Baby Mitch

What happened to city council's sharpest fiscal conservative?

Mitchell Rasansky, Dallas City Council member, is somebody I like. I just do. When you like somebody, you typically can't say just why. I can't. I just do. Which is what makes this so hard.

Rasansky, a gentleman, philanthropist and self-made success in the real estate business, made his bones in city politics as a tough sharp-pencil fiscal conservative from affluent North Dallas. That was yesteryear. This year it's different.

Now he's Mr. Devil-may-care with the public purse, backing huge unfunded initiatives that are going to come straight out of the pockets of his own North Dallas high-tax constituents. Gleefully.

Mitch Rasansky used to be Mr. Fiscal Conservative. Now he's Mr. Whoopee!
Mitch Rasansky used to be Mr. Fiscal Conservative. Now he's Mr. Whoopee!

He and I had a long conversation last week in which he explained his new position. And then I really didn't get it. Which, by the way, was sort of what I had expected would happen, which in some strange way is what I like about the man, which I cannot explain. But I can explain the money.

Exactly one year ago Rasansky was making waves and headlines with his adamant opposition to key portions of the Trinity River project. Based in large part on those waves and headlines he was touted as a potential candidate for mayor.

He didn't run for mayor after all. That's another story. Now he's in his last term as a member of the city council before being term-limited out. And now he is foursquare in favor of the Trinity River project.

He and I talked about why he changed his position. What I discovered was that Mr. Fiscal Conservative with his sharp pencil and sharper tongue, 1) does not understand the Trinity River project at all; 2) is saying things about it that are completely untrue, mutually contradictory and downright wacky; and 3) allows himself to be played like a hand puppet by City Manager Mary Suhm.

Why is this so important? You could say, "So what? He's just one of 15 votes on the council. Why take Mitchell apart in particular when any of the rest of them might be just as cracked?"

Exactly. That is the point. Almost all of them, with the exception of council member Angela Hunt, are at least as bad as Rasansky on this topic. He may be the poster boy, but the rest of them are the illness itself.

They all have a tendency to go around mouthing throwaway lines about the Trinity River project—lines often provided to them by Suhm—without the slightest understanding what they're really talking about.

Case in point: Rasansky, on his cell phone, was describing for me a graphic he had been shown in a city council briefing session the day before illustrating how beautiful the planned downtown river park will look with a large toll road up the middle of it. He allowed that the graphic was "off by a quarter-inch or so where they put the road." He said it also showed a network of smaller access roads around the manmade lakes that are to be part of the park.

I said, "You know, all those park roads are unfunded. There's no money for them, and that will all have to come out of your constituents."

He acted like I was nuts. "You broke up. What are you saying?"

"Those smaller roads, there's no money for them," I said. "They're 50 million bucks in the hole."

I thought I heard squealing brakes in the background.

Rasansky sputtered: "You're listening to what Angela Hunt tells you!"

"No. I got that from the city, from City Manager Mary Suhm. There are huge shortfalls on all of this that will all have to come out of your constituents' pockets."

I definitely heard car horns.

"Well, I will have to talk to Mary Suhm," he said, "and I'm in my car in a parking lot. As soon as I get to my office I'm going to call Mary Suhm and see what she says."

"I appreciate your taking time," I said.

"No, no, you call me anytime," he said. "But you need to get ahold of that picture and take a look at it."

Yeah, OK. I looked at the picture. It's very pretty. It shows the toll road as this terribly discreet little superhighway tucked off under the foliage where one would hardly even notice it.

Off by "a quarter-inch or so," eh? On a scale of what? I can't believe the city council actually relies on PowerPoint presentations, cardboard models and watercolors to make its decisions.

Hunt got the data. She had to use a legal open records demand to get city staff to give her actual engineering renderings of the road. I always thought the staff worked for the council. Anyway, the real renderings show the proposed toll road looming over the proposed duck ponds like the Great Wall of China.

The rest of them are like babies. Every once in a while Nurse Suhm walks by their cribs and shakes a pretty rattle at them, and then they're all smiles and drool.

Rasansky called me back to tell me what Nurse Suhm had told him about the $50 million shortfall: "She calls it the 'bells and whistles,'" he said. "You know, this is a $50 million deal out of a billion-dollar cost."

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