By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Oakley, taking a page out of Karl Rove's notebook, has attacked Leppert's strength, ridiculing his tenure at Turner in a campaign commercial and Web site. In both spots, Oakley selectively criticizes a handful of Turner's projects that did not go as planned. In contrast, Leppert has not attacked Oakley in any way, other than to run a spot defending himself from his opponent's ad.
Oakley's commercials did engender a lot of attention from the press, and while we may not know whether they hit their mark for a few more days, they did create an obvious rift between the two candidates. Unlike the more pleasant general election, the runoff has become an affair far more bitter, with each candidate fighting particularly hard over endorsements, which become more influential in a low-turnout race. The two candidates, who now regularly spar during their joint appearances, clearly don't like each other, often not so much as shaking hands before or after a debate.
But while Oakley and Leppert may not be Dallas' version of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the two candidates have interchangeable positions on nearly all the major issues facing the city. For example, they're both about as pro-development as humanly possible. In his six years on the council, Oakley has repeatedly voted to give tax breaks to wealthy businessmen like Ray Hunt. He's been one of the most vociferous defenders of the council's penchant for awarding tax increment financing, which has the entertaining effect of driving Dallas' fiscal conservatives batty. Leppert, meanwhile, is hardly a detractor of the council on that front. In an interview, Leppert couldn't name a tax increment financing deal the council handed out that he opposed.
"Chicago has 130 TIFs," he said this spring. "They have been very aggressive. We're in a world where if we are going to be successful we have to be competitive and build the tax base."
The candidates also lament the loss of the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington, want to put more cops on the street and oppose, with all their might, Councilwoman Angela Hunt's proposal to put the high-speed Trinity River toll road to a citywide vote. In this mayor's race, those who view the business community with suspicion—from their involvement in the Trinity River project to their dealings downtown—have no one to vote for.
Leppert and Oakley have a few distinct stances cleverly calibrated to win votes. Leppert talks about improving public education in Dallas even though as mayor he will have zero institutional control over the school district. Oakley, meanwhile, has introduced a plan to raze aging apartment buildings and use tax increment financing to construct mixed-income housing in their place. Oakley's plan, unlike just about anything else he offers, is noticeably short on details, particularly on what exactly happens to the poor people his plan would displace.
Although not without their flaws, Oakley has been an effective politician and Leppert a successful CEO. If there is a problem with your 2007 Dallas mayor's race, it's how uninspiring it has become. From Oakley's mean-spirited attack ads to Leppert's seemingly willful ignorance of how City Hall works, the two candidates aren't doing a whole lot to earn your vote, other than being the only two still standing. Incredibly, Oakley and Leppert have emerged from a pack of 11 largely accomplished candidates without having a whole lot to say.
"I don't want to see Dallas do well; I don't want to see Dallas improve," Leppert said at a recent forum. "I want to see Dallas make a quantum leap."
For Leppert, that's a typical platitude: something so vague and generic nobody could disagree with it. Oakley, in contrast, almost never speaks in clichés, although you sometimes wish he would.
"The experience I bring from having spent 15 years down there, and I'm considered now an insider, which is news to me because I was ever considered only what I considered a person who has experience, I can bring that experience to bear in the parts of the city that have been underserved. That's the reason I'm running."