The thing about Dallas lawyer Marcos Ronquillo, who formally announced yesterday he's running for mayor of Dallas, is not that he's Hispanic. We've seen that movie before.
If Ronquillo's last name can bring more Latino voters to the polls next May, then that may change the equation somewhat, but Domingo Garcia had a bigger Latino last name in his multiple stabs at it in the past, and identity politics was never enough to get him better than third place.
The real contest between Ronquillo and incumbent Mayor Mike Rawlings is going to be over the shadow government issue, and that's not an identity issue exactly. It's more about mindset.
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For all of Rawlings' hail-fellow manner and genuine empathy, he's a corporate guy. He's a country club and Dallas Citizens Council candidate, and nothing illustrates that more than his dogged devotion to the most Citizens Council-esque of all issues, the Trinity toll road.
Especially in the wake of this week's announcement of a new citywide concerted coalition against that project, Ronquillo's opposition to the toll road will put focus on the very questions the toll road opponents are most eager to debate: Who runs City Hall. And why?
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Ronquillo, of course, is an insider of sorts. As a lawyer, he has represented most of the major public institutions in the city at one point or another, and you don't get that work without some inside credentials. He isn't going to come into this contest flying the flag of conspiracy or, for that matter, of grievance or entitlement. But he is going to come in asking if it would be smarter -- if we might even get to the big things better -- if we based policy more on communities and less on moguls.
When I talked to him yesterday, I asked him if his opposition to the toll road signaled a general distaste for the politics of "vision" that the Citizens Council guys like Rawlings have always offered. You know, when Laura Miller ran for mayor on a pot-holes platform in 2002, they said she lacked vision. (Umm ... let's see. She beat them, didn't she?) I asked him about the vision thing.
"We basically have to do both," he said, meaning both the vision thing and the somebody-please-please-fix-the-damn-potholes thing. "But there has to be a balancing act, and it shouldn't be a top-down strategy. It should be a community and neighborhood-driven, family-driven, children-driven strategy."
That question of where the city's basic direction comes from, who decides this stuff, for whom does City Hall work anyway. The emblem for all of that is the toll road, but the toll road is only an emblem. I prefer to think of the underlying question as the shadow government issue, but only because I want an excuse to use that illustration of The Shadow again today.
Ronquillo sounds as if he has made a fairly focused study of the city's staggering inventory of deferred maintenance problems. If he is able to put that issue out on the table in a way that doesn't put people to sleep, then he may have his hands on a lightning bolt.
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We all know it in our guts. We feel it in our teeth every time we hit another crater on our worse-than-Third-World streets. There's something crazily out of balance in the way this city operates -- hundreds of millions of dollars for decorator bridges, but we can't afford sewers?
That question is all about the Shadow Government. City Hall isn't run by us or for us. Turning things back right-side up by putting communities in the driver's seat doesn't have to mean abandoning a long-range vision for the city. It could mean a better vision. Maybe Ronquillo will be able to articulate that vision.
We haven't seen anything from him yet. He could go down after the first lap. But if Ronquillo has the heart for it and stays the course, he could present the establishment with a serious challenge. And having him out there on the more visible citywide mayoral circuit explaining what's wrong with the toll road is going to boost the chances of the anti-toll-road single-member district council candidates.
What's the downside? Oops. There's an unlucky question. Let's just cross our fingers and watch.