Model citizen
Proving that nothing inspires good citizenship like running for office, District 2 city council candidate Pete Vaca has finally paid off more than $1,800 in back taxes to the city.

Vaca, whose name means "cow" in Spanish, hoofed it (rim shot) down to the city tax office on February 28 with $1,842.60--in cash--to pay taxes on personal property located at 1900 N. Haskell Ave. The money was for unpaid taxes dating to 1988. Since then, he had made only token efforts to pay off the debt in 1995 when he wrote two checks for $50.

Vaca's arrival at the tax office came just four days after former Dallas Plan Commission member Rick Leggio resigned from the commission in anger after he read in Buzz that District 2 incumbent John Loza was not going to reappoint him. Leggio, who owns an executive search firm, is now Vaca's campaign treasurer.

Coincidence? Who cares? At least Vaca paid his taxes.
Vaca admits it is awkward having Leggio hold his campaign strings so soon after the fallout with Loza, but he's willing to make friends wherever he can find them, even touchy ones. "Folks want to help. I'll take their help as long as I understand who they are," he says.

A side note: On his latest list of expenditures, Loza reports that he gave Leggio $250, returning a contribution from 1998. Leggio must like Vaca more than he used to like Loza, since he gave Vaca's campaign the $250, plus $10. Then he really stuck his thumbs in his ears and his tongue out of his mouth when he gave Vaca another $600. So there.

Vaca is aware that his personal finances may come back to haunt his campaign. "My life is an open book," he says. It's also a book filled with red ink. Vaca says he defaulted on a loan for his old restaurant La Botica, went "knee deep" in debt, and wound up in bankruptcy court.

Nowadays, Vaca and his wife, Yolanda, live in a room above his son-in-law's tax office on East Grand Avenue. He has little money still, and he's not ashamed of it.

"I'm a product of the public school systems. I'm a businessman. I know what it's like to make a payroll," Vaca says.

Considering his rocky financial history, a cynic might find one insult--of public schools--and two exaggerations in that statement. But not Buzz. No way.

Model citizen, part II
Vaca's pre-election drive to become a better citizen didn't stop with his paid-up tax bill. He also vowed to vote. If he serves on a jury and donates blood, he'll get Buzz's vote for citizen of the year.

There's one problem, though: Who does Vaca plan to vote for?
A few weeks ago, before Vaca announced his candidacy, political operative Joe May's street-level get-out-the-vote drive was knocking on doors in East Dallas, giving people forms they need to receive mail-in absentee ballots. The volunteers asked voters to cast their ballot for Loza. They found Vaca, who eagerly pledged to vote for John Loza, May says. Vaca's wife also agreed to vote for Loza. Apparently, at least one of them has had a change of heart.

A gleeful May, who is helping manage Loza's campaign against Vaca, faxed Buzz a copy of the couple's ballot applications. (Buzz loves election season. Everyone gets so nasty.) May joked that the Vacas "owe us 66 cents for postage" for sending in their forms.

Reel bad sports
Turns out life is like junior high.
If you want to find coverage of the USA Film Festival--scheduled to begin April 22, we hear--you'll just have to go elsewhere. That's because the festival's head cry babies--pardon, officials--have decided to exclude the Dallas Observer from its list of media participants covering this year's fest. Seems USAFF administrative director Ann Alexander and artistic director Alonso Duralde haven't taken too kindly to the Observer's critical coverage of the festival in recent years, beginning with Matt Zoller Seitz's 1995 story about how Duralde got his job at the festival even though he wasn't the choice of the search committee.

More recently, this newspaper has taken the festival to task for going Hollywood in the worst way, adding such mediocre Hollywood product as Indian Summer, Suicide Kings, and Mr. Jealousy to its increasingly tepid schedule. Last year, Jimmy Fowler reported in his festival round-up on the skirmish taking place between Alexander and ex-employee Cynthia Sherman, who claimed Alexander was trying to get her "indicted" for no reason at all.

On Tuesday, Alexander told the Observer that The Met is "the official weekly newspaper sponsor" of the festival--meaning the Observer will not even receive a schedule of films appearing at this year's festival, much less invites to screenings or photos to accompany reviews. Which is fine with us: On April 29, the closing-night film is Free Enterprise, starring Eric McCormack (Will and Grace's Will) as a Star Trek freak who meets William Shatner.

And there is no Master Screen Artist this year, simply because the festival couldn't get one, according to one source. Instead, the fest will honor Houston boy Dennis Quaid, who's scheduled to show up with Savior--a film that isn't even on Columbia/Tri-Star's release schedule and is said to be headed straight to video. Quaid is the economical choice, since he'll be in town anyway filming Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. Cheap bastards.

Suddenly, last year's life-crushing Christopher Walken tribute, which included a monosyllabic Q&A after a screening of the torturous Suicide Kings, is looking a whole lot better. (To be fair, once-great director Arthur Penn, of Bonnie and Clyde fame, will be in town to accept a tribute--though it's a long way from the glory days of Robert Altman and Jimmy Stewart.)

Studio publicists and filmmakers contacted by the Observer are baffled that the festival would choose to exclude any media outlet from coverage. After all, their films won't receive publicity in an outlet more than willing to review them. But as we say around here, less work for us, even if we will miss that "Evening with Todd Oldham" on April 27 or Shelley Duvall talking about The Shining the night before. Damn it.

--Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

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