By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Only in Dallas. Ed Oakley, the Democrat in the June 16 mayoral runoff election, is running on a platform of tax giveaways for the rich, highways in the parks and demolition of housing for the poor. And he's the liberal.
Tom Leppert, the Republican, is running on the divine right of kings. Leppert gets so starry-eyed when he talks about his own success in business, I feel like I should curtsy.
But Leppert's not my problem. I'm an ex-hippie pinko liberal Democrat bleeding-heart son of a bitch. My problem is Oakley. And maybe being in Dallas way too long.
Years ago I accommodated myself to the idea that Democrats and liberals in Dallas, in order to ever get elected, have to talk tough on stuff. Annette Strauss was a Democrat. When she was mayor, she was very anti-crime. I was OK with that. Who's for crime?
Then later Ron Kirk became mayor, and he was a Democrat. He came out against democracy. He said many of our major construction projects such as Central Expressway were being held up by needless democracy. It worried me, but I figured what's a Dallas Democrat to do?
Later Laura Miller became mayor. She's a Democrat. She came out against beggars. That made me real uncomfortable. But I lived with it.
Now we get to Oakley. He wants to give more of our tax money away to wealthy developers. He loves the idea of ramming a big, multi-lane, high-speed highway through the river park we're trying to build downtown.
Maybe there's some way I could force myself to swallow all that to keep the divine-right-of-kings guy out of there. But Oakley's pitch about fighting crime by demolishing apartment buildings: That one I just cannot get down.
I cannot swallow it from a Democrat. I keep telling myself, if this is what we have to do in Dallas to be Democrats, maybe we should become Whigs. Something just...else. You know, what's next? Taking all the old folks out to Lake Ray Hubbard in their wheelchairs and giving them a long push on a short pier? Democrats for Dunking the Geezers?
I have been re-reading some of Oakley's campaign mail. It's interesting. He actually nuances the apartment demolition thing a bit depending on which part of town he's mailing to.
In Hispanic areas, for example, he soft-soaps it a little. "In our neighborhoods, run-down apartments have become havens for crime," his mailer says.
In East Dallas, he makes it a neighborhood thing: "Ed Oakley is a neighborhood leader with a plan to take back our neighborhoods by taking down crime-ridden apartments."
In South Dallas, he mentions it but goes light. In Jewish North Dallas, he shows a flash of inner conflict: "Unfortunately on one occasion apartments were prematurely torn down, displacing some of our seniors. But some blighted apartments are magnets for crime and need to be removed."
Obviously a labeling problem.
But in Councilman Bill Blaydes' northeast Dallas district, where apartment-phobia is at fever-pitch, Oakley's campaign literature jumps into it with both boots down and fists in the air.
"Ed Oakley knows that blighted apartments are magnets for crime," his mailer crows. "You'll hear Ed say it at neighborhood meetings: 'Crime won't come down until those apartments come down.'"
Can't you just hear the crowd roaring? DE-MOL-ISH, DE-MOL-ISH!
The mailer quotes Blaydes: "Over the last three years, he's helped me get the votes I needed to take down 3,000 apartments in our area."
Yeah, a year ago I wrote about a deal that accounted for more than 1,000 of those apartments ("Looters," Dallas Observer, May 18, 2006). Only problem was, the demolition that Blaydes and Oakley helped facilitate had nothing to do with crime.
Timbercreek Apartments at Skillman and Northwest Highway was a peaceful, tidy, well-run community for working people. Mayor Miller alone voted "no" on a day when the entire rest of the city council voted to allow the scraping of all those apartments to make way for a big-box store, at Blaydes' and Oakley's enthusiastic behest.
If I wanted to really bore you, I could talk ad nauseamabout the studies that show there is no correlation between apartments and crime. If you're really interested, Google the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University and click on publications for a paper called, "Overcoming Opposition to Multifamily Rental Housing," by Mark Obrinsky and Debra Stein, published in March of this year.
By looking at crime rates in apartments versus rates in single-family neighborhoods and controlling for factors like employment and income, the authors effectively shoot down the notion that apartments are the "root cause" of crime, as Oakley likes to say.
I came away from reading their article with something that was, for me, more striking than the findings themselves. It's so obvious, when you compare Oakley's speech with the facts, what he's really doing: He isn't even trying to talk about crime. This is all demagogic manipulation through the utterance of bigoted code words.
I talked with Mike Daniel, a veteran civil rights lawyer and major figure in housing desegregation in the city (and a Democrat, I might mention).