Lots of people are sitting around now slapping themselves in the forehead, maybe even slapping each other in the forehead and giving each other noogies trying to figure out why state Representative Domingo Garcia has jumped into an already pretty weird mayoral race in Dallas. So it wasn't enough with just the two stooges?
But Garcia may come out of this less stooge than the other two. Of the three, he's the one who wins even if he loses.
When it was first floated last month, the notion of a Garcia for Mayor campaign was met with a thunderous raising of eyebrows. Garcia, a former city council member, ran a distant third for mayor in 1995. He is late coming to this race. It seems last-minute.
But in just a few weeks a lot has happened to make him more viable. An impressive array of Latino leaders has come forward to say they will back him. Even more amazing is the lineup of serious people in black political leadership coming to Garcia's cause, including city Councilman Don Hill and black PAC proprietor and former council member Don Hicks.
That's got to be a bone-jarring shock for the campaign of Tom Dunning, the Dallas Citizens Council candidate who was counting on the South Dallas machine to deliver him the black vote. I'm even wondering if black political operative Kathy Nealy, whom the establishment has counted on to deliver Southern Dallas in previous elections, may have to give up her private box in the new downtown arena. Just kidding, of course.
Garcia has money--his own--and he has a serious base. Normally phlegmatic Hispanic leaders such as Adelfa Callejo were practically giddy last week over the possibility he might actually win or at least wind up in the runoff.
In order to understand their fervor, we need to take a little bird-fly around town. We'll settle down on the roof of Peoples Baptist Church at 3119 Pine Street in old South Dallas. If we turn around and around on our bird feet, the area we can see in a half-mile radius from here is 96.1 percent black and 3.1 percent Latino, according to the 2000 Census.
But let's 'copter up and look down with our bird eyes on a bigger circle, taking in a two-mile radius this time, so that we are now spying on an area from Fair Park in the north to Rochester Park in the south, with the river on the west and White Rock Creek on the east.
Hey, you see it, too, right? Way more Latinos. In fact, one in five of the folks we see from this height is Hispanic. The black populace in this broader view of old South Dallas is down to 77 percent.
If we fly up even a bit higher and look down on a five-mile radius, from old East Dallas down almost to Interstate 20, taking in a broad slice of Oak Cliff and far Southeast Dallas, guess what? There are now substantially more Hispanics than blacks in this area. It's 40.3 percent Latino and only 33 percent black.
Between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population of Dallas doubled, taking Latinos from 21 percent of the city total to 36 percent. In that same period the black population of the city slipped from 30 percent of the total to 26 percent.
The Black Lack in Dallas, far from being evidence of a failure, is almost certainly the result of one story that never gets told in mainstream media--the incredible success of the upwardly mobile black middle class. It's just that when they get mobile, they get out. It's the American way.
It's also a serious dilemma for the black people who remain. They just got to the table, and already they have to worry that their chairs will be lost to Hispanics or to whites who are supported by Hispanics. That already happened in the West Dallas city council race when Ed Oakley, a white guy, beat Dwaine Caraway, a high-profile black candidate.
Hispanic leaders, meanwhile, see their own people dominating in the numbers but shut out of the game where the goodies get divided up. The realpolitik on the ground today is a sentimental oil painting of what the city looked like 25 years ago: whites and blacks coming to their opposite sides of the river bearing gifts and trading goods, in search of an accommodation.
So, in the accommodation, where are the Mexican-Americans?
They're not in the painting.
Recently I sat in the audience and listened while John Trujillo, co-chair of the Latino Advisory Committee for the Dallas Independent School District, very politely inquired about the patronage that will follow quickly on the heels of the $1.37 billion bond issue going to the voters January 19. Trujillo had come to the microphone to ask a question of one of the citizen volunteers on the committee that drew up the list of projects for the bond program.
The volunteer, who had just finished helping school Superintendent Mike Moses present the package, was an Anglo architect. Trujillo wanted to know if the architect, who apparently had played a significant role in helping lay out the jobs to be done, would be seeking any of that work for himself.
But before the architect could answer, Moses stepped in front of him. He lectured Trujillo that it didn't make any difference if the architect sought some of the work, because "it all has to go out for competitive bid" anyway.
That sound like a yes to you? Yeah, I thought so, too.
And by the way, the superintendent misspoke. Architectural work is a professional service and isn't typically required to go through competitive bidding.
Later in the week Trujillo faxed me documents showing that architects who had served on the facilities task force for the district's previous bond issue wound up getting significant chunks of work from the district. Trujillo told me he wants more numbers, more specifics, more detail on the bond program--both who gets new schools and who gets to build the new schools. He said he respects the superintendent but chafes at the suggestion that he should be satisfied with the superintendent's assurances.
"I like the superintendent," he said. "He appears to be a man who means well. But he's Mike Moses, not Moses."
I remember when African-Americans raised these same issues: The whites who ran the show back then chastised them that the only issue should be "the children." Now I see Latinos getting the same spanking.
I hate to sound cynical here, but I think all of that goody-two-shoes "just-for-the-kids" stuff is what you say when you've already got your own mitts on the moolah. We're talking about almost a billion and a half bucks worth of business here. Public business. And the way it goes around has everything to do with who's in the deal and who's out.
The rub, however, is that everybody knows Hispanics don't vote. For years in Dallas, that's what all the political operatives have said: "Forget the Mexicans; they don't vote." And for the most part they haven't.
All of the Hispanic leadership I talked to last week said everyone tells them the same thing in the smoke-filled room. Come back when your people vote. Nice gun, big guy: Forget your bullets?
That's what the excitement around the Garcia candidacy is about in the Latino community. Garcia is telling people the number of registered Hispanic voters in the city is now 60,000, twice what it was when he ran for mayor six years ago. If his candidacy helps spur a real Latino turnout at the polls January 19, then even if he loses his own election, he may be able to put his community at the table to broker everything else.
If it's a mayoral runoff between Dunning and Miller? Probably the black and Hispanic leaders lined up behind Garcia are thinking that a brokering position in the runoff will enable them to get more promises and more respect from Dunning in exchange for helping him beat Miller.
But that could change, too. Talk to black and brown residents of Cadillac Heights, for example. They feel betrayed by former Mayor Ron Kirk over the Trinity River project, and don't even ask them how they feel about some of the city's traditional black leaders. Whom do they like?
Contradicting a lot of the conventional wisdom, including my own, Miller's tough stand-and-deliver rep is giving her some strength among the minority grassroots, where people have been slicked by their own leaders at least as often as by white guys downtown. When push comes to shove, Garcia and his team may have to throw in with Miller in order to back a winner. It would also be interesting to see Miller come down off her high horse and beg for some minority support in order to win. It ain't pretty, but I love it because it's how history is made.
We'll just have to see. It changes all the time.
At least if Garcia gins up a good turnout, the Latino community is at the table for a change. Apparently a significant part of the black community thinks it would rather sit at the table with Garcia than wait tables on Dunning.
That could change, too. Dunning's got to be a pretty good tipper.
There is yet another scenario. That's the one in which Garcia faces one of the other two in a runoff. So far it looks as if that would be Garcia-Miller, and that could be ugly. Each might bring out the other's dark side, in which case put on your helmet and firmly cinch the chin strap. The Garcias and the Wolens/Miller household are sort of the Hatfields and McCoys of Oak Cliff.
Hey. For a last-minute election on a short fuse, this is turning out to be a good show, eh?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.