More than two months ago, I attended a mayoral forum hosted by the Dallas Police Association and left thoroughly confused about how the top seven candidates would fare on May 12 -- Election Day, tomorrow. They each touched on the same themes, agreed on nearly all the major issues and never spoke ill of each other.
Since then, your lowly correspondent has attended at least 12 forums all over the city, interviewed all the major candidates for at least 90 minutes each and spent even more time with their campaign advisors. I’ve given this race an entire chunk of my life, and what do I have to show for it? Exactly the same level of ignorance I had two months ago. I still have no idea how the hell this election will turn out.
At last night’s mayoral forum at SMU -- hosted by that great engine of democracy, the North Texas Alarm Association -- the major candidates played it safe, running through the greatest hits of their stump speeches and sharpening their appeal to the nearly 200 or so people in the audience.
“We are no longer the city of J.R. Ewing, segregated country clubs and Big Hair,” said Sam Coats, a quip he has repeated ad infinitum ever since Unfair Park foolishly complimented him on it a few weeks back. “We have to cherish our diversity.”
Or something like that. It’s hard to pay attention to 60-something white guys when they talk about diversity. But that’s my issue.
In other noteworthy news, Tom Leppert set a world record when he talked about how he was raised by a single mother early in the forum for the 132,932 time in a two-month period, as a sea of camera phones flashed from the audience. The moderator stopped the forum as the crowd gave Leppert a standing ovation. Overcome with emotion, the candidate then took a victory lap around the stage before returning to his seat to talk about how he moved a company to Dallas. It was an historic night.
If only the forum were that dramatic. In fact, it was a little bit of a letdown, since the most dynamic candidate of the bunch, Don Hill, was a no-show, as were Ed Oakley and Max Wells. But the forum would go on, as an impressive four-person panel came prepared with thoughtful questions for the herd of would-be mayors. The answers, however, weren’t as thoughtful. Last night, just like many nights before, the top-tier candidates sounded nearly identical themes on public safety (for it), education (ditto) and air pollution (hate it), without detailing unique or thorough proposals on any of them.
The candidates couldn’t even disagree on minor issues like the council’s anti-panhandling ordinance. All of the candidates were for it, best I could tell, except for Jennifer Gale. That’s because the transgendered and transient candidate has likely had to rely on the generosity of strangers over the course of her/his interesting life.
“It’s unconstitutional to say someone can’t talk to another person,” Gale said, in her most feminine moment of the evening.
Nearly all the candidates lamented the loss of the Cowboys to Arlington, using it to impugn the leadership of the council and Mayor Laura Miller. “The Cowboys wanted to come here, and the reality is we didn’t make a deal and we didn’t have the leadership to make a deal,” Leppert said. Not to be outdone, Darrell Jordan solemnly called the loss of the Cowboys “the biggest default in leadership I’ve seen in my 40 years in Dallas,” a curious remark considering that parts of Dallas, like its school district, were segregated 40 years ago. What about those guys in charge? What about their leadership?
Of the top-tier candidates, only Coats wasn’t throwing up in his mouth over the loss of the Cowboys, saying that Dallas now needed to move on to bigger and better pipe dreams.
“We need a National League team in Dallas. Tom Hicks is in Arlington. Let him stay there. The heck with him,” Coats said as the crowd cheered in delight.
The media panel’s most impressive member was none other than D’s Tim Rogers, looking all of 15 years old with the neat and crisp haircut of a Young Life leader. He at least tried to throw the candidates off course. Eschewing the standard “what is your position on” type of question, Rogers at one point suggested that the Dallas crime problem has been overblown and then asked the candidates to talk about the issue on more personal and specific terms. Rogers asked, “When was the last time you were in a part of Dallas where you felt unsafe?”
Here at Unfair Park, we like to mock our friends at FrontBurner because they’re there. But we have to give Rogers some credit here: His question was really smart because it asks the largely sheltered cast of candidates to personalize the threat of crime, rather than offer tired ideas on how to combat it. It also forces the candidates to admit to fear while risking offending a part of the city for identifying it as dangerous. I’m just crazy about that question. The answers? Not so much.
“People are afraid to shop, afraid to have their kids walk to school and afraid to walk through their neighborhoods,” Jordan said, without responding to the question.
Of all the candidates, only Gary Griffith choose to answer the question. (LBJ and Ferguson Road was one of them, if you’re keeping score at home.)
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Perhaps the most telling moment of the forum came thanks to the moderator, Mark Davis. Like a good point guard, Davis kept the action (such as it was) moving, he got everybody involved and kept things loose. But his greatest contribution to our understanding of the candidates came when he asked them if they felt that global warming is largely man-made. Of the eight candidates present, only two, Leppert and Coats, raised their hands. My goodness. When did I move to Kansas? And how is it that the two business candidates in the race are the only ones who understand the most crucial environmental issue, like, ever?
If the other candidates are going to talk about the importance of education, it might help if they use the one they have.
Anyhow, later today, I’ll give you Unfair Park’s weekly ranking of the candidates, which will be completed after I roll a pair of dice, play a game of darts and pick apart the pedals of a dandelion. Hill…Oakley…Wells…
Actually, let me give you a warning before we conclude. If it rains heavily on Saturday, and the turnout is less than 80,000 votes, your mayoral race will be a big crap shoot, and an even bigger mess, setting up a scenario where one candidate makes the runoff with around 10,000 votes and two or three others miss it by a few hundred. Seriously. Are you, dear Friend of Unfair Park, prepared to live in a city where your next mayor couldn’t get more votes than the vice president of a North Dallas neighborhood association? It makes me think I can run for mayor of Dallas. I’m for more cops and better schools. I believe in Dallas. I want the Trinity River to bring people together. I moved here just a few years ago. Then again, I was never raised by a single mother. --Matt Pulle