By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The first thing you notice about Mayor Laura Miller is her bright-red high heels with the red bows on the toes. She walks--no, glides--into the living area of her 2,552-square-foot home at 1109 Lausanne Ave. in tony Kessler Park. The home was built in 1928, is on the tax rolls at $650,000 and, according to public record, is owned by husband Steven D. Wolens as of the deed-transfer date 12/29/1986.
In Mapsco, it's smack-dab in 44-W.
The mayor, as some like to call her, is the picture of sophisticated grace. Her hair is coiffed. Her nails are manicured. Her lean and athletic--OK, let's call it spindly--body looks stunning in a Tahari pinstriped suit from Neiman Marcus ($498, retail). Except for one problem.
The suit is covered in vomit.
Miller does not vomit lightly. She's never been sick, never been hospitalized and never taken any medication--ever. Her medical records and interviews with her past seven personal physicians in three states confirm this. In her five and a half years as a city councilwoman and mayor, Miller missed three days at work.
Today she is ill. Not in the way my kids, with whom I've definitely spent a lot of quality time, mean ill, as in "sweet" or "crunk." She is literally sick because ghost columnist Laura Miller has blown up her pretty little world--all by showing Mayor Miller a mirror. Because I've brought with me more than 1,837 pages of documents that prove Miller has become just another downtown fat cat, the sort of person she used to rail against. Because on issues like building a taxpayer-draining new stadium in Fair Park, sucking up to Belo head snake Robert Decherd and making too much money to be considered a true populist, Mayor Laura Miller comes up lacking.
Because, in the end, Miss Mighty Mayor could stomach everything but the truth.
Mayor Miller was staring out her office window, which wasn't so much a window as a wall of glass offering a spectacular view of downtown Dallas.
Stationed at the window for a newspaper photograph, she wore the purposefully thoughtful, studied look of the person in charge.
But watching her brief survey of the urban landscape on that day, you had to wonder if Miller really saw what was laid out so starkly before her.
Her library looked in good need of a sandblast cleaning. Her homeless residents were everywhere, sitting on the plaza in front of the library, lying on the benches in front of City Hall, drifting down the street with their baby carriages in tow.
Did Miller also notice that a large number of downtown office towers were empty? That the streets were pitted with potholes?
If she did, she probably didn't notice today.
Because earlier this morning she'd had a secret meeting with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the taut-faced freak who runs the Dallas Cowboys. You remember them? Michael Irvin, who loved dildos, strap-ons, some kind of gizmo called a "butt plug," which I don't even want to speculate about. Troy Aikman, the strikingly handsome Cro-Magnon man. Those guys? Well, the man who paid them wanted to meet with Miller in private to get assurances she'd be on board with the plans for Jerry World, the stadium and theme park he wanted to build in Fair Park.
At taxpayer expense.
During a time.
When the city.
"Did you meet with him in private?" I ask Mayor Miller.
"Who, me?" she replied.
Yes, you--the statuesque one with the pretty beige pants and the matching sleeveless vest with the shiny silver buckles down the front. Yes, you--the one with the big graying mop of hair and the sleek high heels and one of the most painstaking makeup jobs I've seen off a magazine cover.
I showed her documents I'd uncovered that detailed the meeting, the subjects discussed and what each of them wore. (DKNY? Seriously? In June?)
That was the first time her stomach betrayed her.
Now, look, I'm OK with her having a meeting with one of the downtown boys. (Jones, Hicks, Decherd, Hunt, Perot--you know the white guys I'm talking about.) Everyone is entitled to schedule a meeting.
But not everyone is entitled to march down to City Hall, take over acres of prime city real estate and turn the site into a tacky, expensive-to-maintain theme park--all without more than a perfunctory nod to public process or protocol.
All of this, by the way, from a non-resident of Dallas--a Highland Park man--who appears not to care much that Dallas city roads and buildings and parks are deteriorating because of drastic budget cuts and dubious expenditures just like this one.
I'm not the only one upset.
"I honestly believed you couldn't buy privilege in Dallas," says the ghost of Stanley Marcus. "I honestly believed that. Ever since we got the council-manager form of government, I believed that things were settled on their merits. Maybe I've been naïve."
More than you know, Mr. Marcus.
Two days later, I was squeezing a tomato in Tom Thumb when I heard the news: Robert Decherd, Belo's Big Bad Bully Boy, and Mayor Miller were in bed together.
I couldn't believe my cute little ears. Decherd and his cabal of crafty moguls in three-piece suits and bad comb-overs had gotten Miller on board with a plan to cede power to the "Inside the Loop Committee," a group of downtown real estate interests who will be sure to line their silk pockets with public monies. Make no mistake, one thing is clear: The Loopy Loopers' committee is an overfunded, under-regulated, highly questionable expenditure of taxpayers' dollars. The sort of thing Miller used to use those exact words to disparage.
How could this come about?
Nineteen sources have told me, off the record, that Miller began seeing eye-to-eye with Decherd during a meeting last month regarding his desire to rule the city. Miller, these 20 sources say (one more just called), was set to tell Decherd no, I'm a populist, and we need to fix deep potholes and slipshod manhole covers. Then, things changed.
"You look hot," Decherd said. "Are those shoes Manolo Blahniks?"
Miller blushed. "No one ever compliments my choice of designer."
And that was that. How could it have been that easy, you ask?
Because Mayor Miller's flaw is that she's drop-dead gorgeous, and she knows it--which can be boring coming from most women but is downright scary when you have an elected official with real power who delights in seeing herself in the mirror. Miller is a preener, a neatnik and a clothes freak. Says a former co-worker, "We were just amazed that she always looked like she just stepped off a page of In Style."
Now, Miller promotes Decherd's plan for a unified vision of downtown. And it is frightening to think of how far Miller, who mysteriously and disconcertingly insists on doing all her mayoral deal-making in private, will go this time.
"Just because I support millionaires and the occasional billionaire doesn't mean I'm not a populist," Miller says. "I'm just an average person, like you or any other person who enjoys the circus, or the Crystal Charity Ball."
Must be printed.
I tell her I've arrived at her house to discuss with her the notion that she's still of the people. That she keeps it real. But, I say, no one is here.
"Are you on Lausanne?" she asks.
Why, no. I'm in Preston Hollow. At her home-to-be. Where that whole area south of Royal Lane, north of Northwest Highway, looks exactly like what it is: rich people who really want to (and deserve to) live in Plano, but can't stand the drive. The biggest question you have driving through here is how in the world our culture produced enough tasteless yet immensely rich people in America, let alone Dallas, to live here.
Once I arrive at her Kessler Park home, I show her the home where I went for our meeting.
The home she and her husband own.
The home at 5335 S. Dentwood Drive. The home that the Dallas Central Appraisal District values at $3.4 million. The home with 8,170 square feet of living area. The home they own that they plan to move into some day. The home listed as having one detached servants' quarters, two fireplaces and three wetbars.
I showed Mayor Miller the proof. That's when, once again, she knew she'd been caught. Her stomach roiled, and her Tahari suit took the worst of it.
"I'm sorry, Laura," Mayor Miller says, defeated and humiliated, like so many of my profile subjects. "I've failed Dallas. Worse, I've failed you."
It's a sad story, really. The truth is that Miller is a woman on the move. She makes no secret that she hopes four years as mayor will bring her fame and a little fortune after she steps down.
Unfortunately, to get there, she's become another political parasite who mixes public responsibility and financial opportunity like they were tequila and triple sec.
Down the hatch.
Dallas Observer staff writer and part-time spiritualist Eric Celeste contributed to this story.