As Always, Dallas Politics in Black and White
Yesterday, in a pitch of live-blogging fever at the Dallas City hall corruption trial, I penned a little missive -- as a sort of aside, really -- about a certain sick symbiosis in Dallas politics between rich white arts mavens and sell-out minority politicians.
Between my wife and Sandra Crenshaw, I ran into a hell of a lot of debate about it for the rest of the day. Both Sandra and my wife thought I was giving short shrift to the role of the arts in making this is a good city to live in, and my wife thought I was demonizing people who are probably, in her words, "not evil, just clueless." (Personally, that's what I'm going for on my tombstone.) So today I am excerpting myself, which sounds like something probably forbidden by the Bible, in order to give it all a second airing and see what you think.
The specific instance here is evidence presented at the trial that former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill and Lynn Flint Shaw, who was chair of Mayor Tom Leppert's political fund-raising committee, cooked up a deal to get money out of the arts crowd for the anti-strong-mayor campaign in 2005.
Here is what I wrote yesterday:
The stuff above about Bill Winspear, Charles Wyly, et. al., is about the development of the arts district. There is a syndrome here that goes back to the Meyerson, in which committees of rich people keep piling on levels of luxury finish-out -- more marble! more teak! more tapestry ! -- until they wind up with a building they can't afford to maintain. They pile all the money into show, and they don't have enough endowment left for upkeep. So they want to off-shore the upkeep onto the city.
This is a city that can't mow the grass in its parks. Nobody who was sitting on that council and paying attention would agree, absent other factors, that the public should get stuck with major maintenance for the play-things of the arts-fatarties.
You also have this factor: Laura Miller was fighting the good fight for the one reform all of these same people believed in -- a charter reform to create a strong mayor system and clean out the dark places in the existing system where corruption occurs.
But it was more important to them build their pleasure domes. And they wanted the city to agree to take on fat annual maintenance payments so they could do it.
The go-between is Shaw, the mayor's top political operative for black Dallas. Remember: She's the one whose e-mails I published lecturing Leppert that he was to deal only with "the inner circle" in black Dallas, headed up by her.
The deal is that the rich folks kick money in to Don Hill's campaign to defeat Miller's charter proposal at the polls. In exchange, they get black votes on the council to subsidize the arts district.
So the white folks screw the city to get what they want. And black leadership screws its own constituency, saddling the city with expenses that will come straight out of the budget for street repairs and clean-up, in order to protect the back-room.
This is the bone structure of the Old Plantation in Dallas politics.
Right there, full view, on the table. Read it and weep.
My wife and discussed this again on the way to work today. I said I might give her half a point to, like, maybe 1.7 points for the importance of the arts and maybe another .6 to .8 points for rich people being stupider than they are wicked. But I said I must retain 1,246.5 points for myself for people in Dallas, rich and poor, being remarkably un-civic-minded when it comes down to it.
All those arts-fatarties knew that Laura Miller's strong-mayor option was the one way to clean up the worst abuses of single-member districts. So did Don Hill. That's why he was against it.
But go back to the beginning. The Citizens Council types were the city's most committed foes of single-member districts, because they feared two things: 1) democracy, and 2) Black Man Voting. The federal courts said, Tough. You got it. Single-member city. Live with it.
So they did. The same people figured out quickly that the path of least resistance on the city council was through the unemployed African-American paupers on the council (upwardly mobile black people with real jobs, like upwardly mobile white people with real jobs, couldn't afford to serve). You could have Al Lipscomb's vote for a cab ride, for God's sake.
The old wealthy leadership of the city, which used to pat itself on the back all the time for being civic-minded, mainly because it was easy for them to get their way, became the prime enablers of corruption on the city council. That's what you see in the Lynn Flint Shaw deal above, and, by the way, it's what you see every day at City Hall in the approach of Mayor Tom Leppert -- contracts for votes.
Well, that's how I see it anyway. Tell me how you see it.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.