A Hole in Every Pot

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

To cap it all off and at Miller's insistence, the city came in and fixed all of the potholes in the street outside Dossett's office window.

"So she's fixed our potholes," Dossett said. "We have a nice school, and the kids can walk around here. There's no crime to speak of. And we have business development."

But even that isn't quite the end of this story. It appears that when Miller was helping shotgun the redevelopment of the block across from Dossett's building and home, the one property owner who wouldn't sell was the owner of the bad building with the closed-down clubs. Even though the clubs had been closed, there was always the lingering threat that the landlord would find a way to reopen them.

Miller, famous for caustic barbs when she was at the Dallas Observer, has been nicey-nice on the stump. Barbara Dossett, bottom,  loves the tough streak in Miller. Miller is her Rudy Giuliani.
Peter Calvin
Miller, famous for caustic barbs when she was at the Dallas Observer, has been nicey-nice on the stump. Barbara Dossett, bottom, loves the tough streak in Miller. Miller is her Rudy Giuliani.
Dunning says Miller is the city's best politician. Domingo Garcia says the city's best politician is Miller's husband, Steve Wolens (who helped her up the steps to announce her campaign). Oh, double yuck.
Peter Calvin
Dunning says Miller is the city's best politician. Domingo Garcia says the city's best politician is Miller's husband, Steve Wolens (who helped her up the steps to announce her campaign). Oh, double yuck.

Dossett took me across the street to show me the building close up. She wanted me to see the exit hole where the bullet had pierced the steel door at one end of the building on its way across the street and into her living room. But I noticed something else--a very odd street arrangement, a brand-new street to nowhere closely hugging one end and the back side of the bad building. In other words, the building now has city street right up against all four walls.

When I asked about it, Dossett smiled--a certain smile with a certain glint in her eye. She said part of the redevelopment of the block had involved some street closings, some land purchases by the city and the construction of this odd little business around the bad building.

"This building now has no parking," she said. "They can never meet the code for retail, so it can never reopen."

In other words, somebody got the city to use its power of eminent domain and its street-building authority to choke this property to death.

"I'd like to think Laura Miller had something to do with it," Dossett said.

See what I mean? This woman's home and business were being kicked and shoved into the grave by criminals and thugs. I don't know what really happened with that street. I know that Barbara Dossett does not care one whit if the building of a fake street involved some ruthlessness, some pushing of the envelope on property rights.

She's the middle class. She wants the trains to run on time. She thinks Laura Miller choked the bad building before the bad building could choke her neighborhood, and she's very happy about it.

Miller is her Giuliani.

There are people in Dallas who have serious reservations about Miller, precisely for the same traits that Dossett admires. David Marquis, an actor and teacher who has been a political activist in Dallas for 25 years, worked closely with Miller on the Ed Oakley city council campaign last year, but he's working for Tom Dunning in the mayoral race.

I met Marquis for lunch at Gloria's on Davis Street in Oak Cliff and asked him why he wasn't still with Miller. Marquis, who says he likes and admires Miller, told me he thinks Miller is too much the revolutionary to make a good leader--someone who makes war, not peace. He said several times that Miller had a tendency to paint anyone who opposes her on issues as "evil."

A week later Marquis called me in the evening to talk again about why he wants to see Dunning elected, not Miller. "I think this thing of Laura calling people evil is important. You know, I've heard her describe people that way, not that they did something wrong, but that they are evil. I don't know who gets to sit in that chair and make that judgment."

It has to be said, however, that in most of the campaign season so far Miller has not been the one throwing caustic barbs. Domingo Garcia is comfortable on the attack. Dunning does it, probably because his own consultant, Carol Reed, the über-guru of establishment politics in Dallas, has told him he must, but he always looks and sounds like a guy being forced at gunpoint to kill his granddaughter's bunny.

In a lifetime in business in Dallas and in voluntary public service, Dunning's conciliatory manner has made him lots of friends and probably didn't hurt him in business, either. Dunning has become wealthy putting together executive compensation plans as part of company buyout deals and mergers. He is an equity partner with financier Tom Hicks in many of Hicks' holdings.

Terribly stiff on the campaign trail, an automaton in candidate forums, he agrees with everybody else in debates. But Dunning is confident, warm and authoritative in a one-on-one. He breezed in the side door of Cafe Express on Lovers Lane in a flannel shirt and jacket on New Year's Day and talked to me for an hour about growing up in Dallas.

"I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was a great kid's life. I used to take the bus when I was 7 years old with some other kids, and we'd go to the village to see a movie."

"The village?" I ask.

"Highland Park Village."

But he means village. Not snotty shopping center. Those really were different times.

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