Last week, Unfair Parkdefended
Ed Oakley after he falsely claimed to have won the endorsement of the NAACP during a forum in front of a predominantly African-American audience. We really exerted ourselves on that one, particularly since Oakley has a pattern now of announcing people are supporting him when they are so not. But we explained that Oakley has a lot on his mind these days and in the tense moment of trying to answer a question in a short period of time, he just misspoke.
Anyhow, since we really, really, really gave Oakley the benefit of the doubt on that one--honestly, a more plausible explanation than ours is that he was simply lying--we figured we’d show a little courtesy to Oakley’s opponent in the runoff, Tom Leppert. Posters on our blog and Dallas Blog, as well as various cynics, the likes of which we typically respect, have given Leppert hell for the apparent crimes of a) being a Republican and b) living in North Dallas, which they think means that he won’t be particularly sensitive to the minority neighborhoods south of the Trinity River. But by all accounts, Leppert has spent a ton of time in Oak Cliff and South Dallas, often walking neighborhoods and attending events without any handlers. To his credit, Leppert doesn’t say a whole lot; he just sits back and hears what people have to say.
Leppert seems to have a really good rapport with black and Hispanic voters too, which is why in the general election they voted for him, and not, say Max Wells, who had the endorsement of about 392 black politicos in southern Dallas. That rapport may also be why he won the support of Don Hill, although there are alternative explanations for that one.
Leppert is also very impressive at forums in southern Dallas where, unlike similar events downtown and in North Dallas, he seems less stuffy and aloof. At the end of the forum at Paul Quinn College, an African-American man stood up to ask Leppert a question. The man introduced himself as an ex-con who had been in prison for 15 years. He wanted to know how Dallas can welcome more ex-offenders into the workforce.
At this point, most candidates from North Dallas would have fled to a Starbucks on Preston Road or, in a best case scenario, suffered a panic attack on stage and died. Leppert, however, calmly talked to the gentleman about the pressing need to transition ex-offenders into the local economy and what can be done to discourage employers from not considering people with criminal pasts. Leppert then walked up to the man, tapped him on the shoulder and said to seek him out after the forum and they’d talk more. The guy seemed genuinely surprised, if not touched that a candidate for mayor would react to him so warmly.
We don’t want to make this out to be bigger than what it is. It shouldn’t be that difficult for a candidate for public office to try to connect with people in an audience. But Leppert seems to do that rather naturally. As a candidate, he has his flaws, not the least of which is his overly vague and generic campaign message. But this notion, often fostered in these parts, that he’s a mere creation of the Dallas Citizens Council with no mind or heart of his own doesn’t square with what you see of him on the campaign trail. --Matt Pulle
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