A Hole in Every Pot

A city gone shabby yearns for a mayor to put things right

Garcia, 43, does get the pothole issue. He understands that potholes are about a city gone shabby that badly wants someone to make it feel pretty and strong again. He has proposed major bond issues and taxing districts to pay for things such as police pay hikes, new infrastructure and amenities. He derides Miller for promising all kinds of things--a 15 percent pay raise for the police, for example--while telling audiences she can do it all without new taxes, a position Garcia has painted as irresponsible.

But I don't see any traction for him on that. The things her supporters want Miller to do don't cost money, just blood. This is not to say Miller isn't out there making nice and cutting deals. The five endorsements she has won from police unions may have turned at least in part on the stealth issue of this campaign season: whether or not a new mayor will push embattled police Chief Terrell Bolton out of office.

Richard Todd, political liaison for the Dallas Police Patrolman's Union, said: "She told me over the phone, I remember it real well, she's not real pleased with Bolton, and both of them [Bolton and City Manager Ted Benavides] are going to have to change the way they do business or have to start looking for a new job."

The Reverend Charles Stovall says Laura Miller gave a Southern Dallas coalition the clear impression she will help protect police Chief Terrell Bolton. A police union official got the opposite impression from her.
Peter Calvin
The Reverend Charles Stovall says Laura Miller gave a Southern Dallas coalition the clear impression she will help protect police Chief Terrell Bolton. A police union official got the opposite impression from her.
Former council member Jim Buerger looks on while Miller and Dunning kiss at a debate. Oh, yuck.
Peter Calvin
Former council member Jim Buerger looks on while Miller and Dunning kiss at a debate. Oh, yuck.

Miller denied to me that she had said that and suggested Todd may have misunderstood. She gave me a more nuanced version of what she did tell the police unions. The fact remains that people in Southern Dallas came away from their own Miller meeting with an impression opposite Todd's. In fact, Miller signed a contract in Southern Dallas early on in the election cycle promising "support of the Dallas police department and its chief, Terrell Bolton, in his continued role as chief of police."

She penciled in a caveat at the bottom of the two-page "mandate" to the effect that she would endeavor to live up to the spirit of the document but did not consider herself bound by its every word. Garcia signed the same document without a caveat. Dunning refused to sign it and let its authors know he viewed the document and the whole proceeding as insulting.

The Reverend Charles Stovall, pastor of Camp Wisdom United Methodist Church and one of the chief organizers of the Southern Dallas mandate initiative, told me it was the group's impression that Miller's bottom-of-the-page caveat did not apply to her promise of support for Bolton.

"She said straight out that she was willing to let bygones be bygones and that she would be able to support Bolton," Stovall said. "I would feel that the spirit of our conversation would be that she would not be reopening investigations, that she would go into office with the attitude that Chief Bolton is the police chief and that she would support that, and she's not going to dig up stuff from the past administration."

I don't think any of this is at all interesting to the people who support Miller, who just want her to win. To understand that, maybe you have to see the city through the eyes of Barbara Dossett. Mrs. Dossett and I spoke some weeks ago in the front office of her small bookkeeping business, catty-corner from her single-story frame house in the Hampton-Illinois neighborhood in Oak Cliff.

Three years ago, Dossett's pleasant little neighborhood of small frame houses and mature trees was throttled by drugs, prostitution and murder. The root of the problem, Dossett says, was one building, one landlord, right across the street from her home and her business. In that one single-story brick slouch of a building, as many as three private booze clubs operated at one time, wild, stinking, frighteningly out of control.

"The third killing occurred two years ago in March. That one made the paper. They used an AK47 automatic, shot it through a steel door, the front door, wounded five and killed one. In fact, I got one of the bullets in my house. It came through my living room."

Dossett called Miller, her council member, and begged for help. Miller immediately began contacting various agencies to see what could be done.

"The TABC [told Miller] it was the Dallas Police Department's fault because they were not turning their reports in," Dossett says. "The police department said they did turn their reports in.

"Three months later we have another killing. That's the one that happened a year ago January, across the street. And that was an execution-style.

"Laura Miller was learning from this end how the system works, where they just pass you around. But with that ammunition [the fourth killing], she was able to call the TABC, and they shut [one of the bars] down. And then she got the [police department] SAFE team out here, and they shut the other two down."

But that's only the beginning of Dossett's tale. She says Miller, meanwhile, was negotiating with a set of real estate agents and developers to redevelop the entire block where the bad building stands. The block, a warren of dodgy structures and blowing trash only a year ago, is now home to a brand-new drive-in bank and a spiffy new Eckerd drugstore.

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