A Hole in Every Pot

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

Life in Preston Hollow and University Park was different then in other ways--more postwar bootstraps, less money-proud. When Dunning was a teen-ager and wanted his own car, he had to work to get it summers and after school in an aluminum smelter. He and a crew of mainly Mexican immigrant co-workers cut up airplane wings and lawnmowers out in a yard in the baking sun and then hauled the bales of scrap inside to be tossed into a white-hot vat.

At a later summer job in a warehouse, his co-workers were mainly black. He remembers going with them through the back door of the restaurant where they bought carry-out lunches because they weren't allowed to come in the front. These experiences, he says, taught him early that all people are the same inside. I believe him. If you were at this table, you would, too. But I think Tom Dunning hates telling me some of this. I can tell there's a side of him that thinks talking like this to a reporter, cataloging all your democratic deeds, is way too gooey and political.

When the conversation shifts from the personal to the political, a strange thing happens, as if an invisible tube has descended from the ceiling of Cafe Express and imprisoned Dunning inside. His arms fold up tight. His mouth talks, but his eyes say, "Get me out of here!"

Domingo Garcia, top, gets the pothole issue. He just thinks the city will have to raise some money to pay for it. Longtime community organizer and activist John Fullinwider, bottom, says Garcia has been right on all the important issues over a long career in local and state politics.
Peter Calvin
Domingo Garcia, top, gets the pothole issue. He just thinks the city will have to raise some money to pay for it. Longtime community organizer and activist John Fullinwider, bottom, says Garcia has been right on all the important issues over a long career in local and state politics.
Domingo Garcia, top, gets the pothole issue. He just thinks the city will have to raise some money to pay for it. Longtime community organizer and activist John Fullinwider, bottom, says Garcia has been right on all the important issues over a long career in local and state politics.
Peter Calvin
Domingo Garcia, top, gets the pothole issue. He just thinks the city will have to raise some money to pay for it. Longtime community organizer and activist John Fullinwider, bottom, says Garcia has been right on all the important issues over a long career in local and state politics.

I ask him to back away from specifics and tell me where he thinks the city is headed in a human way, socially and spiritually.

"One of the things I would do as mayor is, I would like to have a number of meetings with clergy of all different faiths, to get them together and get them more involved in the city. We're talking about everybody. I served on the board of the community of churches. I really liked that organization, but it was just for Christian churches. I thought it would have been great to have Muslims, others, of course Jewish members also. And one of my goals would be to have that, not as part of the government, but just as making sure that we continue to hear from different cultural viewpoints about what's important."

Maybe it was a dumb question.

At the end of our lunch, as we are getting up to leave, Dunning tells me something stunning. We're talking about Miller, and he says, "I think she's the best politician we've ever had in Dallas. Ron Kirk was great, but she may be better."

Hmmm.

Domingo Garcia does not have doubts about being political. Garcia talked to me in his Oak Cliff office about growing up in Dallas a decade and a half later than Dunning and under different circumstances.

Before we got into his life story, however, Garcia said something to me that I found equally stunning. Speaking of Miller's political acumen, he said, "She has a great coach. Steve Wolens [Miller's husband] is probably the best politician in Dallas."

So it's between Miller and her husband? Should we just go home and grab a nap, then? I forged ahead to the biographical questions.

"I was born in Midland, Texas," he said. "My father came to this country as an undocumented worker and immigrant. He married my mother and worked initially in the cotton fields of West Texas."

In 1967, when Garcia was 9, his father brought the family to Dallas for better pay in construction. The family lived in the Little Mexico district of Oak Lawn, and Garcia attended Sam Houston Elementary School.

"My first day in class was fairly traumatic. They put me in a special ed class, because I was at that time primarily Spanish-speaking, what's now called limited English proficiency. I was in with a bunch of children that had disabilities, like mongoloid kids, kids with other types of handicaps."

Garcia, a successful attorney, is well-off now. He has been a crusading champion of public education in Dallas. Both of his kids go to private schools. I sent my kid to private school for a long time, too. I get why.

When Garcia was in the ninth grade, his father moved the family to Richardson, where he was one of very few Latinos in his class. He played football at Berkner High School, graduated and went on to the University of North Texas, where in his first year he integrated an all-Anglo fraternity. He also became president of a group called Chicanos United for Social Advancement.

Adelfa Callejo, a lawyer and political patrona, says Garcia's background--one foot in the working class and another in the upper middle class--has allowed him to be a coalition builder within the Latino community and among minorities in general.

"I know what I want in a mayor," Callejo said. "I want my mayor to be a business person, to be a professional, to be somebody who has met a payroll, who has grassroots experience. Domingo has all of the credentials to be able to fulfill that dream that so many people have had about making Dallas a world-class city."

Garcia gets high marks from the city's few genuine progressives as well. John Fullinwider, now a teacher and writer, was active on the frontier of progressive grassroots politics in Dallas for 25 years, from the turbulent '70s to the soporific late '90s. Fullinwider met me on a Saturday morning at Cafe Brazil in Deep Ellum. (I'm swearing off coffee after this story.)

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