Mr. Mayor, Meet Your Nightmare

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

I like Ron Kirk a lot, and I still believe he is our greatest natural resource--the one man who, through the sheer force of his charm and personality, could move mountains, inspire greatness, and generally improve the quality of life in Dallas for everyone.

Too bad he is not free to be his own man. Too bad he is so incredibly flattered by all this newfound attention from the monied and powerful. Too bad he whittles away his political capital running hither and thither, obsessing about what he can do today to help Ross Perot Jr. improve his net worth.

Kirk gets lots of help from City Manager John Ware, one of Kirk's best friends before he ran for mayor. Ware is an equally formidable personality--a tough sonofabitch who developed his unmistakable style fighting in the trenches in Vietnam. He's infamous around City Hall for reaming out city staffers in an always fabulously profane and embarrassingly public way. He's a master at keeping his fingerprints off his decisions so he can blame any screwups on his underlings--the splashiest scapegoat of all was First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley, who resigned in disgrace over a secret sports arena study that Ware denied knowing about, even though former Assistant City Manager Ted Benavides told me he'd regularly briefed Ware on its progress.

The strength of the Ware-and-Kirk team should not be underestimated. City Hall's agenda is their agenda, period, and the majority of the council members--a third of whom are new and clearly intimidated by both men--are only too happy to follow right along.

"The standard joke around City Hall is that it's just become the John and Ron show," says one veteran City Hall employee of 12 years. "Sure, we've always been a place with a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of control issues--people being discouraged from questioning the system, or thinking for themselves--but it wasn't like it is now, where there's just fear. And silence. It reaches into every nook and cranny and corner, and it's all about looking for someone to blame for some screwup, and massaging all this information, and being told not to say anything unless you're specifically spoken to. It's terrible. We really do have a lot of good employees, but they can't do their jobs."

If they could, just think of the possibilities. Maybe they could spearhead a big, fat push to rehabilitate our much-deteriorated library system; or beautify our scrawny, long-ignored city parks; or build a decent place for our police officers to work; or create a zoo at least as nice as Fort Worth's; or find ways to help former mayoral candidate Darrell Jordan raise private funds to dome the Cotton Bowl. Maybe they could actually get White Rock Lake dredged, and Fair Park fixed up, and the Commerce Street viaduct fixed at the Beckley Avenue entrance.

I don't know about you, but when I call that much-ballyhooed City Hall action line of John Ware's, I get no action--the city code enforcement inspectors don't show up; the dog catcher doesn't show up; and nobody seems to care about apprehending the punk kid who lives around the corner and smashed into my husband's car two weekends ago in a hit-and-run that bloodied my daughter's lip, scared my five-year-old to death, and just about totaled the car.

The tales of mixed-up priorities in this city are many and memorable.
Remember when a man named Bruton Smith came to Dallas from North Carolina and offered to build us something called the Texas Motor Speedway? His first choice of location was a remote chunk of land in South Oak Cliff--the area of this city that every mayor talks about bringing growth and prosperity to, but never does. But Smith wasn't allowed to spend millions of his dollars in a depressed part of town to bring millions of tourists to our city. (Unlike the anemic economic benefits of a sports arena, it's all too obvious what kind of return race car driving--the No. 1 spectator sport in the nation--could have brought us.)

The reason he couldn't is because Ray Hunt and his real estate lieutenant, John Scovell, decided to try and beat Smith at his game. They decided to get City Hall to back their own, inferior plans for a racetrack. Then-Mayor Steve Bartlett carried Hunt's banner, cajoling just enough of his fellow council members to support the substandard proposal that it mucked up any chance of snagging the good project--which finally sent Smith over to Fort Worth.

Then there was the steer park. At the northeast corner of Griffin and Young streets, there used to be a city-owned parking lot that brought in about $250,000 a year in revenue. It was great that the city owned the lot, because one of these days it was going to need that space to build a hotel for the ever-expanding convention center next door.

But Dallas real estate developer Trammell Crow didn't like the idea of building a hotel there. Why? Because he owned the huge Anatole Hotel just north of downtown, and he needed to keep the conventioneers coming out to him to keep his hotel full.

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