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A Hole in Every Pot

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It has to be said, however, that in most of the campaign season so far Miller has not been the one throwing caustic barbs. Domingo Garcia is comfortable on the attack. Dunning does it, probably because his own consultant, Carol Reed, the über-guru of establishment politics in Dallas, has told him he must, but he always looks and sounds like a guy being forced at gunpoint to kill his granddaughter's bunny.

In a lifetime in business in Dallas and in voluntary public service, Dunning's conciliatory manner has made him lots of friends and probably didn't hurt him in business, either. Dunning has become wealthy putting together executive compensation plans as part of company buyout deals and mergers. He is an equity partner with financier Tom Hicks in many of Hicks' holdings.

Terribly stiff on the campaign trail, an automaton in candidate forums, he agrees with everybody else in debates. But Dunning is confident, warm and authoritative in a one-on-one. He breezed in the side door of Cafe Express on Lovers Lane in a flannel shirt and jacket on New Year's Day and talked to me for an hour about growing up in Dallas.

"I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was a great kid's life. I used to take the bus when I was 7 years old with some other kids, and we'd go to the village to see a movie."

"The village?" I ask.

"Highland Park Village."

But he means village. Not snotty shopping center. Those really were different times.

Life in Preston Hollow and University Park was different then in other ways--more postwar bootstraps, less money-proud. When Dunning was a teen-ager and wanted his own car, he had to work to get it summers and after school in an aluminum smelter. He and a crew of mainly Mexican immigrant co-workers cut up airplane wings and lawnmowers out in a yard in the baking sun and then hauled the bales of scrap inside to be tossed into a white-hot vat.

At a later summer job in a warehouse, his co-workers were mainly black. He remembers going with them through the back door of the restaurant where they bought carry-out lunches because they weren't allowed to come in the front. These experiences, he says, taught him early that all people are the same inside. I believe him. If you were at this table, you would, too. But I think Tom Dunning hates telling me some of this. I can tell there's a side of him that thinks talking like this to a reporter, cataloging all your democratic deeds, is way too gooey and political.

When the conversation shifts from the personal to the political, a strange thing happens, as if an invisible tube has descended from the ceiling of Cafe Express and imprisoned Dunning inside. His arms fold up tight. His mouth talks, but his eyes say, "Get me out of here!"

I ask him to back away from specifics and tell me where he thinks the city is headed in a human way, socially and spiritually.

"One of the things I would do as mayor is, I would like to have a number of meetings with clergy of all different faiths, to get them together and get them more involved in the city. We're talking about everybody. I served on the board of the community of churches. I really liked that organization, but it was just for Christian churches. I thought it would have been great to have Muslims, others, of course Jewish members also. And one of my goals would be to have that, not as part of the government, but just as making sure that we continue to hear from different cultural viewpoints about what's important."

Maybe it was a dumb question.

At the end of our lunch, as we are getting up to leave, Dunning tells me something stunning. We're talking about Miller, and he says, "I think she's the best politician we've ever had in Dallas. Ron Kirk was great, but she may be better."

Hmmm.

Domingo Garcia does not have doubts about being political. Garcia talked to me in his Oak Cliff office about growing up in Dallas a decade and a half later than Dunning and under different circumstances.

Before we got into his life story, however, Garcia said something to me that I found equally stunning. Speaking of Miller's political acumen, he said, "She has a great coach. Steve Wolens [Miller's husband] is probably the best politician in Dallas."

So it's between Miller and her husband? Should we just go home and grab a nap, then? I forged ahead to the biographical questions.

"I was born in Midland, Texas," he said. "My father came to this country as an undocumented worker and immigrant. He married my mother and worked initially in the cotton fields of West Texas."

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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