The Zac Factor

Why the Dallas County tsunami could make Crain an important mayoral candidate

Right. In the national midterm elections three weeks ago, 2 million more people under the age of 30 voted than in 2002, according to the University of Maryland's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. A total of 10 million young voters showed up at the polls and contributed 13 percent of total votes cast, as opposed to 11 percent four years ago.

But in a generally conservative town such as Dallas, does it make any difference if the electorate skews younger? I haven't been able to find any local studies that would answer that question, but the national data indicate that as Dallas gets younger, it will cease to be so conservative.

A week before the midterm election, the Harvard University Institute of Politics released a report that accurately predicted the record turnout by young voters. The Institute polled young voters for their opinions and found them to be anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War and majority pro-Democrat.

Zac Crain is in there, as a candidate for mayor. He's not in the house, maybe, but he's definitely in the mix.
Alison V. Smith
Zac Crain is in there, as a candidate for mayor. He's not in the house, maybe, but he's definitely in the mix.

The veterans can also tell me that's all national stuff and has little or no bearing on local matters, especially in an election that is nominally non-partisan. I would argue there are still very important ways in which young people see the world and their city very differently from geezers.

I asked Crain what he thought about the Trinity River Project, our multibillion-dollar public works campaign along the river in downtown, which is very heavy on new freeways and decorative bridges.

"It's a fuckin' mess," he said.

(Note to Zac: Do not use the F-word in interviews with reporters. Ask Laura Miller about that one.)

He went on a little about how uninteresting most of it seemed to him, especially the decorative bridges. As he spoke, I remembered a New York Times article my wife had recommended last October, "Vacation Homes: Seeking Birds, Not Birdies," by Joanne Kaufman. In it, Kaufman tells how second-home developers are having to retool—away from the golf-course communities that appealed to the Greatest Generation and toward places where people can be close to hiking trails, kayaking and nature.

I looked up that story later. There's a great quote in it from a guy telling how it's often wives who lead the way to these places, but their husbands eventually become converts. "There are men," the guy said, "who start off by saying: 'Arboreal toads? Hey, buddy, my tee-off time is in half an hour,' who then say, 'Oh, when are you going out again to look for the toad eggs, because I want to come.'"

Toad eggs versus tee-times. In the course of things, that could be bigger than Bush versus Kerry. My point is that something like the Trinity River Project might look entirely different to a Zac Crain constituency than it does to Laura Miller voters.

See. The mistake was not in voting for a Dallas Observer columnist. It was just that we needed the rock writer instead of the City Hall reporter.

Crain does bring a touch of the Observer perspective—and that does make me proud of him—which has to do with looking in from the outside and not wanting to get roped in. I think that same perspective was a lot of what propelled Miller's candidacy and makes even more mysterious her eventual conversion to the Dark Side.

Crain said: "The first thing I want to do is probably work on getting more cops." He said he understood that there's a big police pay lawsuit and that people at City Hall always cite the suit as the reason they can't do anything about beefing up the police force.

"It seems like people just kind of hide behind that and don't come up with any creative ways to get around it," he said.

He's right. That's a good solid issue. He might not even need my thing about the toad eggs.

So Steve Blow was correct, as far as he went. It is legal for Crain to run for mayor, even though he is not bald or losing significant bone mass.

But I would go further. I don't call him a front-runner. I'm not betting any money on him to win. But things are moving out there in the body politic that could change all of that suddenly. Remember the Dallas County tsunami.

I'm saying he's more than legal. He could even be viable. So don't write him off. Not yet. I'll let you know. (Steve, you don't owe me a thing. Glad to help. Ever try those fiber tablets?)

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