By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
After Tom Leppert coasted into the mayor’s office in June, I decided he and I needed to take a little break. It wasn’t an easy decision. In spring 2007, I learned so much about him, from how his single mother inspired his heartland values to how he never swore throughout the protracted campaign. Most of all, I learned that Tom Leppert believed Dallas could be the greatest city in America, a statement he delivered without doubt, qualification or irony.
Of course, I needled him every now and then for repeating pro-business platitudes as if they were revelations from a Fifth Gospel. I also lamented how the former construction executive never wandered into the land of details when answering a question about police, taxes or economic growth. I even took cheap shots at his facial twitch a time or two. Yet despite such digs, Leppert always returned my calls and remained friendly, polite and upbeat. That’s how he always was. When his desperate rivals tried to egg him on in the final stages of the general election, Leppert merely smiled and ignored them, delivering cookie-cutter stump speeches that would have applied to about 10 different American cities. Well done.
After Leppert coasted past the flailing Ed Oakley in the June run-off, it seemed like it was time to move on. I needed to find someone else to write about since mayor choirboy here didn’t give me a whole lot to work with. Never angry or petulant, always full of hope and an earnest sense of purpose, Leppert reminded me a little too much of the woman Tom Petty abandons in “Free Falling.” “He’s a good boy. Loves his mamma. Loves Jesus and Dallas too.”
Still, I watched the new mayor from afar. Then, on Wednesday, more than two months after the Dallas Citizens Council bequeathed him his royal throne, I finally caught Mayor Leppert in action presiding over a city council meeting. What I found was the same inoffensive corporate leader I had come to respect begrudgingly on the campaign trail. My guess is his style will prove to be rather effective, though not necessarily enlightened. That’s just a guess, though, and many of my other ones-like the prediction on Tom Leppert not making the run-off—wound up to be dead wrong. So don’t take any of this to the bank. Still, here are a few observations about the mayor I just can’t quit:
1) He’s still a vague and bland debater.
On Wednesday, the council engaged in a lively and surprisingly intelligent debate on whether to scrap the city’s alarm policy, known as verified response. Under that policy, the police department won’t respond to a business alarm unless the owner or a security guard has confirmed that a burglar triggered it and not a squirrel, gust of wind or clumsy employee. The council adopted the policy two years ago after the police brass talked about how more than 97 percent of the alarms they respond to are false.
“Verified response is and was the utilization of scarce resources,” said council member Vonciel Hill. “It doesn’t make sense to continue to send scarce resources to respond to false alarms.”
Of course, the other side pointed to the folly of having small business owners be the ones to catch a thief.
“I’m not going to send a citizen without a gun permit playing Wyatt Earp running to their business at a high speed to protect their store,” countered council member Dwaine Caraway, who has a knack for clever sound bites. “Dallas is in a sorry state of affairs when we can not offer our businesses police protection,” added council member Mitchell Rasansky.
Just about every council member offered compelling points for and against verified response. They used vivid anecdotes, trotted out persuasive data and employed colorful rhetoric. Then there was the mayor, who spoke last on this topic, but didn’t exactly pull from the speeches of Winston Churchill to punctuate the proceedings. Here’s are some representative remarks:
“The process has worked and that’s exactly what should happen.”
“It’s been a good debate; it’s been a fair debate.”
“In the end, we have to be concerned not just about the economics of the policy but the wider message it sends. I don’t think this policy sends a good message.”
“This is not a good policy and is not a policy that allows us to build the city of Dallas and build it in a way to keep the city moving forward.”
“Life is a highway. I want to ride it all night long.”
Actually, the last one was Tom Cochrane, not Tom Leppert. Same difference.
In the end, Leppert, who campaigned on scrapping the city’s alarm policy, prevailed as the council easily voted to do away with verified response. So that speaks well for his powers of persuasion. But on other, more controversial issues, like, say, the Trinity toll road referendum, the mayor’s penchant for lite-rock rhetoric might not serve him well.
Then again, Leppert’s predecessor could turn a phrase, and look what that did for her.