Mr. Sunshine

I see Dallas' glass as half-full in 2007, but what's in it?

The issue is so starkly simple when we finally are forced to stare it in the eye. Crime happens. Lots of it. If you want to have safe entertainment districts or safe neighborhoods in this society at this point in time, you have to make a major investment in cops.

Things can happen. Problems can be solved. It takes will. And the right people.

I met last week with Sam Coats, the airline executive and corporate turnaround specialist who has announced he will be running for mayor in the May 2007 election. It wasn't an official interview, and I didn't take notes or run a tape recorder, so I can't quote him directly. But it was a hell of an interesting chat.

Former airline executive Sam Coats is running for mayor. What if he or some other candidate turns out to be a good mayor? How great would that be?
Brian Harkin
Former airline executive Sam Coats is running for mayor. What if he or some other candidate turns out to be a good mayor? How great would that be?

Coats was one of the key negotiators who brought about a recent resolution of the controversy over flight restrictions at Love Field—the Wright Amendment fight. He has moved in and out of key posts at a string of airlines over the years including Braniff, Southwest and Muse. He captained the turnaround and sale at auction of Schlotzsky's Inc., the restaurant chain, after that company went bankrupt two years ago.

I first met Coats about 300 years ago when I was on the editorial board of the old Dallas Times Herald. He's an interesting guy, very mild-mannered in person. But then he goes into Schlotzsky's, calls a meeting of all the top executives, and at the end of the meeting he tells them when they get back to their offices 19 of them will find letters of dismissal on their desks.

Whack!

He says he's determined to examine all of the city's ongoing programs and commitments with a fresh eye to see which ones are crucial to the core mission and which are not. I believe him.

He thinks he can bring better consensus-building skills to the office of mayor than we have seen under Mayor Laura Miller. I believe that too, but I also believe my 190-pound Weimaraner dog, Otto, could bring better consensus skills.

I'm trying to get to know all of the half-dozen or so people who say they're running for mayor. So far Coats hasn't gotten much ink, probably because of a perception that he's a long shot. But after I left our meeting, a little light bulb went off over my head.

They're all long shots.

Especially if southern Dallas councilman Don Hill joins the race, effectively taking southern Dallas out of play, then it's all a game about white guys carving up North Dallas. And nobody's an inch ahead of anybody in that game.

So, indulge me here. Let's say we actually do dig through the pile and pick the right person for mayor—somebody with a keen eye, a strong hand and some serious people skills. I'm at a loss to tell you which one that will be, but imagine that we solve the puzzle and get the right one.

Then let's say we experience a big burst of willpower and decide that we are going to do whatever we have to do to solve the city's No. 1 core issue above and beyond all other issues—putting enough cops on the streets to kick crime's ass.

We could take off.

Of course—and I have written about this before—the real danger in Dallas has never been that people will have too much fun. Quite the contrary. When I first came to Dallas, the city was still a kind of national capital for Wahhabi Christians who wanted to roll up the sidewalks at night and not allow dancing.

The trick here will always be walking that fine line between safety and the edge that Jack Matthews is trying to hit with "The Beat." Why can't we do that?

Go to YouTube and look up "Tokyo Krawlers" or go to Tokyokrawlers.com. You will find cool little videos put together by my son's buddy Elliot and his sailor friends in Tokyo. One is a tour of a kind of supermarket for fetishists. Another is a transcendental homecoming for American skater/gamer guys at Mandrake Comic Store, an enormous underground emporium in the fashionable Shibuya district. This is the seamy, noisy underbelly of Tokyo you never saw in Lost in Translation.

All that stuff comes home. It comes home to Dallas from the Navy, from Yale, from Iraq, from Austin, from everywhere they go, and when they return to Dallas, if they return, things here get better, not worse.

My New Year's prediction is that we are doomed. Remember what I said about my predictions.

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