By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Don't tell me I may be losing my Tom Leppert. What would I do? I'm just not ready for the mayor of Dallas to leave me. I have so much more in mind for him.
The speculation is that Leppert might consider running for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat early next year should she decide at the end of this year to enter the Republican gubernatorial primary and should she also decide to resign from the Senate. (Hutchison wouldn't be required by law to quit the Senate in order to run for governor, but everybody assumes she would.)
I spoke with Leppert's City Hall chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh, and his political consultant, Mary Woodlief, to tell them I was working on a story about a possible Senate run and to ask for comment from the mayor. The response was radio silence from Leppert—not even a no-comment, just silence, reminding us of his response when we asked for details about his plan for taking over the school system.
The speculation that he will run persists, however, based on the widely held belief that a special election to replace Hutchison would give Leppert a window that won't be open again for another 15 years or more. In other words, it's a chance he can't afford to miss.
Leppert was a private businessman before getting elected mayor of Dallas the first time in a run-off in June 2007. Since then he has established himself as a formidable campaigner and political money-raiser but not so much as a Republican.
It's tough for anybody to put down partisan roots at Dallas City Hall, where elective office by law is non-partisan. But quite beyond that, Leppert has taken political positions, both at the gavel and on the stump, that have actively alienated some elements of the local Republican Party.
He ran the campaign and was first in the bully pulpit for a city-owned hotel next to the convention center—a sharp stick in the eye for fiscal conservatives.
At the city council dais Leppert marched arm-in-arm with Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway in support of a tough daylight curfew for teenagers, a measure that stuck deep in the craw of social conservatives and homeschoolers.
He has been given sort of a pass by local media (except us) on his involvement in minority contracting imbroglios (the late Lynn Flint Shaw at DART, the inland port, etc.). But none of that has gone unnoticed within the party, and all of it surely would be mined deeply in a straight-up Republican primary.
But that, for Leppert, is the beauty of a special election to replace Hutchison. There is no primary. It's an open race—in partisan terms almost a mirror of a typical City Hall election in Dallas. Every man and woman for himself and herself. Sort of non-partisan, what?
But what does it boil down to then? Who wins? Well, the folks I talk to say that will depend a whole lot on four questions: 1) Is this a Democratic or Republican state right now? (Just for grins, let's assume it's still Republican), 2) Who's the best campaigner?, 3) Who can raise the most money the fastest?, 4) Is Dewhurst in?
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst is a handsome man who runs a great campaign. The amount of time he will need to raise the money is however long it takes him to do an online account transfer. He is what is called "self-funding"—raises money with mouse clicks. So if Dewhurst is in, no other Republicans may bother.
But if he's not? Then the window opens, and maybe Leppert jumps through. Why don't I want him to jump? Oh, let me count the ways.
If Tom Leppert leaves City Hall next year and runs for higher office, he will do so on the back of a certain very brief but outwardly impressive record of can-do-ism in Dallas.
He was the man who saved the Trinity River toll road by defeating a referendum.
He is the man who saved the Dallas convention headquarters hotel from a referendum that sought to kill it.
He is the man who resolved the city's north-south racial split by forming a productive partnership with minority political and business leadership.
Every single one of those, I firmly believe, is a ticking time-bomb. And I want to see him still here and firmly ensconced in the mayor's chair when they all go off. I'm rooting for one big bang.
Let me ask you something. Did I ever claim to be a pleasant person? OK, I think I've made my point. Now let's talk.
Remember, please, that the 2007 Trinity River toll road referendum was not a vote on the overall Trinity River project—a multibillion-dollar public works campaign to include parks, decorative bridges, flood control and a new super highway in the center of the city. In fact, it wasn't even a vote on whether or not to build the toll road.
The sole question asked and answered by the voters was whether the route of the toll road should be between the flood control levees—out in the area that floods, in other words—as opposed to being outside the levees in the area that is protected by the levees from flooding.