By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In 1986, Leppert moved to Dallas to become a national partner for Trammell Crow Company, then the largest apartment developer in the country. Trammell Crow died earlier this year.
"I have nothing but good things to say about him," writes Harlan Crow in an e-mail to the Observer about Leppert's three years working for his father. "He was essentially an administrative man, high quality, who did no harm nor made any difference, except that he always looked good."
In 1989, Leppert seized a job opportunity in Hawaii, at 34 becoming president and CEO of Castle & Cooke, a real estate development company. In Hawaii, he changed jobs twice, securing high-level positions in the financial sector before landing a job with Turner Construction. Representatives of Turner, which has moved its corporate headquarters back to New York, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Returning to the area, Leppert resided in the Park Cities. He now lives in a Dallas mansion valued on the tax rolls at more than $5 million in the upscale Preston Hollow neighborhood.
When his opportunity came to weigh in on the divisive May 2005 strong mayor referendum, he didn't even vote. Just two years later, he'd cast his first vote in a Dallas mayoral election—for himself.
So how do you raise name ID for someone who's only known to the business community?
"You buy it," Reed says.
By the end of December 2006, Leppert raised $500,000 for the general election compared to $75,000 for former council member Ed Oakley. TV ads began airing in January, and billboards went up quickly in southern Dallas.
Oakley says he knew Leppert would be a serious contender when he received early support from the leadership of the Citizens Council, but as he points out, Oakley also received a fair share of donations from members, including Harlan Crow. "We kind of split that baby right down the middle."
Ron Steinhart, a member and former chair of the Citizens Council, says he considered Leppert "a long shot" to win because of his lack of political experience, which is why he donated money to four candidates including Oakley and Leppert. "I was amazed at how quickly people coalesced around Tom and how much money he raised," Steinhart says.
Leppert finished first in the election, but lacking a significant majority at 27 percent, had to face the second-place Oakley in a runoff. Leppert would raise more than $2.3 million for his mayoral bid and padded his war chest with another $950,000 from his own bank account to dwarf the nearly $1.8 million brought in by Oakley. "He had his own personal wealth that I didn't have, which in the long run made a difference," Oakley says.
Oakley also attributes his 58-42 percent drubbing in the runoff to The Dallas Morning News making front-page news of his homosexuality and him going negative in a TV ad that focused on Leppert's facial tic. The ad also criticized Leppert's time at Turner, claiming the company had used toxic dirt to build an elementary school and was fined for illegal dumping.
"One of the things that I should have never let my consultants do was take me down the path of running negative ads," he says. "And there's not a day that goes by that I don't regret it."
Only three months into his term Leppert became City Hall's new talking head for the Trinity River toll road, a gig that would cause his credibility to be called into question.
Backed by the political and business establishment, the mayor began a crusade to keep a high-speed road inside the city's levee system. In 1998 Dallas voters narrowly had approved a bond program that included the road, named the Trinity Parkway, as part of the $246 million Trinity River Corridor Project, which also features flood-control improvements and an ambitious park development.
The road's cost in 1998 was projected at $394 million, but ballooned by 2007 to $1.3 billion. Troubled by the escalating cost and decision to move the road deeper into the park, freshman council member Angela Hunt led an effort to encourage citizens to vote "for" a city ordinance that would halt plans for a high-speed, six-lane toll road built on concrete piers. The proposed ordinance would restrict the speed and size of any road built inside the levees, along with ensuring that the road provided direct access to the park.
Halstead, whose Citizens Council donated $297,000 in support of keeping a high-speed road inside the city's flood-control system, says her organization backed the road because it would alleviate traffic congestion near downtown. She neglects to mention that the road is expected to boost land values surrounding the Trinity River, which will benefit the bank accounts of Citizens Council landowners in that area, including former member Harlan Crow.
On September 25, 2007, Leppert sat down in the auditorium of Rosemont Primary School in Oak Cliff for his first major Trinity River debate. He would match wits with the woman who had become the bane of his existence: Hunt, who was flanked by former council member Sandy Greyson.
Much like he's tried to convince voters that the hotel vote isn't about a hotel, he maintained that the Trinity vote wasn't about a road or a park. Rather, he framed the issue as if the vote represented some higher good: "It's about a commitment to go forward to build what we need to have the greatest city in America."