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Ask anyone in town for the name of the premier political consultant in Dallas and you'll get two names: Carol Reed and Rob Allyn. Since their offices are on separate floors of the same building on McKinney Avenue, and since they often find themselves in competition, you might assume that there's a war going on in the stairwell. Your assumption would prove false, at least most of the time.
We've all heard much about political consultants, but what do they actually do? "I consider myself a general contractor," Reed says. "I help design the blueprint and then take that blueprint and make sure that everything gets done on time and according to plan. I set the budget, hire the subcontractors and then make sure that they do their jobs well and according to budget.
"I may be the one who makes the trains run on time, but Rob's great gift is his ability to translate a plan into a message and then deliver that message in the most effective and motivating way."
The two may be competitors, but they often hire each other for big projects, and while their relationship stops well short of that of James Carville and Mary Matalin, there appears to be a genuine friendship behind the scheming, bare-knuckle intensity that attends big-time politics. There's also mutual respect, collegiality and, at times, just the faintest whiff of Oedipal drama between the one-time mentor and her former protégé.
"In politics, truth is always one of the alternatives," Allyn deadpans. "And one of the things that I admire most about Carol is that she tells the truth to her clients." Here's what Reed has to say about Allyn: "As gifted and creative a writer as Rob may be, his biggest strength is his focus, his ability to stay on message for his clients."
Most of these clients are Republicans, and the same can be said of most of Reed's clients as well. Two notable exceptions: Reed handled Democrat Ron Kirk's mayoral campaigns as well as his run for the U.S. Senate, while Allyn helped Laura Miller become and remain mayor, defeating Reed's client Tom Dunning in the race to complete Kirk's term. Allyn also helped the mayor best Mary Poss (not Reed's client) in the election for a full term in the nominally non-partisan office. Aside from these walks on the political wild side, the two consultants have, between them over the last 20 years, worked for virtually every major Republican office holder in the state, as well as the two Presidents Bush and President Reagan.
Reed and Allyn are now working together to help pass the bond issue that would move the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington, a campaign spearheaded by Allyn. "I fought as long and as hard as I could to bring the Cowboys to the Cotton Bowl," says Reed, a former president of Friends of Fair Park. "After we lost that fight, I decided that I might as well take the money." Both predictably but probably accurately express optimism that the bond issue will pass.
The Dallas Cowboys campaign is emblematic of the consultants' involvement with lucrative clients and causes that are political but only quasi-governmental in nature: bond issues. The two have worked together successfully on referendum campaigns for the American Airlines Center and DART. Reed's solo victories include the Trinity River project, the 2002 DISD bond campaign and many bond campaigns for Dallas County, while Allyn's résumé boasts of successful campaigns on behalf of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and the Houston Metro.
One distinction between the two is that while Reed does business in other cities, her heart seems to be in Dallas, while Allyn casts a broader net, with offices in Austin, Phoenix and Mexico City. Allyn's international clients have included Mexican President Vicente Fox and Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas, as well as political parties and causes in Asia and the Middle East. Reed, on the other hand, has been extremely active in Dallas civic affairs, serving, among many other offices, as chair of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, president of the Dallas Rotary Club and on more than two dozen civic and charitable boards.
"A genuine difference between us is that while I certainly do work outside of Dallas, my community involvement keeps me focused here, while Rob actively seeks more national and international projects," Reed says.
Allyn, who sold his company in 2002 to Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm with offices in more than 100 countries, agrees. "We've always treated politics like a business," he says. "By definition, this approach also works for corporate clients. Our new affiliation gives us leverage and support to pursue business all over the world."
Meanwhile and for both, as long as there are elections, they plan to plan them.
"Corporate clients offer a challenge and pay the bills, but once politics is in your blood it remains your passion," Reed says. "You can go to rehab, but you're hooked forever."
The governor of New Jersey got more national pub with his Gayo-American speech, but in local terms Laura Miller's public coming-out confessional before the North Dallas Chamber in June was every bit as riveting. The feisty former journalist who ran for office on a pledge of back-to-basics--she waged red-meat political campaigns against "the boys downtown" and their "big-ticket projects"--told the Chamber her husband had called her "stupid" and she was switching over to the boys' team. Yup. Just that simple. Miller said her husband, state representative and asbestos lawyer Steve Wolens, "is a lot more mature than me." Apparently Wolens had told the little lady to ditch that populist thing, put on some big fat pearls and cozy up to the downtown dogs. So now that's her plan. Instead of the streets and gutters she promised the voters when she ran, she told the Chamber she is now focused on the dogs' main deals, like the Trinity River project and redeveloping downtown. One of the most exciting things about Miller's personality makeover is that it comes barely a third of the way through her first full term as mayor. At this rate, we'll get to see at least three more totally new mayors before her term is up.
Ayo doesn't sound like a DJ, and we mean that as a compliment. He's funny without being shecky; personable but not self-obsessed; and enthusiastic but never phony. He sounds like a guy who loves music, and that's endearing, since the dial's full of slick-voiced, self-promoting, station-hopping sycophants. He wears Converse and band shirts, laughs at his own goofy jokes and plays drums in the KDGE cover band, The Ronnie Dobbs Band. And now more people will get to know Alan Ayo. He recently moved from the midday shift to the Edge of Night position from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The guy writes three times a week; he doesn't have Mike Royko's research staff; he's not going to be Mike Royko, OK? Besides, look what happened to Royko. He's dead. Steve Blow is alive, if not edgy. With a laid-back, easygoing, yarn-spinning style, he can also be a darned good reporter when he feels like it. And if he had done not one other good column all year, he would have earned a Best of Dallas award just for the one he did on the Muslim couple who got jeered on the Jumbotron at Cowboy Stadium. In one short piece, Blow weaved together a tapestry of themes about bigotry, football, the hopes and fears of immigrants, and the newly diverse nature of the region. Not many scribblers can do all that in an 800-word column. Blow provides Dallas with something it sorely needs--a familiar and authentic voice. And by the way, in case you never noticed, this ain't Chicago.
If you want columns about the latest b.s. fads in corporate-speak or the 118th column about how a North Texas CEO is putting his company on the right track, you read The Dallas Morning News. If you want to find out the real reason the CEO of Southwest Airlines stepped down (he'd lost face in labor negotiations because of his "meddling chairman," Herb Kelleher) or if you want to know one of the unspoken reasons Arlington will overpay for the dubious promise of development around a new Cowboys stadium (because "among the nine biggest cities in the metroplex, Arlington had the largest increase in poverty in the 1990s"--and it has no other way to revitalize itself), then you read biz columnist Mitch Schnurman in the Star-T. Schnurman is a rarity--a smart, tough reporter who understands business and can explain how boardroom decisions affect a city and its citizens. You'd say that it would be great if he were a city columnist, but he already offers more insight into the way Fort Worth works than any columnist at the DMN has ever done with Big D.
The Dallas Morning News
As the promise of the Morning News' "revolution" fades, it becomes more and more apparent that you can't change a corporate culture unless you (warning: bizspeak coming) hire peak performers and empower them. When the paper hired Keven Ann Willey to be its editorial page editor, it did just that. The editorials under Willey continue to be sharp and sensible. Even when we disagree with their conclusion, at least we know what the conclusion is--a marked improvement from the past 85 years or so. She has a vibrant, ideologically diverse staff that she allows to take the page in many different directions. It means that for the first time perhaps ever, you can open the editorial and op-ed pages of the DMN and be surprised.
Anybody really care what D magazine's writers think about Jessica Simpson, Alexa Conomos, Fireside Pies or other key issues of the day? Well, FrontBurner--a blog service of the publication's Web site--is the place to go if you do, indeed, care that much. On the other hand, if you prefer to catch up on inside jokes and office politics, they sometimes discuss cubicle size and trade sophomoric insults. Occasionally, they actually break some worthy news item, but that just detracts from their real purpose. The site apparently exists to allow the group (Adam McGill, Tim Rogers, Wick Allison, et. al.) to critique news coverage by other publications, particularly The Dallas Morning News. D's staff regularly calls out other writers in an online version of a Wild West challenge between two gunslingers. Downsides: Many people rightly or wrongly consider D a bastion of boosterism itself. Pluses: FrontBurner is great fun, sparked by occasional cattiness and a useful tidbit or two.