But the mayor didn't point out the hypocrisy, or argue that in each instance Crow was motivated by self-interest. Instead he struck a softer tone: "Dallas deserves a lot more than playing grainy pictures on television and playing those attack ads."

Fearing that the $2.7 million that Crow has spent might sway the election in his favor, the mayor's political and business allies have stepped up their efforts in the last few weeks to show their support for him.

At a recent pro-hotel press conference outside City Hall, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price directed his attacks at Crow, making the bizarre connection between Crow and the Jim Crow laws, which enforced state-sponsored segregation of blacks until struck down by the courts and civil rights legislation.

Scenes from the battle: In his many public pitches for the convention center hotel, Mayor Leppert has argued that a vote against the hotel would be a vote against the future of Dallas.
Sam Merten
Scenes from the battle: In his many public pitches for the convention center hotel, Mayor Leppert has argued that a vote against the hotel would be a vote against the future of Dallas.
Sam Merten

"A lot of us are brought up in the South under what we call Jim Crow," Price said as Leppert stood behind him. "I'm basically saying that we need to vote no to Jim Crow."

Six days before early voting began, Ed Oakley joined a group of business people at the Stoneleigh Hotel who called themselves "Enough is Enough" to voice their support for the mayor. Rather than argue the merits of the hotel, they claimed to be motivated by the negative tone of the anti-hotel crowd's rhetoric.

Although Oakley himself used negative ads in his runoff against Leppert, Oakley says the offensive TV ads caused him to lend his name to the pro-hotel campaign. "I believe in the hotel," he said in an interview. "I don't know the numbers. I can't tell you that the deal is the right deal, but I know that we need a convention center hotel, and I have to trust the people that were elected."

While the anti-hotel crowd has made the trust issue a focal point of its campaign, the mayor hasn't helped himself on the stump. He has claimed that without the hotel, the convention center could lose $150 million in taxpayer money over the next 30 years, but a city-commissioned study, conducted in January by HVS Convention & Entertainment Facilities Consulting, indicates otherwise.

The study projects the convention center's net income for the next 10 fiscal years using two scenarios: with and without an attached hotel. In each scenario, the income for the first three years remains identical because the hotel will be under construction. Over the next seven years, the center's total net income is projected to be more than $6 million higher without a hotel.

While the hotel is expected to attract more attendees and more revenue, the result is higher operating expenses. Also, visitors who might otherwise stay in other local hotels may instead choose to stay in the city-owned hotel. This means a portion of the hotel occupancy tax they pay when renting their rooms will go to pay the bonds on the hotel instead of the bonds on the convention center, resulting in lower revenue for the center.

Despite the hotel campaign and the hits the mayor has taken to his credibility, his supporters remain unflappable in their high regard for him. "Whether you agree or disagree with him, you just never see a sinister plot behind what he's up to," Reed says. "He's doing it because he really thinks it's the right thing to do."

Whether the hotel is a "vanity project" as Hunt calls it, a "résumé building tool" as Rasansky has referred to it, or simply his vision of what's best for the city, the May 9 vote seems fated to be a watershed in his political career. Donna Blumer believes that if he doesn't deliver on the hotel and resuscitate the Trinity River project, the powerful business interests who put him in office will turn on him.

"I think that accounts for his unreasonable stands on the Trinity and on this hotel—for him to be so rabidly in favor of both projects, which have really serious flaws," Blumer says. "If he can't ram those through, I think the people who put him in office are going to say, 'OK, Tom. We need to move on.'"

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