Mitchell Says No

So what about the dogfight on the Trinity River Project?

A portrait for the museum. A Rembrandt. I'm looking at Mitchell Rasansky in a pool of light at the back of a darkened office, staring back at me glumly.

Here on Walnut Hill Lane across from Presbyterian Hospital, winter evening has fallen. The secretaries and administrative assistants of the world have all gone home. It's just city council member Rasansky and me, all alone in the semi-dark at the back of a suite of offices from which he runs his commercial real estate empire.

"I told you I would call you first," he says.

Rasansky says nobody told him not to run for mayor. He says he just doesn't need it.
Mark Graham
Rasansky says nobody told him not to run for mayor. He says he just doesn't need it.

I wait a beat. With Rasansky you're supposed to.

"Made a decision."

Beat.

"I am not gonna run for mayor."

Crap. Knew it. No, I didn't know it. I sort of knew it.

"Let me tell you why," he says.

Beat.

"Too busy."

Too busy? Too busy? For the last several months, Rasansky has been making noises about running for mayor in the May 2007 election. He spent 17 grand on a poll, which he says he's about to show me. Last September when he showed up for a panel at Temple Emanu-El, he was already running for mayor. Now he's too busy.

In fact he says he's way too busy.

"If somebody came along and offered $3 million for me to be mayor, I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. I just wouldn't do it."

He says his city council district constituents want him to stay on as their council member for another term. "A lot of people call me in my district and say they don't want me to run for mayor. They want me to watch out after District 13."

I am choking back the impulse to ask exactly how many people have called to say they don't want him to be mayor because they want him to be their council member. But I also need to be honest about my own interests here. Why did I want him to run? Oh, I can answer that one easy: Good copy. Good for me.

Mitchell Rasansky would have been good copy because he would have brought up substantial issues. Do I mean wonk issues and conspiracy theories nobody but me cares about? No, not at all. C'mon, give me a break. I'm not just sitting here chewing paper, tattooing myself with a ballpoint pen and imagining plots all day. Maybe two hours in the morning, max.

Rasansky would have talked about real issues that people do understand and do care about and would love to have a chance to vote on through the mechanism of the mayor's election. I knew he was going to talk about that damned Trinity River Project, and I can't get over the suspicion that the Trinity River Project is part of why he got talked out of this.

He says no. "Get that idea out of your head. Nobody told me not to run. I just don't need it."

But a while later in the conversation: "Yeah, Jim, I would have liked to be mayor. No big deal. I'm not going to let my business go away and my estate go a little down for my children and my wife and grandchildren. I'm not going to do that. Am I wrong?"

I said he shouldn't ask me estate questions. I worked on one once, but it was all outdoors.

He said his wife really didn't want him to run. Certain people were coming up to her at the synagogue and saying, "If Mitchell runs for mayor, it'll be the worst thing he ever did in his life."

Not the kind of thing you want to hear in a place of worship.

He showed me his poll. In a field of relative unknowns, he was way out ahead in citywide name ID. Thirteen percent of people polled knew who he was, compared to 8.3 percent for council member Ed Oakley; 5.3 percent for banker and former council member Max Wells; 5 percent for lawyer Darrell Jordan; 4.5 percent for lawyer and legislator Rafael Anchia; and 2.8 percent for council member Gary Griffith. (Take the very low Griffith number with a smidge of salt: This was never going to be a Griffith-friendly poll.)

I spoke briefly with Rasansky's pollsters in New York, who gave me a hint why backers of the Trinity River Project may not have wanted Rasansky out there all over the hustings bringing up problems. The poll measured the Trinity River Project with voters and found very shallow support, almost disdain when voters were asked to rank the project in priority with other issues such as crime, streets and schools.

If that's what Rasansky's poll showed, other people must be looking at similar numbers. And Rasansky had already raised a particular and pointed possibility: He said publicly that it might be time to take some aspects of the Trinity River Project back to the voters in a referendum.

Think about it. Imagine you are one of the powers pushing this multibillion-dollar public works project for the last half-century, especially the six- to eight-lane freeway they want to build next to their own property along the river. And you have your own polls. You know the support is extremely thin. You do not want a candidate for mayor—extremely popular, even beloved in the city's heaviest-voting, most conservative district—out there giving people the idea they should have a chance to vote this thing down.

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