Mr. Mayor, Meet Your Nightmare

Frustrated, fed up, and ready to fight, Laura Miller trades muckraking for a run at City Hall

If only it were that simple.
I've covered this city as a journalist for 15 years--10 as a columnist and investigative reporter--and I have to say that at this point in my career, I'm frustrated, fed up, and ready for a fight.

I know I've done my fair share of digging up revealing anecdotes about city leaders--I've exposed quite a few lies, deceptions, corruptions, and power grabs. (I also completely missed the Paul Fielding story--and it's been my greatest disappointment as a journalist. It's embarrassing to me that I never saw the Fielding indictments coming, perhaps because I wanted so much to believe that there could be a councilman who, despite his prickly, nasty demeanor, was smart, independent, courageous, and clean. Well, I sure know how to pick 'em.)

But tell me this: How many times do you have to catch Councilman Al Lipscomb horse-trading money for votes before the man gets indicted, or at the very least gets kicked off the council by his peers? How many times do you have to catch John Ware making a bald-faced whopper of a lie to his bosses on the council before you ship him off to another city and tell him to do his top-secret arena thing somewhere else?

The answer is apparently a lot more than I ever guessed, because they're both still around, playing all their insidious games. (Did you catch that time-honored Big Al shuffle these past two weeks, when he went from being staunchly pro-arena, to maniacally anti-arena, to oh-so-happy to be back on the team? I can only wonder what goodies Al got this time for coming back around to the rich white guys' side of things.)

Truth is, I'm tired of watching a small number of overly influential people manipulate the system to their own advantage. Worse, I'm tired of our elected officials letting them do it. Some of it naturally stems from that time-honored tradition of taking way too much stuff--money, gifts, lavish dinners, fancy junkets, luxury-box seats, and generous campaign contributions--from these people. Although I've never been a proponent of giving council members a paid salary, the situation we've got with this council makes me wonder more about the wisdom of not paying them.

Take Lipscomb and Kirk, for example--two variations on the same theme. Both need to put food on the table, something their unpaid jobs at City Hall can't provide. So they rely on the largesse of precisely those people you never want to owe favors to--people who want a handout from City Hall.

Lipscomb's been taking money from people who do business at City Hall for years. One of many examples of that is his relationship with Yellow Cab Co., which is owned by a man named Floyd Richardson--"Mr. Floyd," as he is affectionately known by Lipscomb's family. Two years ago, Richardson gave Lipscomb and his son-in-law a "loan" for $20,000 to cover their personal financial problems--a loan that, of course, was never paid back. Richardson also bought the two men a $21,000 bottling machine to use at their joke of a chemical manufacturing company.

Lipscomb was all too happy to return the favor to Yellow Cab in June 1996, when he spent most of that month trying to push through an ordinance that would have helped the cab company snuff out a lot of its smaller competitors.

When I called Yellow Cab to discuss this, the company's attorney, John Barr, called me back. Usually those are short conversations, but I'd known Barr for years, and so we had a long, interesting talk about just how tough the influence-peddling business has gotten down at Dallas City Hall.

Let me tell you something, I appreciated the man's honesty. I particularly liked his comments comparing Lipscomb to our mayor--how was it fair, he said, when Lipscomb gets severely beaten up for taking money and gifts from business leaders behind the scenes, when Kirk's doing basically the same thing--though he's raking in tenfold what Lipscomb is getting, just doing it more openly?

Kirk, it's true, pulls down a six-figure annual salary--about $200,000--from Gardere & Wynne, a prestigious downtown law firm where Kirk does absolutely no legal work in exchange for being trumpeted on the firm's marketing materials as the mayor of the city. Lest you underestimate the value of this arrangement, think how happy Gardere & Wynne client Donald Carter was with his legal representation when mayoral candidate Ron Kirk joined the firm and began actively pushing Dallas City Hall to build a new arena for the Dallas Mavericks.

In my mind, almost everything that happens down at City Hall is ass-backwards.

We have the first black mayor in the city's history--a personable, smart, funny, supremely confident guy whose election was this amazingly hopeful, joyful experience for many thousands of Dallas residents who expected a better, less racially charged, less financially fractured Dallas. But where did that man go? I've heard him make only one truly impassioned, straight-from-the-heart speech since he's been at City Hall--about changing a street name, for heaven's sake. And while his No. 1 campaign promise was to develop the Trinity River--a feat that could go a long way toward rubbing out that Mason-Dixon line between north and south Dallas--that project has been long overshadowed by this stupid arena pursuit.

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