The first time I saw Mayor Mike Rawlings deliver a prepared speech, he talked about changing the culture of southern Dallas by shooting it with bullets of economic development, so I had high hopes for his lunchtime state of the city address today at the Sheraton downtown. Other than some mild name-dropping ("I got to have dinner with Santiago Calatrava" and "I had some friends who played for Vince Lombardi") it was a relatively staid affair almost entirely free of Rawlingsisms.
To say Dallas is simply doing well, Rawlings began, would be an understatement. The city is doing "very well, bordering on superb." Sales tax collections, property tax collections, employment are all up. He proclaimed rather boldly that the "Inland Port is back in business" thanks to the decision by hair-products maker L'Oréal to build a distribution center there.
On the government front, crime has gone down "for each of the past consecutive eight years." Despite a struggling economy, the city has held the line on taxes and managed to avoid service cuts this year. More than 55 percent of residents in a recent poll think the city's headed in the right direction, and a full 60 percent approve of the City Council.
And yes, there was more. "Dallas is hot -- and I don't mean temperature-wise," he said, running through a list of the (positive) best lists Dallas has made: best places for business, best places for college graduates, and, yes, best cities for single ladies. Also: The Arts District! Belo Gardens! The Calatrava! The Omni Hotel! Perot Museum! Unicorns!
"I sound like a, um, infomercial."
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The closest Rawlings came to acknowledging that the city might have a flaw or two was to say the City Council engages in "constructive conflict to tackle tough issues" and that budget cuts have fallen particularly hard on parks, libraries and "restaurant, um -- what do you call it when you find out if a restaurant is clean?"
There is more that needs to be done, namely in education and the arts, which he implored the crowd of Dallas Regional Chamber-types to have their businesses support, but it's more along the lines of We just won this game in spectacular fashion, now let's win the Super Bowl! than anything more fundamental.
There was one question that was raised as Rawlings was leaving the stage: What grade would he give himself for the first year of his term.
"I'll answer that," the emcee said. "We'll give you an 'A.'"