first board meeting.

Kirk replied--quite clearly--that he wasn't going to do that. "I ran for mayor of the city of Dallas, not the Dallas public-school board," Kirk was quoted saying.

But Keever persisted. He brazenly repeated his challenge over and over--throwing it out whenever a TV or newspaper reporter interviewed him about escalating racial tension, chanting it like a mantra during several radio appearances with KRLD's morning talk-show host Rick Roberts.

But Kirk wouldn't budge. He was so adamantly against becoming involved in anything controversial--anything that even smelled like a political land mine--that he wouldn't even return Keever's telephone calls.

Finally, Keever turned to someone he knew could help him--his No.1 political benefactor, John Scovell, who had been equally instrumental in getting Ron Kirk elected mayor. Unlike Keever, Scovell had absolutely no problem getting Kirk to return his phone calls--and he had absolutely no trouble getting Kirk finally to call Keever.

"John got Ron to return my phone calls," says Keever. "I really do appreciate John's role in this. He played a pretty major role in getting Ron to step up to the plate."

The initial Kirk-Keever conversations, conducted over Kirk's mayoral cellular phone, had been unpleasant for Keever. That's because, along with his enormous appetites, Kirk has a notoriously short temper, which results in his getting royally pissed off at people who disagree with him, and then letting them know that in no uncertain terms. But over time, thanks to the soothing balm of a political heavyweight with deep pockets like Scovell getting up in your face, Kirk had calmed considerably. It also didn't hurt that other city leaders, including some Kirk allies, were beginning to take up the Keever mantra in the wake of the New Black Panthers' threat to bear arms at the June 11 city-council meeting.

Tonight's dinner, though, was the crowning achievement of the Scovell efforts--a Dallas version of the Arab peace talks.

As the three men ordered frozen margaritas--with salt--and munched on chips and salsa, Kirk told Keever he was prepared to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Keever at a massive press conference the following afternoon at City Hall to decry these hoodlumesque tactics the New Black Panthers were employing to get everybody's attention. In return, Keever and his fellow board members would publicly commit to start working out their own stupid problems--beginning the process at a board retreat to be held later in the month.

Flushed with excitement at the Margarita Agreement with Kirk, Keever didn't know he still had more humble pie to eat, mainly in the form of the Keever Apology, wherein Keever stood up at the press conference and apologized for ordering the Dallas cops to remove the Panthers from Keever's second school board meeting, prompting the arrests of three New Panthers. It wasn't until Keever got to City Hall the following afternoon, just before the press conference, that he was handed a script and told he had to read it. Though he was allowed to rewrite some of his remarks, Kirk, Scovell, and Pettis Norman--a black Dallas businessman, former Dallas Cowboy, and chief hostage negotiator for the black activists down at DISD--instructed Keever that, if he took out the apology, Norman would pull all the blacks off the podium in the middle of Keever's remarks for the TV cameras and reporters to see. Nice touch.

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