Ron Natinsky is the Chosen One? What's Our Second Choice, Then?

I don't like end-of-the-year round-up stories reminding me of all the stuff I've already forgotten over the year, because most of it was stuff I forgot for a reason.

One of the national New Year's lists reminded me that on August 28 the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police department arrested Paris Hilton for possession of pot and cocaine. When that happened I actually couldn't wait to delete it from my memory, and now here I am, knowing about it all over again.

I have similar problems with lists telling me what's going to happen in the year ahead. First, they never tell you the good stuff.

I would read those lists if even one time they had specific juicy predictions, like, "Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels walks into a bar, says, 'Watch this,' offers waitress a hundred dollars to expose her breasts."

And then it really happens!

A list like that would be interesting. But we never get lists like that. Instead what do we get? We get predictions that fall in the category of, "probably true but who cares?"

It's especially the case locally, which brings us to D Magazine's recent adventure in the uninteresting occult, an article in the December issue called "20 Things You Need to Know for 2011." In that piece the magazine's editor predicted correctly but boringly that the current mayor of Dallas, Tom Leppert, will not run for re-election in May and that the establishment candidate to succeed him will be the famous, the fantabulous, the one and lonely only...Ron Natinsky!

You know. The famous Polish ballet dancer, right? Oh, no, wait, that was Nijinsky. The magazine editor was talking about Ron Natinsky, a relatively colorless North Dallas businessman and city council person about whom you probably don't remember ever having known much of anything. He is to be the new excitement, according to D.

And it all falls into place, doesn't it? All of a piece. You may remember that before becoming our incumbent mayor, Leppert was a relatively colorless business person of whom you knew nothing. Then suddenly he was the jazz! Now he's going away, and Mr. Kadinsky is going to be the jazz. Sorry, Natinsky.

You might even wonder how it happens. How do relatively unknown colorless persons who have never taken notable positions on much of anything suddenly become the excitement, and how does D know about it in advance? But you really don't need to ask that question, do you?

It's what makes Dallas Dallas. It is the Dallas way—the way things always have been. Every few years when the current excitement gets worn out from being so exciting, a small coterie of business leaders scans the local horizon to choose someone who can be trusted to fill their new bill. And then D announces the name.

It's a process not unlike the one by which the high lamas of Tibet search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, but instead of a Dalai Lama we get Ron Natinsky. In fact, there are important parallels. Note that it's the Dalai Natinsky who rotates, not the high lamas who select him. The high lamas, known locally as the Dallas Citizens Council, just go on and on, and that is why things stay the same and the same.

The basic culture of leadership in Dallas has not changed since the decades right after World War II. It's still based on a near religious faith in what I call the World's Biggest Ball of String—the big new excitement downtown, the football stadium or the fancy new bridge or the lavish new opera house that's finally going to put this burg on the map. And once this burg is finally on the map, then watch out, Buster, because from then on this burg is going to be...

On the map!

But it's too late! People don't use maps any more. The Dallas Citizens Council is still trying to put Dallas on the map, and how many people even have one? The Citizens Council guys need to get their grandchildren to teach them how to turn on the GPSes in their cars. Wow! Look at that! Dallas is already on the GPS!

Yeah, guess what? So's my driveway. Both cars. So what? Everybody knows where everything is now. To be interesting, you have to take it up a notch from having people know how to locate you. Things are a bit more competitive now. People need not merely to know where you are but why they should want to live there. And maybe we've turned French or something, but the reality in today's world is that wanting to live somewhere involves less of work and more of the rest of life.

None of this is news. It's the "creative class" thing propagated by authors and urban theorist/researchers like Richard Florida and Christopher B. Leinberger. All of it is known and broadly understood. But not here, not by the people who still happen to run our own fair city.

Jim Landers of The Dallas Morning News Washington bureau had a really interesting piece in the January 2 paper about efforts of Ohio cities battered by the collapse of American heavy manufacturing to rebuild themselves by attracting young professionals. Landers quoted a civic activist in Dayton who told him: "Companies want to go where the talent wants to be."

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