Thursday morning, Mike Rawlings, for better and worse, presented the case for his term and a half as Dallas' mayor. Speaking to a crowd gathered for something called the City Makers Summit put on by The Atlantic and JP Morgan Chase, Rawlings offered a sampling of the things that make his supporters love him and the things that drive his detractors absolutely wild.
The Atlantic event, hosted at the Fort Work co-working space in downtown, was put on to address all the things about major cities that concern the technocratic, stuff like the skills gap — the idea that urban education systems are not appropriately equipping their charges to do the middle-skills jobs that grease the wheels of a technology-focused economy.
To that end, Rawlings touted Dallas' coming City Lab High School, a Dallas ISD venture that will teach kids about urban planning, architecture and other urban concerns in what is likely to be a downtown setting. Steve Clemons, The Atlantic's Washington editor at large, described the idea for the school as a "weird and cool" idea, to which Rawlings replied that being cool now requires being weird. Much of the rest of what Rawlings said during his Q&A with Clemons shows that, at least in his mind, he is quite cool.
Early in their conversation, Clemons recounted to Rawlings a conversation the editor had with his Uber driver on the way into Dallas from the airport. The driver, Clemons said, was a big fan of both Rawlings and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, because they were both fighting for the Dallas economy. Rawlings responded oddly for someone who has recently scrapped tooth and nail to ban the Exxxotica adult expo from Dallas' Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center:
"Politicians get confused," he said. "Their job is not to be the judge and jury and the arbiter of morals. Their job should be the chief sales officer, the chief marketing officer and the chief growth officer of the institution, whether you're in a small town or Dallas, Texas."
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Later, Rawlings would question his entire political existence — "I hate politics," he said. "I don't know why I'm mayor." — before hitting on a theme that critics like City Council member Philip Kingston have identified as one of the mayor's biggest faults.
"I believe that I live in a city called DFW," Rawlings said in response to a question about whether Plano is a problem or an opportunity for Dallas. "My neighborhood is called Dallas."
To his credit, Rawlings also hammered on the importance of growing the tax base in southern Dallas, an area he pointed out is bigger than Atlanta, and turning Dallas ISD, over which he has very little control, into the "best urban school district in America."
Rawlings, who left the stage to raucous applause, has just under three years left on his 2015 secured second term as mayor — or ward boss if you take him at his word about Dallas not being a city. If history is any guide at all — no Dallas mayor has ever served two full terms — he will resign sometime next year, paving the way for a battle between the Dallas Citizens Council's next morals agnostic candidate and a member of the Kingston, Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano and Mark Clayton new Dallas faction.