By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Hey, wait a minute. What just happened? You tell me.
Did a skinny liberal Jewish Democrat woman who is a short-haired ex-muckraker just run for mayor of Dallas and win by 16 great big percentage points over a well-known tenured Republican, mainly with support from the arch-conservative, arch-Republican, arch-Christian, arch-white, arch-lady's-hairdo part of North Dallas?
And wait a minute. Is it true that Mary Poss, the Republican woman who lost to incumbent Laura Miller, spent $350,000 running in African-American Southern Dallas, the city's only Democratic stronghold, as a supporter of City Hall employees? I'm very wacked out about this.
The person who ran the Poss campaign with an iron fist was Lisa LeMaster, a political PR person who bills major hours in this city as a guru. People I talked to over the past couple of weeks say that Poss' campaign was soooo bad...she could have run unopposed and lost (ta-dum). It was soooo bad...people say she is the first candidate in history to run attack ads against herself (TA-DUM-DUM!). It was soooo bad...well, let's get on with it.
To be fair, the people I talked to all wanted to get their digs in off the record, and they would all like to be collecting Lisa LeMaster's big fat fees. They are her competitors, in other words. So we must take what they say with the famous grain of salt, right?
I do get why Laura Miller always runs as a conservative--the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. In this town, conservative is where the votes are. You can run as a liberal, or you can run for office.
But I definitely don't get why Poss, who really is a conservative, ran for office in the recent mayor's race as the great defender of the International Sisterhood of Ax-Grinding City Council Assistants, sticking up for disgruntled city employees like Mother Jones in a St. John suit. What in the heck was that all about? And what devil told her that black people were going to drive to the polls and vote for her in droves? It wasn't that darned reporter for The New York Times, was it?
Early in the year when Poss first announced her candidacy, the wisdom was that Miller, as incumbent, could not be defeated. But by the time election season rolled around, Miller was entangled in a number of potentially sticky deal-deals, real-estate stuff involving her supporters. It was all this business about turning the old Mercantile Building downtown into a fashion mart, using public money to create the Gardens of Versaille around The Dallas Morning News(a staunch Miller defender), using public money to build a new hotel next to The Dallas Morning News(a staunch Miller defender), using public money to hire muscular men in thongs and turbans to carry Morning NewsCEO Robert Decherd (a staunch Miller defender) around town on their shoulders. (That last one may possibly be an unfounded rumor I just started by total accident.)
Miller had painted herself as No-Tax-Increase Laura, then presided over a 5 percent tax increase. She had said she would help the cops get a big pay increase, then campaigned against their pay-hike referendum. She had pushed for a rewriting of the city charter that critics believed would have strengthened her own office to the point of making it hereditary. She had said she was opposed to most of the city bond issue, then wound up campaigning for all of it.
The biggest negative Miller carried into election day--borne out by the very negative results she got from voters--was her attempt to field a slate of candidates for office. Nobody even remembers a Dallas mayor dipping into individual council races the way Miller did, not since the heyday of the Dallas Citizens Council slate. Miller wanted voters to elect Sharon Boyd, Mark Housewright and Roxan Staff, whose votes she obviously needed to help get her out of her two-vote cellar on contentious council issues.
The voters slammed Boyd bad, slammed Housewright not-good and put Staff in a runoff. One professional I talked to said, "The question Roxan's got to be asking herself is, 'Could I have won without a runoff if Laura hadn't endorsed me?'"
If you take all of the underlying contradictions in the Miller persona--a big ol' snaggle-toothed Democrat wolf trying to run for office in Grandma's Republican nightie--and you add the deals and the slate and the other stuff, she certainly was not an inevitable or unbeatable candidate, even if she was the incumbent.
Poss, for her part, should have had positives. She has been on the city council since 1995. She has done stuff. White Rock Lake got dredged during her tenure and under her leadership, one of very few examples of the city of Dallas actually mobilizing to maintain and preserve a major public asset. The sex clubs at Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane moved out under her watch and made way for Central Market, the fancy grocery store where nice people who don't have nasty vices go to blow roughly the same percentage of their kids' college money on radicchio and Beaujolais that the dirty nasty bad people spend on whiskey and feel-ups.