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Doo-doo

Mary Poss is a big civil rights leader. Laura Miller is an Eagle Forum conservative. And if you and I believe any of that, we were born yesterday.
Mark Graham

Hey, wait a minute. What just happened? You tell me.

Did a skinny liberal Jewish Democrat woman who is a short-haired ex-muckraker just run for mayor of Dallas and win by 16 great big percentage points over a well-known tenured Republican, mainly with support from the arch-conservative, arch-Republican, arch-Christian, arch-white, arch-lady's-hairdo part of North Dallas?

And wait a minute. Is it true that Mary Poss, the Republican woman who lost to incumbent Laura Miller, spent $350,000 running in African-American Southern Dallas, the city's only Democratic stronghold, as a supporter of City Hall employees? I'm very wacked out about this.

The person who ran the Poss campaign with an iron fist was Lisa LeMaster, a political PR person who bills major hours in this city as a guru. People I talked to over the past couple of weeks say that Poss' campaign was soooo bad...she could have run unopposed and lost (ta-dum). It was soooo bad...people say she is the first candidate in history to run attack ads against herself (TA-DUM-DUM!). It was soooo bad...well, let's get on with it.

To be fair, the people I talked to all wanted to get their digs in off the record, and they would all like to be collecting Lisa LeMaster's big fat fees. They are her competitors, in other words. So we must take what they say with the famous grain of salt, right?

I do get why Laura Miller always runs as a conservative--the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. In this town, conservative is where the votes are. You can run as a liberal, or you can run for office.

But I definitely don't get why Poss, who really is a conservative, ran for office in the recent mayor's race as the great defender of the International Sisterhood of Ax-Grinding City Council Assistants, sticking up for disgruntled city employees like Mother Jones in a St. John suit. What in the heck was that all about? And what devil told her that black people were going to drive to the polls and vote for her in droves? It wasn't that darned reporter for The New York Times, was it?

Early in the year when Poss first announced her candidacy, the wisdom was that Miller, as incumbent, could not be defeated. But by the time election season rolled around, Miller was entangled in a number of potentially sticky deal-deals, real-estate stuff involving her supporters. It was all this business about turning the old Mercantile Building downtown into a fashion mart, using public money to create the Gardens of Versaille around The Dallas Morning News (a staunch Miller defender), using public money to build a new hotel next to The Dallas Morning News (a staunch Miller defender), using public money to hire muscular men in thongs and turbans to carry Morning News CEO Robert Decherd (a staunch Miller defender) around town on their shoulders. (That last one may possibly be an unfounded rumor I just started by total accident.)

Miller had painted herself as No-Tax-Increase Laura, then presided over a 5 percent tax increase. She had said she would help the cops get a big pay increase, then campaigned against their pay-hike referendum. She had pushed for a rewriting of the city charter that critics believed would have strengthened her own office to the point of making it hereditary. She had said she was opposed to most of the city bond issue, then wound up campaigning for all of it.

The biggest negative Miller carried into election day--borne out by the very negative results she got from voters--was her attempt to field a slate of candidates for office. Nobody even remembers a Dallas mayor dipping into individual council races the way Miller did, not since the heyday of the Dallas Citizens Council slate. Miller wanted voters to elect Sharon Boyd, Mark Housewright and Roxan Staff, whose votes she obviously needed to help get her out of her two-vote cellar on contentious council issues.

The voters slammed Boyd bad, slammed Housewright not-good and put Staff in a runoff. One professional I talked to said, "The question Roxan's got to be asking herself is, 'Could I have won without a runoff if Laura hadn't endorsed me?'"

If you take all of the underlying contradictions in the Miller persona--a big ol' snaggle-toothed Democrat wolf trying to run for office in Grandma's Republican nightie--and you add the deals and the slate and the other stuff, she certainly was not an inevitable or unbeatable candidate, even if she was the incumbent.

Poss, for her part, should have had positives. She has been on the city council since 1995. She has done stuff. White Rock Lake got dredged during her tenure and under her leadership, one of very few examples of the city of Dallas actually mobilizing to maintain and preserve a major public asset. The sex clubs at Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane moved out under her watch and made way for Central Market, the fancy grocery store where nice people who don't have nasty vices go to blow roughly the same percentage of their kids' college money on radicchio and Beaujolais that the dirty nasty bad people spend on whiskey and feel-ups.  

So what did the Poss campaign tell us? Nothing. Right out of the chute, the campaign went to television with a very expensively produced satire ad making fun of Miller's campaign ads in the special election a year earlier. In the ad, Mary Poss did things like step in horse doo-doo. The pros I talked to this week all saw the steps-in-doo-doo ad as Lisa LeMaster taking a very inside shot at Miller's campaign guru, Rob Allyn, who crafted the ads that made Miller look like a North Dallas Republican. I guess I get the concept, but I think you would have to have attended certain North Dallas cocktail parties in order to get the joke.

The big problem, as subsequent polling showed, was that Poss had much lower name ID in the city at-large than she thought. Both Poss and LeMaster have conceded in conversations with me that fund raising became unexpectedly difficult after the doo-doo ad. In fact, they were never able to get back on television with paid ads again in order to explain to people who that lady was who stepped in the horse doo-doo.

LeMaster blames it on a host of factors from the space shuttle crash to a suggestion that big shots wouldn't donate money because they didn't want to get in dutch with Miller's husband, state Representative Steve Wolens.

"The events of the campaign made fund raising difficult," LeMaster said. "We were supposed to go up with our first television, and Columbia happened. There also was an impact on fund raising from people who had bills in Austin and didn't want to be on a list. Then we had the 'Are we going to war' pre-war buildup, 'When will it end, what will happen?'"

Poss says similar things.

I told LeMaster I had a sense, in watching the doo-doo ad, that it was a prelude to a story that was going to unfold in the rest of the campaign. She agreed and said it was too bad there was never enough money to unfold it. So I asked what the rest of the story would have been.

She said, "Well, we never got there, so I don't know."

That's the big flaw the other pros jumped on when I asked them about the Poss campaign: LeMaster, who is not really a political strategist, never developed a coherent theme for the campaign, a story, a message, a headline, with a plotted strategy from A to Z for how to tell that tale with the time and money available. LeMaster was up against Allyn and Allyn associate Mary Woodlief, who never miss a beat. You don't want to fly by the seat of your pants against opponents who know how to steal people's pants.

Rather than achieving any coherent theme, the Poss campaign tried to play one game in North Dallas, where she ran as the real Republican, and another in Southern Dallas, where she ran as the real Democrat. C'mon. That wouldn't have worked in middle school.

Poss' Southern Dallas "strategy" amounted to her and LeMaster getting conned for a whole bunch of money. For years now the same old Southern Dallas gang has been promising a major African-American show-up at the polls for gullible candidates. This operation looks worse and worse in each successive election, as the old-guard black separatist leadership strives ever harder to market the community's votes farther and farther afield from the community's interests.

LeMaster told me the campaign probably spent $350,000 in Southern Dallas--a whopping sum. Both she and Poss conceded that the miserable turnout by black voters was "extremely disappointing."

I figure that's what you should get when you try to buy votes. I'm sick of this story that African-American Dallas is all up in arms against Miller because she wrote some bad stories about former Councilman Al Lipscomb in the Dallas Observer 100 years ago. Black Dallas isn't mad. It doesn't vote. It is disaffected, alienated and apathetic because it has been abandoned by its self-seeking, money-grubbing leadership. Smart assimilationist black Dallas is moving to Plano, anyway. That's what $350,000 and a crappy turnout really mean.

Poss lost badly because of a bad campaign. Miller got whipped on the coattails thing. Black Dallas has put itself squarely behind the eight ball, because now nobody owes it squat. Miller is more isolated than ever: Instead of a slate on the council, she has the people who beat her slate.  

If Lisa LeMaster's a guru, I'm Prince Charles. And by the way, I'd like to see Robert Decherd carried around town on a golden litter by muscular Myrmidons, because I think it would be good for the newspaper industry's image. Somebody has to be in charge.


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