Leppert's Running Up That Hill

If Don Hill can't be No. 1, he figures it's time for Tom Leppert to take the title. Ed Oakley, of course, feels betrayed.

Don Hill called Ed Oakley minutes before his 2 p.m. press conference to give him the devastating news: Oakley's longtime political ally and the mayor pro tem was going to be endorsing his opponent, Tom Leppert, nine days before the mayoral runoff.

“What I said to him is, the one thing you can depend on is I’m not going to say anything negative about you,” Hill said in front of City Hall this afternoon. “This is not an anti-Oakley statement. It’s a pro-Tom Leppert statement.”

We’re guessing Oakley doesn’t find that distinction particularly comforting.

Hill’s endorsement has to come of something of a surprise. Not only have Hill and Oakley lined up on the same side of the most notable battles at City Hall during the last four years, the two ran remarkably similar campaigns. Often the two lavished praise upon each other during mayoral forums, and Oakley went so far to send out a mailer linking himself with Hill. Then there were times on the campaign trail where Oakley and Hill seemed like one and the same person, with each of them running on the track record of the city council, which they believe has spurred development downtown and in the Southern sector while beginning to tackle crime and infrastructure issues.

Here was Oakley at a forum at Dallas Methodist Medical Center in Oak Cliff: "I believe we're going in the right direction. If you believe we are, then vote for me."

Here was Hill at a forum at the Bent Tree Country Club in Far North Dallas: "What I think is that you want to go in the direction we are going. I represent that."

Hill acknowledged that he and Oakley have fought many political battles, but that he ultimately went with Leppert because of his commitment to understanding Southern sector issues. In particular, he seemed impressed with how Leppert, a retired North Dallas construction executive, has tried to understand Oak Cliff and South Dallas.

“I remember one debate we were talking about Jefferson Boulevard, and the next day I saw him walking on Jefferson Boulevard,” Hill said.

A reporter asked Hill if Leppert promised him anything for his endorsement; he said absolutely not. A cynical take on Hill’s decision is that the outgoing council member is merely trying to back the winning horse in order to pave the way for a run at another office. A more charitable take is that Hill genuinely is impressed with Leppert’s attention to Southern sector concerns.

There were at least two forums south of the Trinity that Oakley skipped in the weeks before the general election. But Leppert made it a point to attend just about every Southern sector function, even if that meant skipping better-attended events in North Dallas. Leppert also spent a lot of time talking to neighborhood leaders, small business owners and preachers; Oakley, in contrast, seemed more interested in wooing Nimby conservatives with his oft-repeated pledge to raze aging apartment complexes without regard to the poor people who live there -- a proposal the Dallas County Democratic Party evidently views as progressive.

Oakley’s backers are going to try to dismiss the importance of Hill’s endorsement, but privately they have to realize this is a blow. Of the three council members who ran for mayor, Hill won the highest percentage of votes in his district. He is also ran very well in the three other African-American council districts. Plus Hill’s endorsement has to take the luster, if that’s the word for it, off the inexplicable endorsement of the Dallas Dems. Hill himself is a loyal Democrat and very close friend and ally of Democratic State Senator Royce West, so for him to back Leppert suggests that the party’s endorsement of Oakley won’t give him an avalanche of Democratic voters.

Of course, endorsements from elected officials may be a little overrated. We all remember how many black politicos supported Max Wells, only to convince but a few dozen of their former constituents to actually vote for him. But with Oakley having already finished noticably behind Leppert in the general election, he needs all the help he can get. Unfortunately for him, he won’t be getting any from Hill. --Matt Pulle