Tough choices

Being major is hard work. If it isn't the Jews, it's a fight in Vegas.

Where was the mayor?
That was the question on a lot of people's minds on the night of Sunday, September 8. It was 8:30, and 367 nicely dressed people were assembled in the Galleria Ballroom of the Westin Hotel--all of them friends and supporters of a small Jewish day school, located on Churchill Way in North Dallas, called Akiba Academy of Dallas.

As fundraising dinners go, this one was pretty nice. The decorations were understated--a dozen white roses on each table--the people seemed happy to be in attendance, and the program for the evening was blessedly short.

Plus, as an added bonus, there was star appeal; the seventh speaker listed on the printed program was none other than the Honorary Ron Kirk, mayor of the City of Dallas and honorary dinner chairman for the evening. As the keynote speaker, Kirk was going to introduce and congratulate the 1996 recipient of Akiba's Civic Service Award--an honor bestowed annually on a member of the Jewish community who has performed important civic and charitable deeds.

But it was now well into the program. Speakers had come and gone, and Kirk's place at the head table was empty. People looked around the room expectedly--but no mayor. Sure enough, when it came time for Kirk to speak, there was an announcement, instead.

The mayor was not going to be able to join the group after all, an Akiba board member announced, surprising a number of guests, including me and my husband. (Our daughter attends the school.) Something had come up, the board member continued. The mayor had to be someplace else. He was sorry, but in his stead he'd sent a letter to be read aloud.

So the mayor's letter was read aloud. The first two paragraphs thanked the awardee, Wally Rynek, profusely for his endless hours of volunteer work at The Vogel Alcove--a downtown Dallas day care center for homeless children. "I am sorry I cannot be with you to celebrate this wonderful occasion," the letter ended. "However, I want to personally thank you for all the work you have done for the children of our city, and wish you the best on this wonderful night."

As the letter was read aloud, I looked at Rynek thinking, of course, how nice it would have been for this 74-year-old man to have been thanked in person, as promised. Then I began wondering: Where was the mayor? What was so important? Was there a family emergency? An urgent mayoral matter that needed his full attention? (Giant pothole? Burst water main?) Or was there simply another dinner with a more intriguing menu?

"I was told he's out of town," one of the dinner's organizers, Dr. Susan Diamond, told me as soup was served at our table. As Diamond and the others began to eat, I quietly excused myself from the table. I walked across the room and out the ballroom doors.

I was in search of a pay phone.

When the phone began to ring at Kirk's home moments later, I naturally expected a baby-sitter to answer.

"Hello?" a man's voice on the other end said.
It was the mayor.
After telling Kirk how surprised I was to hear his voice, I asked him what he was doing. "Sleeping," he answered with a large sigh indicating great tiredness. "I'm tired. I had a long day."

Not playing mayor, mind you. Although I would learn none of this until later, Kirk had had an extremely busy weekend attending major sporting events at other people's expense. His official mayoral schedule--copies of which I subsequently obtained--offered a fascinating glimpse at what Mayor Ron Kirk chooses to do in his spare time. And what he chooses not to do.

At noon on Saturday, Kirk had flown to Las Vegas on a private plane owned by Jeff Marcus, chairman and CEO of Dallas-based Marcus Cable, the ninth-largest cable company in America. Marcus--whose company does no business with the city--is a friend of the mayor's, and he'd invited Kirk to attend the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight with him.

"I had my son and nephew with me," says Marcus. "It was a family-and-friends, boys' trip out to Las Vegas for the fight."

The "boys" had choice, front-row seats for the fight, Marcus told me, courtesy of Showtime--the cable channel that does a lot of business with Marcus Cable. "If it was a good fight, it would have been great," says Marcus, lamenting that the much-anticipated fight lasted only 109 seconds. "We were right in front, watching it live and on television, with headphones on. It really was disappointing."

After partying and spending the night at the MGM Grand--all courtesy of Showtime--Kirk and his friends left Las Vegas at 9 Sunday morning to return to Dallas. After landing at 1:30 p.m., Kirk joined his wife, Matrice--the kids stayed home with a sitter--for a 3 p.m. Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants kickoff at Texas Stadium.

This time the host was Fina Oil and Chemical Co., which had invited a number of celebrities and their spouses to watch the game from its luxury suite. The guests included the mayor, sports anchor Scott Murray, former Dallas Cowboy Pettis Norman, U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson, and public-relations executive Stan Levenson. Beer and wine were served, along with a delicious catered spread that included sliced beef tenderloin, pasta with chicken, shrimp, salmon, and--for dessert--lemon bars.

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