At What Point Will Both Sides in Hotel Fight Make It About, You Know, the Hotel?

The ad above began airing on local television stations this morning and represents the third installment from the anti-hotel group in what has become an extremely pricey effort funded largely by Harlan Crow to thwart the city's plans to build a publicly owned convention center hotel. It features the recent editorial in The Dallas Morning News criticizing Mayor Tom Leppert for having "undermined the public trust" during the Trinity River toll road campaign.

"Can we trust Mayor Tom Leppert to tell the truth about his taxpayer-owned hotel?" the ad asks.

As we've reported in the past, Leppert has issued some misleading statements regarding the hotel's $50 million reserve fund (representing it as a rainy-day fund taxpayers can dip in to without having to replenish it) and claiming the city's general fund will lose $150 million without the hotel (no such guarantee can be made). Additionally, he's avoided key issues, including his attempt to secure funding for the hotel in order to quash the referendum and addressing who is responsible to pay the bonds if the hotel doesn't meet occupancy projections.

By all accounts, it appears to be a dynamite campaign maneuver that should play well with voters at the polls. Yet the ad, and the others before it, is guilty of the very tactics the anti-hotel side accuses Leppert of engaging in: demonizing a single person rather than addressing the issue.

In May 2007, we reported about some of the dirty tactics used by the pro-toll road people before Leppert had even been elected to office. Less than a week before Leppert earned a spot in the runoff with Ed Oakley, Schutze was exchanging e-mails with Mayor Laura Miller, who told him Harlan Crow and the Dallas Citizens Council were helping fund an effort to hire "blockers" charged with trying to stop people from signing the petition, which simply allowed citizens the opportunity to vote on restricting the road's size and speed limit, along with ensuring its direct access to the park.

The Save the Trinity committee was created days later, and contributions of $20,000 from Crow Holdings and $40,950 from the Citizens Council were included on a subsequent finance report. But the move backfired: TrinityVote gathered more than enough signatures to force a referendum.

Now comes the onslaught of ads targeting Leppert and only Leppert -- labeling him arrogant in their first commercial and then essentially calling him a liar -- after the anti-hotel side pleaded with the mayor in a letter to stop vilifying Crow and start talking about the issues.

Our organization is committed to running an issue-based campaign. We endeavor to enlighten Dallas citizens to the risks associated with the hotel and allow them to cast the final judgment on May 9th. It has become apparent you do not intend to run such a campaign. You aspire to run a negative, personality-centric campaign where you cast a "Park Cities Billionaire" as the villain and distract from the true topic with cries of "selfishness."

At the risk of having Schutze slip arsenic in my beer the next time we're out bashing The Dallas Morning News, Steve Blow may have been on to something when he called out Raymond for having "chutzpah" and "moxie" to focus ads on Leppert while her side has been complaining about Leppert's strategy of labeling Crow as the lone opponent to the hotel.

The argument can be made that the recent ad isn't really about Leppert -- it's about "trust." But even as the commercial raises legitimate concerns, it's a hard pill to swallow watching the anti-hotel group focus its campaign on one person while whining about the pro-hotel group doing the exact same thing.

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