At City Hall, the Slow Demise of the Citizens Council? Probably Not. But We Can Dream.

There's a lot of shape-shifting going on below the media radar at City Hall, a sense that some kind of realignment is in the works. A lot of it has to do with the fraying and maybe dissolution of the traditional Citizens Council/South Dallas Deal.

Mayor Tom Leppert has been the standard-bearer for that deal, by which Southern Dallas council members, especially African-Americans, vote with the mayor on the deals he puts forward for the Dallas Citizens Council, the private old-money shadow-body that has dominated Dallas politics pretty much since World War II.

The Trinity River toll road. The city-owned convention hotel next to The Dallas Morning News. Or, as I call them, white people deals.

Black people on the council vote for them. In return, Leppert helps steer public works contracts to favored minority contractors, not just at City Hall but at the regional transit agency and school district. All on the up and up -- in the name of business development. It just happens to give the old white guys the margin of votes they need to keep things moving their way. It's the way things have always been done.

Or, as I like to say, it's the Old Plantation all over again.

But in the last six months Leppert's personal political aspirations have trumped the deal. Leppert clearly sees himself moving up into national politics as a conservative Republican. He tied into minority concessionaires at Love Field, some of whom were Citizens Council favorites, in order to score himself some Tea Party cred. He has been wriggling into photo ops with the likes of Sarah Palin.

Most interesting in all of this is the new air space that has grown up between Leppert and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, who had been Leppert's most loyal lieutenant on the city council. Caraway has been shifting away from Leppert on litmus issues like the Trinity River Project, while he has been gaining new credibility himself as a serious community leader. Take a look at the editorial in The Dallas Morning News today, giving deserved praise to Caraway for his efforts to rid Southern Dallas of drug houses.

Compare that to an editorial The News ran a couple weeks ago tongue-lashing Leppert for being too partisan.

Two conclusions to draw.

One, The News can see that Leppert is sacrificing the Old Plantation Deal in order to build his own career. Two, The News ain't happy.

The larger reality here is that a whole new coalition may be gelling on the council. You take Angela Hunt, the smart East Dallas civic crusader, put her together with Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, the smart West Dallas grassroots leader, put them together with the Latino and black caucuses on the council: You got eight votes. That's a voting majority.

In fact, you already have eight votes: Witness the council vote last September to raise the local property tax.

Now there's a picture to chill the blood of the Citizens Council - a runaway Dallas City Hall no longer looking to the old white guys for guidance. Or cash.

Is it an anti-business alliance? Not hardly. Caraway and Council member Tennell Atkins talk about almost nothing other than economic development. Medrano has shed political blood defending small businesses (scrap yards) whose existence offends the aesthetic eye of The News and the people behind the Trinity River project.

In fact, who is pro-business nowadays, anyway?

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, with strong backing from The News, tried to run off the Inland Port development -- the biggest business opportunity in the history of Southern Dallas -- because the developers wouldn't hire his friends as "consultants." Caraway and Atkins were nowhere near that stink.

The Citizens Council and allies like Price aren't necessarily pro-business. They're just pro-OUR-business. I see people waking up to that, very much including Caraway.

So it's not a new day dawning yet. I would say in terms of that new day we're still at about 3 a.m. Things are still going bump in the night. But the sun's gotta come up sooner or later, and I can't wait to see what it shows.

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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