Abtahi and Kingston: Who's the bigger SOB?

Heard an interview with some actress on the radio recently talking about how she chain-smoked and behaved badly in college, causing her to lose a lot of weight and wake up incredibly beautiful one day. She said it gave her the confidence she needed to become a movie star.

I feel as though that's the story of East Dallas. Decades of bad behavior, irrational opposition to all authority, an appetite for a fight even when there was nothing to fight about, and all of a sudden East Dallas wakes up. It's skinny, it's sexy and it has a big Whole Foods store.

But that's also the challenge. Drive the streets south of Lovers Lane, and you will see plenty of evidence that the real estate development community is ahead of the game in East Dallas, packing in new stuff — good, bad and ugly — as fast as it can in anticipation of a bigger boom.

The better times ahead are a richly deserved, hard-earned reward for inner city neighborhoods, but the last thing a successful community wants to be is too nice.

Which brings us to the runoff race in City Council District 14 for the seat being vacated by Angela Hunt, who must leave the council because of term limits. Hunt's anointed and endorsed successor is Philip Kingston, a sole practitioner lawyer. His opponent in the runoff is Bobby Abtahi, also a lawyer.

In the past I have described Abtahi as a Manchurian candidate for the mafia, which, I should tell you, was unfair and more a comment on my own character than his. Note to self: Please, please, please, self, try to avoid jokes containing ethnic references.

Abtahi is a nice guy, Dallas-born, boy-next-door, went to UT Austin and SMU law school. I have sipped tea and ginger ale with him twice, and I have lunched with Kingston once. Kingston is a nice guy too, but as I have already set out, nice don't cut it in East Dallas these days. One question counts in this race. Which one of them is enough of a son of a bitch to protect East Dallas from sleazy exploitation?

When I sat down with Abtahi the second time, he challenged me on an assertion I had made on the radio to the effect that he consistently voted against neighborhoods when he was a member of the Dallas Plan Commission, which controls zoning questions. Abtahi was appointed to the commission by southern Dallas council member Dwaine Caraway.

We went through each of the votes I had cited as evidence of his anti-neighborhood bias, and I must tell you that he defended them all on grounds I found persuasive, mainly by pointing out that in most cases he had voted in concert with Hunt's appointee.

The other way-wide-of-the-road issue that crops up again and again in this race is a pledge Kingston signed saying he's a Democrat, after having voted in Republican primaries. All I know is that Kingston got a thousand bucks from Lisa Blue Baron, the rich lawyer who is kind of Glinda the Good Witch to Democrats, so I'm figuring that makes him OK with Democrats even if he did vote for a couple Republicans early on. I have never believed a young person should be tarred forever because of one or two heedless flings with Republicans, nor did I ask Kingston if alcohol was involved.

And anyway, who gives a shit? No, seriously, listen to me: They're both nice guys. They're both smart lawyers. They both want to serve the city and East Dallas. But none of that is what counts at this moment.

The question is who brung them? With whom will they dance? Let me give you an example of why that's important — the soccer-lights question at Ursuline, a private school for girls. I have no idea what it was really about, no dog in the hunt, no bias one way or the other. I saw some people on TV saying they had been blinded or were about to be blinded, something. That's all I know.

That vote on the City Council came down entirely to one thing — the will of the council member for that district. That's how it works. If it's an issue within a council district, the council person for that district has absolute say-so. Her thumb up or thumb down means all thumbs up or thumbs down. In this case the member from that district voted for the soccer lights and against the blind people, so the entire council voted against the blind people. Turn on the lights, hand out the canes. It's over.

So when things really heat up in East Dallas — or in North Oak Cliff or Oak Lawn or any of the city's other soon-to-boom districts — you can count on some kind of soccer-lights showdown at City Council where it will come down to the council member from that district.

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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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