Swing Low

So we heal the north-south rift by electing Colonel Sanders mayor?

Note 1: "FBI in building" refers to the ongoing corruption probe at City Hall. Note 2: "Ross Junior" is a reference to mega-developer H. Ross Perot Jr. Note 3: I've been writing about this stuff way too long. Now I'm doing footnotes.

I get calls from reporters in other cities--and I tell you this only to make myself look more important--asking me what's up with Dallas, what's up with Miller and how can this chick have both the white guys downtown and the black community mad at her at the same time? I used to go into a long dissertation on the city's history, but eventually I gave up. It can't be explained to people outside Dallas. It sounds like a black-and-white 1950s newsreel. Now my standard answer is, "Oh my God, my wife's leaving me for a truck driver!"

But people here get it. People on all sides of the divide. One of the people I spoke with last weekend was former city council member Donna Blumer, who represented the very conservative, solid Republican district now represented so ably by Mitchell Rasansky. She gets just as sick as I do listening to the Morning News and most of those guys running for mayor singing about how they looked over the Trinity and what did they see, coming for to carry them home.

"I think the establishment and the News and all those people exploit that. People up here, and I'm sure the average person in South Dallas, wants somebody who will come in here and do the job. But Ray Hunt always has a dog in the hunt. The same old players who feed at the trough down there are seeing it [Miller's departure] as an opportunity to get in there and really get a grip on things for themselves."

Pat Cotton, the white conservative political consultant who helped defeat both of Dallas' recent strong-mayor charter reform proposals, has a much less pessimistic view of southern Dallas than I do right now. She believes the anti-strong-mayor initiatives helped stir new leadership in the southern sector, people capable of rising above and standing apart from the old sold-out vote-harvesting machinery that has so long been a crucial element in the plantation system. It would be great if she's right.

But the one black mayoral candidate the Morning News has been pushing lately is city council member Don Hill. I guess they think they have to mention a black name. The joke is that Hill, who very publicly ditched his wife this year and married his girlfriend, couldn't get elected South Dallas dog-catcher, let alone North Dallas dog-catcher, never mind that he's a subject of the FBI corruption probe.

No, it's definitely going to be one of the white boys. An irony of Miller's departure is that her absence relegates the old black leadership to the same irrelevance it suffered before she took office. Now they've got nobody to be against, nobody to be for. 'Cept the boys. The gentlemen on the veranda.

I paint with too broad a brush: Some of them are OK. Darrell Jordan, a lawyer who has run before, has a few inches of air between himself and the Dallas Citizens Council, which is the old closed-door club downtown whose members lust to run things again once Miller's gone.

But as Rob Richmond, an independent-thinking Republican who was an early Miller supporter, pointed out to me, there isn't one of the white candidates who would go against the Citizens Council on a serious Citizens Council issue. As Miller would and did.

So I'm depressed. I don't see how we avoid a major step backward after she leaves. She has been a powerful change agent in a city that badly needed to change.

Miller said: "I told my husband last night, 'Honey, you know, this is the clearest example I've ever seen in my personal life where my family and my husband and my kids and the quality of my life took a much higher priority than my ego. Because the only reason to run again was for ego.

"'Oh, longest-running mayor in the history of the city. I'll show them and get elected again.' And then the problem becomes, yeah, well, what do you do after you win? Then what do I do? Sit down there with the boys and talk about Ray Hunt's next big development?

"I'm not jaded and I'm not unhappy and I'm not bitter. I just think I did the best I could. You move on to the next phase of your life, and it sure ain't going to be politics."

Miller will serve until June 2007. After that, she says, she's going to devote her time to her kids.

Listen to me, kids. You need to prepare yourselves for one of the most interesting periods of your lives. You will need helmets.

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