By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
OK, all you Mike Rawlings fans: I sure hope you like your new "progressive" Democrat mayor, the man who was going to make such a big difference at City Hall. Because it sure looks like the same weird old Dallas plantation to me.
Look, I admit it's just my own view. I spoke with Rawlings about this. Obviously he disagrees. In fact, he thinks I'm full of it. He says I'm misconstruing what he has done in office, and that I indulge in wacko conspiracy theories. Otherwise, we had a nice chat.
I will get to his version in a moment. But first, since this is my show, my version. Which is: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The previous mayor, Tom Leppert, was a big white business guy selected to be mayor by the private Dallas Citizens Council, a group whose very existence in Dallas never fails to shock newcomers. He was a Republican.
Rawlings is a big white business guy selected by the same Citizens Council. He is a Democrat. How much difference was that ever going to make?
Let's talk about reality, of which we have seen two recent demonstrations. One was Rawlings' behavior in the all-important question of Dallas City Council redistricting. The second was the deal he cut to haul more trash into an already beleaguered part of town.
Both things demonstrated the same principle: The Citizens Council works with anybody it can buy off and control, and against anybody it can't. That usually winds up being an alliance of big white business guys in North Dallas, more white business guys in the Park Cities and elderly black preachers in southern Dallas. On the other side: progressives, Hispanics and new black leadership, wherever they live.
If it were a lawsuit, it would be styled Plantation v. Future.
For months it dragged on — an impenetrably dense Soviet-style puppet show in which earnest citizens deliberated ways to draw rational, fair and compact city council districts based on the 2010 Census numbers.
But when we got to the rubber-meets-the-road moment — when the council actually had to vote on something — Rawlings ducked into the back room with the black council members and — whack! whack! whack! — they cut the same old plantation-style deal they've cut so many times before.
Screw the Hispanics. Screw the progressive whites in North Oak Cliff. Screw anybody, as a matter of fact, who doesn't fit the same old paradigm.
What we wound up with is a redistricting map that ignores all three of the most salient facts in the 2010 census data: a notable decrease in white population in the city, a notable decrease in black population and a notable increase in the Latino population.
I defy you to find one of those facts, just one of them, anywhere on the redistricting map that Rawlings and the black council members carved up for themselves in their back-room séance. You can't. It's not there.
Now for my second Joel Chandler Harris-style story about doin's on the old plantation down at Dallas City Hall. At the end of last month, Rawlings successfully urged the city council to support a plan by City Manager Mary Suhm to divert large volumes of commercial waste from suburban landfills to the city-owned McCommas Bluff Landfill in southeast Dallas, near the intersection of Interstate 45 and I-20.
Why does the city manager want more trash? Rawlings spoke for her. The city wants the increased income, he said, from tipping fees charged to commercial trash haulers. "This is a business revenue issue," he said.
The Citizens Council's deal with the city manager is always simple: Don't raise taxes. Scratch around wherever you have to scratch for the money you need, but do not raise taxes.
Ah, but in this case, there was a political hurdle in the path of the mayor and the Citizens Council. Students at Paul Quinn, a historically black college on rolling wooded land near the landfill, had organized against the city manager's campaign to bring more trucks full of garbage to their neighborhood.
Paul Quinn is emerging as one of the more interesting institutions in the city, in part because of green, forward-looking innovation. The school recently plowed its football field into a farm plot and knocked down disused buildings to make space for more cropland. It's even pursuing development of a fresh-food retailing operation tied to its curriculum.
In the weeks before the vote, Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell lobbied the city council. He didn't oppose the plan outright, but he wanted more time to study the impact on the neighborhood. He told the council he thought the decision was being rushed, that they were green-lighting the trash parade before they even knew what kind of productive win-win alternatives might exist.
Sorrell and the Paul Quinn students challenged the mayor, the city manager and the Citizens Council by presenting them with opposition that actually came from the affected community. The manager and the mayor promptly set up a million-dollar-per-year "economic stimulus fund" for the area around the landfill, neutralizing the opposition with a slice of the trash pie.