By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
2) They like Leppert; they really do.
Nearly the entire council seems to genuinely admire their mayor. Even during the debate over verified response, none of the council members who argued to keep the policy took so much as a veiled shot at him. Had this been Laura Miller, they would have come at her with all guns blazing. Then again, Leppert goes out of his way to avoid criticizing his colleagues -- or anyone else, for that matter.
So far, Leppert’s been able to line up votes on his side. Perhaps most impressively, he enlisted 13 other council members to come out against Angela Hunt’s referendum to scrap the toll road. I say most impressively because I don’t know how the mayor convinced the entire council to oppose a referendum that garnered more support than any of them did. I almost think he could persuade them to come over to his place and watch The Lake House on DVD.
“The mayor has proven to this point to be a very fair person,” says Caraway. “He’s getting along with everybody and he commands a lot of respect from everybody.”
Well. Not exactly, which leads us to…
3) What Leppert did to Hunt was just plain dumb.
As you no doubt know by now, Leppert didn’t appoint Hunt to a single leadership position on any council committee, an obvious snub of the popular second-term council member for listening to more than 50,000 voters who’d prefer a park instead of a highway by the river. In Dallas, listening to regular people qualifies as a sordid crime punishable only by social exile.
Leppert gave a procedural explanation for Hunt’s omission. He told me he tried to have returning council members chair committees in their areas of expertise. Meanwhile, the mayor said he chose fresh first-termers as the vice chairs.
But by that logic, Hunt should have earned some sort of leadership position on the Trinity River Committee, in place of David Neumann, a first-termer. Instead, Hunt was left out of the committee altogether—obvious payback for her decision to represent the wishes of taxpayers.
If Leppert were really being honest, he’d admit that his toll road adversary knows more about the sprawling, massive public works project than anyone on the council. Hell, he should also give her extra credit for being the only council member fit enough to have biked along the riverbanks. In contrast, Sheffie Kadane looks like he’d have a heart attack if he so much as walked from one end of the horseshoe to the other.
So why didn’t Leppert at least make her the vice chair of the Trinity River committee? Wouldn’t her input be valuable? Why did he leave her off the committee entirely?
“Clearly I wanted to reflect the interests of 14 out of 15 council members,” Leppert says.
Then again, I dutifully reminded the mayor that Hunt’s petition, which triggered the referendum, got more votes than him or anyone else on the council. Did he at least consider putting her on the committee as a lowly member? Leppert explained that he did but again felt like she was out of step with the rest of the council.
OK, I asked the mayor this: Had Hunt never opposed the toll road, would you have given her any type of leadership position, whatsoever?
“That’s a hypothetical and I had to deal with what was out there.”
Geez. Isn’t the entire spectrum of political discourse premised on hypotheticals? "If you elect me as your mayor, I will do…”
Even if Leppert didn’t want Hunt anywhere near his Trinity River committee, he could’ve had her chair the Public Safety one. Hunt’s district includes hot spots like downtown, Oak Lawn and Lower Greenville, where crime always threatens the city’s nightlife. She’s also won applause from business owners and neighborhoods alike for listening and addressing their concerns about quality of life issues.
Besides, it’s not like Leppert has the highest standards for his council leaders anyway. Tennell Atkins, who is the vice chair of the council’s economic development committee, has been in bankruptcy, which would seem to run counter to the notion of economic development. The city of Dallas also sued Atkins company, which rented hangers and office space at Redbird Airport, for "a consistent failure to perform its obligations.” Atkin’s prior legal imbroglios don’t mean he should be kept out of any leadership spots—his constituents knew about his troubles and still chose him overwhelmingly to represent them. But it doesn’t reflect well on Leppert’s fairness that he hands Atkins, a first-term council member, two leadership spots while failing to find a single one for Hunt.
In the meantime, Hunt, who was on the losing side of three big votes on Wednesday, would be wise to recall to the wisdom of Charlemagne. “Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky.”
The mayor and the rest of the council have tried to marginalize Hunt, but her power rests outside of City Hall with the everyday people who signed her petition. With a level of name recognition that rivals the mayor and dwarfs the rest of her largely anonymous colleagues, Hunt will be able to exact more change as an outsider than she ever could as one of Leppert’s lap dogs.