Woman in Gray

Laura Miller's white hat has a few stains

"A Mayor of absolute integrity."

I keep tripping on those words, a blustery little sentence fragment with "Mayor" proudly capitalized, on Laura Miller's Web site. I was shocked when I first read them, but not in the good way I was back when Miller was putting out some of the best investigative journalism this city has ever seen.

It's the "absolute" that bugs me.

Laura Miller claims  to have "absolute integrity"; there are no absolutes in politics.
Peter Calvin
Laura Miller claims to have "absolute integrity"; there are no absolutes in politics.
Laura Miller claims  to have "absolute integrity"; there are no absolutes in politics.
Peter Calvin
Laura Miller claims to have "absolute integrity"; there are no absolutes in politics.

Maybe I should just rest easy knowing that the woman likely to be our next mayor is right up there on a moral pinnacle with Jesus.

But instead I wonder if she's as arrogant, smug or superior as those words make her seem.

"A Mayor of absolute integrity."

I chewed on that word, integrity. I remembered something I'd heard: Integrity is what you do when you think no one's looking.

Now, I know several people who possess integrity. I am privileged to know a handful of people with so much integrity--observed, tested and proven over the years in difficult circumstances--that I would entrust them with my life.

On a whim, I called one of my best friends in Dallas, a pastor's wife, surely one of the most wretched occupations invented by God or man, where one must continually absorb all of the insults aimed at you by people too chicken to attack your husband. Diane, I believe, has integrity. She'll counsel bratty couples till 3 in the morning, stay cool when people get jealous about her family's narrow grip on the middle class and withhold their contributions, even manage to summon a chuckle when a 400-pound woman comes on to her husband. In church. Right up in her face.

It takes a person of integrity to put up with that mess, and I've watched Diane for 11 years and know she has it in abundance.

So I asked her a question.

"Diane, do you have absolute integrity?"

"No," she said without hesitating. "But I'm working on it."

Oh, I know I can't draw any scientific conclusions from my sample of one. But it points up something I've seen. People of integrity usually have another quality that goes along with it: humility. An ability to recognize their flaws, laugh at themselves, even occasionally ask forgiveness. It's what keeps them sane.

And I've thought about that enough to realize there was considerable risk in the ballot I cast for Laura Miller last week.

Yes, I voted for her, and it's not the first time. As a resident of District 3, I've voted for her each time she's run for Dallas City Council.

In fact, let me make a couple of things clear up front. I like Laura Miller, personally and as a mayoral candidate, though not in the same unflinching, fanatic way some of her supporters and sycophants do.

Another thing I need to confess: As I told Miller's political consultant Rob Allyn last week, "I'm one of the people Laura Miller isn't talking to." We have a history. But more on that later.

When Miller was the Dallas Observer's marquee columnist, she viewed everyone and everything in black and white: evil or good, smart or stupid, strong or insipid. That works in the columnist's dichotomous world, but it's never worked for me. I know Miller fairly well, and I know enough to see her another way: in vivid gray.

These days, folks are practically tripping over themselves to greet Miller at candidates' forums, lining up like groupies to shake her hand, drop a few words of encouragement, even score an autograph. And Miller has a way of looking you in the eye, hunching down slightly to hear you, just you, share your personal Armageddon with a ravenous pothole, a stray dog or a slothful city employee.

But this column isn't about the groupies; it's about the gray.

We at the Observer have had a complicated relationship with Miller, whose work as a journalist most of us admire. On more than one occasion in the four years since she left the paper to run for city council, Miller has not been on speaking terms with us.

The reasons, some of which were detailed in Jim Schutze's cover story last week on the mayoral election, "A Hole in Every Pot," are revealing. They basically add up to this: Miller can dish out scathing criticism, but she can't take it.

I have a little tale of my own, and it's time to come clean.

Over the years, I've been interviewed several times about Miller, and I shied away from the gray. I focused instead on her many excellent qualities: hellacious investigative skills, an untouchable work ethic, extreme tenacity, an obsession with thoroughness and accuracy, even a great sense of humor.

This is a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer and sentenced to months of chemotherapy treatments. She didn't miss a single city council meeting.

She won her seat by going door to door and meeting her neighbors in Oak Cliff, where I have lived for the past 12 years. When my husband and I bought our home in Southwest Dallas two years ago, Miller could describe for me the elderly couple that used to live there. She'd knocked on their door, gotten to know them. And they obviously were impressed: We found a stash of Miller campaign signs in the garage, not that anyone needs them. It's wall-to-wall Miller on our street.

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