By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
And then I catch sight of a peculiar vision: A good 10 yards distant from the exhausted throat-singers, Poss is positively beaming behind her lectern, her chin craning skyward as if she were a cocker spaniel puppy getting a great big tummy scratch.
Oh, why? Why is she even doing this?
To make it worse, barely 24 hours ago Miller held her own low-key news conference to announce her endorsement by the Texas Public Workers Association, representing about 400 of the city's 8,200 civilian employees. Leadership of the group told a small gathering of reporters that Miller had secured civilian workers the best deal they could expect in straitened times.
The TPWA is small. So what? The group that endorsed Poss is goofy, running around City Hall with lapel buttons ridiculing the mayor. I think this is at best a draw. Or would be a draw, if it weren't for this: A reporter friend of mine was at the Dixon Branch Homeowners Association mayoral forum in the area east of White Rock Lake, sitting next to his dad, who lives in that part of town. Some of this area is in Poss' council district, and it's all supposed to be Poss territory. In her closing remarks, Poss fired off her bombshell of the evening: an accusation, which Miller promptly denied, that Miller had once said city employees have the brains of gnats.
My friend said his father was genuinely perplexed because it seemed to him that Poss, of all people, should know that in this part of town such a remark--if the mayor had said it--would have won her votes, not lost them.
And that's why there is no mileage for Poss in the city employees being mad at Miller. Everybody knows the city is hammered for money. Half the people in North Dallas think city employees should work for free. I'm sure Poss told the gnat-brain story because she wants to tell people that Miller is mean as a horsewhip, which she is. But it just makes Miller look tough, which is what people want her to be.
Poss' big stinger here is going to be the smoking issue: She's coming after Miller for successfully pushing a ban on smoking in restaurants. Poss will emphasize her own conservative pro-business roots and will paint the no-smoke law as a commie-style abridgment of personal liberty. Here at the press table, do I detect faint hope that Poss may get her first good ride on this?
Miller gets to it first, as usual. She's running down a long list of accomplishments as mayor, getting no visible response from the audience on any of it until she says, "We did a smoking ban, which we've been talking about at City Hall since 1995."
The Realtors erupt in 10 solid seconds of loud applause! There are cheers! These are Realtors! They are cheering Miller for her smoking ban! What can I tell you? I am as dumbfounded as anyone. What is happening to this country, anyway? It's like ChemLawn going organic.
Poss makes her own speech, vowing to ask the city council to overturn Miller's ban if she is elected. She talks about a "market-driven" plan instead, based on separate ventilation systems and "signage," which sounds like "sinus" the way she says it. She gets barely a scattered clappety-clap from her own posse.
But wait! Maybe Poss has got a good one after all. Later in the event, Miller says the city's No. 1 legislative priority must be to persuade the state to let Dallas build a new convention hotel in Dallas with tax money. This is the big hotel next to the convention center that Miller and her husband, state Representative Steve Wolens, have been fighting for since last year.
The most likely location for the hotel is on land next to the convention center owned by Chavez Properties. Chavez owner Michael Anderson is a financial supporter of the mayor. A convention hotel that close to The Dallas Morning News and its owner, Belo Corp., would help draw traffic to Belo's many holdings at that end of town, and the Morning News has been lobbying hard for the hotel in both news and editorial columns.
Poss picks it up: "The more I see the broader issue, and the more I see the economy decline and I see businesses really suffering in the city, and I see the occupancy rate of our existing hotels drop, the less convinced I am that we need a convention center hotel today. We may need it in the future."
She explains in simple enough terms why a tax-subsidized hotel right now could be a bad thing for the city and the convention trade. Owners of existing hotels have to worry that "if you build and book a new convention center hotel, that you won't be taking the rooms from the other hotels, thereby causing those hotels to suffer even more," she says.