Taking It to the Street

Want to get elected to city council in southern Dallas? Forget the race card and patch that pothole.

That doesn't stop the mayor and other downtown leaders from glibly saying that, if we need to fix the streets, we'll go ahead and sell bonds and do it.

What Chaney understands is that the city can only sell so many bonds at one time. Whether we call them city bonds or sports authority bonds or whatever, only a certain number of bonds can be sold with the same underlying tax base as collateral. Even after bonds have been approved at the polls, the city staggers their actual sale according to market conditions in order to get good interest rates and not damage the city's credit by borrowing too much too fast.

Chaney isn't opposed to the Trinity River project. But he wants to make sure the city will put streets and other neighborhood issues ahead of everything else--including the river deal--when it decides what kind of bonds to issue and when.

"There is a lot of concern out there about street and surface repairs," he says. "I think the Trinity is going to be a 20-year deal. So how do you prioritize selling all of these bonds? If you ask the people in my district, they will say the priority must be street repairs. Loud and clear."

That would seem to be the overwhelming consensus of almost everyone running for office in District 7. But there is one significant dissenter--the one who happens to have most of the serious Citizens Council money behind her.

Like Chaney, Joyce Strickland grew up in South Dallas and attended Dallas public schools. Unlike Chaney, she left. After finishing her bachelor's degree in mathematics at the University of Texas in Austin, she worked for IBM and lived in the suburbs. In 1992, when many successful young upwardly mobile African-Americans were moving back to the inner city, Strickland came back to South Dallas, only to suffer the most unbearable tragedy any parent can imagine.

A year after her return to the city, Strickland's older son and a friend were abducted and murdered. Her response was to stay where she was, leave IBM, and form Mothers Against Teen Violence. MATV has become a high-profile community-based organization providing services to people bereaved by homicide.

In raising money for MATV, Strickland has appeared before most, if not all, of the major players in corporate Dallas. She almost always puts tears in their eyes, brings them to their feet, then gets them busy writing checks. At least part of her success should be credited to their respect for her community work.

But if she didn't have their respect, her campaign would certainly be in financial trouble. In the first campaign finance report she filed, almost two-thirds of her contributions came from Citizens Council types or their generous and very civic-minded wives. (And wasn't it nice of Tom Hicks' wife to kick in $1,000 when he obviously had forgotten to do so himself?)

Her second report, filed a week after the deadline, was a more mixed picture. But it showed only $1,500 in contributions and loans, while the first one showed a total take of almost $25,000.

Twenty-five grand goes a long way in District 7. Only Sharon Middlebrooks is in the same ballpark. She also has received a number of contributions from people like Trammell Crow executive J. McDonald Williams and the Dallas Breakfast Group. But a vastly larger share of Middlebrooks' money has come in dribs and drabs from the community.

Strickland is the only one of the candidates who gets chunks like a grand from J. McDonald Williams, another grand from Williams' wife, and then two grand from Jeffrey Marcus, Tom Hicks' partner in Chancellor Media. And only Strickland says she doesn't see any conflict, tension, or contradiction between the big-ticket items and the potholes.

In her spartan office behind Mount Olive Lutheran Church on MLK Boulevard, Strickland sees the question coming:

"These funds [from the Citizens Council] were there and available to every candidate, and every candidate I know has gone after them," she says. "I don't know anybody who has said, 'I don't want your money.' These contributions were not bribes. I view them as votes of support, like letters of commendation."

She agrees that the nitty-gritty code-enforcement and street-repair issues are urgently important to her district. "That's what people talk about in the district. They talk about code enforcement before they talk about crime."

But rather than seeing a trade-off or conflict between those issues and the big-ticket deals, Strickland offers the straight Chamber of Commerce-Citizens Council line. The big-ticket programs will expand the tax base, provide centers of employment, and drive the prosperity that will eventually get the curbs fixed. A local version of the trickle-down effect.

"Many things are about to happen in southern Dallas. The Trinity River project will have major implications for the area adjoining District 7 and therefore will have implications for us," she says.

She agrees with the perception that what people get when they call City Hall is always a story, never a gutter, and that there is a tangible absence of will to go out and build a better city. She, too, believes Councilwoman Mayes let people down. But she says those are two sides of the same coin.

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