Mayor Rawlings Keeps Ducking Around the Toll Road Issue. That Won't Fly for Long.
Yesterday was another day when apparently I was the villain all the way around. Or, as I think of it, another dollar. Robert Wilonsky, a journalist at The Dallas Morning News, had a piece in which he explained that the mayor never said what I said he said about never debating the Trinity toll road.
Wilonsky said the mayor told him he would be happy to debate the toll road issue as long as it is sandwiched between other issues: "Rawlings says today he will only discuss the toll road during a debate about other issues as well," Wilonksy reported.
He said the mayor told him: "Of course, of course, of course I will be glad to address it. But the debates need to be about who should be your mayor, not the single topic. That's not on the ballot. That's what I told Jim."
Three of courses. I feel bad. I do. I don't want to misquote people. Last week I happened to be present when Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston got the bum's rush from the Dallas Breakfast Club, where the mayor was giving a pep talk for the toll road, because Kingston wanted to ask him about it and the Breakfast Club didn't want that to happen.
The Trinity toll road is a proposed $1 to $2 billion highway the mayor wants to build on the banks of the Trinity River through downtown where the taxpayers have voted twice to put a park. Several people running for City Council seats next May are saying the road is a real estate boondoggle that won't help traffic. They say the toll road is the single most important issue in the election.
I quoted the mayor last week saying: "I have made it real clear to people who have asked me that I am not going to debate the tollway situation. There is nothing on the ballot that the citizens are voting about. It's a public issue that everybody's writing about. I hope my point of view is really clear. My point of view is that we can have our cake and eat it, too, on this. It's just something [debating it] that I decided some time ago that I'm not going to get out there and do."
Does that conflict with what Wilonsky, the fellow at the News, has him saying? Nah. Not exactly.
What Wilonsky of the News has him saying doesn't quite make sense on the surface. What? He won't talk about the toll road unless somebody talks to him about something else first? That makes him sound like he's a little bit "on the spectrum," in autism terminology, like he can only talk about the toll road if you talk to him first about hamburgers and then turn around three times and pat your forehead.
But Rawlings is a smart guy, and he has smart political people working for him, and I think we can all figure out what's really going on here. He doesn't want to allow the anti-toll-roaders to set an agenda for him, to turn his election into a referendum on the toll road. And why would he? He's popular, and the toll road these days is quickly becoming political Ebola.
He's got a right, in fact, to say he won't take part in a Toll Road Debate Spectacular. I guess. But as you may have read here yesterday in Stephen Young's piece, Rawlings' only opponent in the race, Marcos Ronquillo, is all the more determined to make him debate the specifics. And the specifics are getting more and more specific.
I told you last Friday that a committee of past presidents of the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has authored a very damn specific study of the toll road right-of-way that Rawlings is pushing compared to the kind of road voters voted for in the 2007 toll road referendum: not even close!
The right-of-way Rawlings is seeking is an enormous land grab that would totally and permanently obliterate park and water features, whether they build it all at once or take their time and start small. The comparison study is the kind of very specific argument against the Rawlings Road that Rawlings is going to have to face sooner or later.
But maybe later. The study was carried out in direct response to a challenge from the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News a month ago. It was delivered to the board over a week ago. I have been waiting sort of on pins and needles to see how the editorial writers, who have always been staunch supporters of the Rawlings Road, would deal with this very damning document, a response to their own demands for proof.
Radio silence. So far. Yesterday I couldn't stand it any longer, so I emailed Keven Willey, the editorial page editor, and asked her what was up. She sent me back a very nice note saying they were working on it but that several members of the editorial board had been ill or attending funerals.
Well, OK then.
But my point is this. Those who want the road can do whatever they want, like insist they won't discuss the toll road just all by itself or try to duck it by going to funerals, but it's going to get less and less duckable as May approaches.
This is all about specifics. They said the Rawlings Road would improve traffic. The other side says it won't. They said it wouldn't interfere with the park. The other side says it will. They said it was paid for. The other side says no way. That's just for starters. This issue has more debatable specifics than Madonna's Oscar gown.
Eventually this is going to be one of those looks-like, walks-like, quacks-like deals, in which ducking looks like ducking. But I should call Wilonsky. He may say, "No, Jim, what you see is a pheasant."