Ron Steinhart, chairman of Enough is Enough, at the group's press conference not only talked about the negative personal attacks aimed at Mayor Tom Leppert, but he also referred to "inaccurate and misleading statements" from the anti-hotel campaign. Yet when he spoke with the Observer in late March for today's cover story on Mayor Tom Leppert, he offered criticism of both campaigns.
"From the standpoint of trying to convince the voter, both sides are doing a little bait and switch," he told Unfair Park.
Steinhart mentioned the anti-hotel group's motto of "safer streets, not hotel suites," claiming it serves to confuse voters into believing the $500 million in revenue bonds for the hotel could be used instead to hire more police offers and repair streets. He also criticized the pro-hotel group's mailer, which grouped Proposition 1 and 2 together and showed a picture of downtown collapsing.
"To me, it's spin, but that's what you pay consultants to do," he said.
There was also hesitation when he was asked how he'd vote, with Steinhart saying he'd "probably" vote for the hotel. "I fully understand there's a lot of good arguments on both sides, and I've got friends on both sides."
When he first met the mayor, Steinhart said he didn't believe Leppert was someone who would run for public office someday. "That just never crossed my mind," he said. "Really, I was surprised when I was called and told he might be persuaded to run."
At the time, Leppert was chairman and CEO of Turner Construction, and Steinhart knew being mayor was a full-time job. He also thought Leppert might be deterred by the disclosure required to run for public office and would be turned off by the elongated decision-making process. Steinhart, a retired banker, said successful business people like Leppert are people of action and knowledge. "They want to get things done, and government can slow down that process."
For someone with an extensive business background like the mayor, Steinhart said it's frustrating for a public official to deal with the projects like the hotel because Leppert is accustomed to studying the issue in a business environment, hiring consultants for advice, discussing it with executive staff and then recommending a course of action to the board of directors.
"And then it's done," he said. "It's not subject to a popular vote. It's not subject to who has the most money to run a campaign. It's not subject to the nuances of ads and commercials and all that."
Steinhart, the former chair of the Dallas Citizens Council, said the initial calls he received urging him to support Leppert weren't from people he considered to be the power structure of the council. However, he admits Leppert enjoyed a lot of support from its membership, and he represented an ideal candidate -- a North Dallas, Republican businessman who's articulate and a good public speaker with a high energy level. But that wasn't enough to convince Steinhart, who was concerned about Leppert's lack of political experience and name ID.
"I thought he was really a long shot," he said, noting that he also gave money to the mayoral campaigns of Ed Oakley, Sam Coats and Darrell Jordan in addition to Leppert. "They did an excellent job of packaging him and selling him."
Steinhart, who's part of the "kitchen cabinet" charged with helping turn around the Dallas Independent School District's financial troubles, said he spoke with Leppert a couple times about his plans to take over the district. He has no problem with the mayor thinking "out of the box" and didn't discourage him, but he stresses that the DISD encompasses 16 different cities and ideas like this have the potential to stall progress.
"I'm not sure how many of these cities want the trustee that they vote on replaced by someone that the mayor of Dallas appoints," he said. "The ones that suffer when we lose momentum are the kids."
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Steinhart, who took over as treasurer for Friends of Tom Leppert after the murder of Lynn Flint Shaw and served as treasurer for the Vote No! Trinity River toll road campaign, praised Leppert for getting momentum in the southern sector, using his "good sales skills" to bring corporate relocations like AT&T, supporting the DISD, serving as "a good spokesman" for the city and being "a good cheerleader" for everything the city is doing.
He said the media portrayals of Leppert have been "pretty fair," and there isn't anything about the mayor that's misunderstood. "I think pretty much what you see is what you get."
As the mayor nears the midpoint of his first term in office, Steinhart said Leppert is "certainly not a do-nothing mayor" whose legacy will be shaped at the polls May 9.
"His legacy should definitely be the convention center hotel whether it goes or doesn't go," he said. "Hey, we may sit here this summer and say his legacy is that he lost the vote on the convention center hotel and the Corps of Engineers torpedoed the [toll road]."