Probably out of sheer meanness, like bug-killing, I enjoy seeing politicians pitch themselves to really loony audiences. I like to watch them wriggle. There can't have been any other reason I interrupted a perfectly fine Monday evening and drove north to the Churchill Rec Center to witness the Citizens Matter Mayoral Forum.
Citizens Matter is a group I have mentioned here before, primarily during the debate on whether to tear down the city’s Confederate monuments and rename schools and streets named for traitors. To get the point across, I think I may have suggested they should be called White Citizens Matter, but since then I have decided that was probably unfair to the many white citizens who are not loons. Their proper name is Citizens Matter. That’s what they call themselves. I am going to call them Loons Matter, which is not their real name and probably is not fair, but I’m doing it anyway.
It was interesting. I sure saw some wriggling. Put some of those guys on a hook, a bass would eat them. Five of the nine people running for mayor — Scott Griggs, Eric Johnson, Alyson Kennedy, Regina Montoya and Miguel Solis — chose not to appear, a decision I wholly endorse, and I hope they all got to bed early for once. But four brave or desperate souls — Mike Ablon, Albert Black, Lynn McBee and Jason Villalba — did show up, which I also admired, because it’s kind of like going to your nephew’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s, something you don’t want to do but you really sort of should, damn it to hell.
The moderator had a bunch of fake questions to make it look like they cared about anything, but I was there for the one that counted. Each of the four candidates present was given the same little lecture, word for word, and then was asked the same question:
“Karl Marx stated that you take away the heritage of people and they are easily destroyed. Only 18 percent of eighth graders are proficient in U.S. history and 23 percent in civics. Members of the Dallas ISD (school) board have suggested that we rename our public schools that are named after the founders of the United States. Do you support the repeated removal of American history from Dallas to include memorials and renaming the streets?”
OK, a note first, please. I can’t find any reputable quote factory that thinks Marx ever said that. For one thing, it sounds more like something a loon would say. Marx was not a loon. Second, the debate on school names is more about traitors, not founders. I guess Thomas Jefferson, the gentleman slave-rapist, does get us into some dicey territory. But mainly the school name debate is about defenders of slavery during the Civil War. But we knew that. That’s why a lot of candidates didn’t show up for the thing Monday night and I did.
Back to planet Earth. Of the four, the most passionate was Villalba, whom I cannot accuse of wriggling at all. Wriggling might have been better.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “I am 100 percent against this. This is the problem that I am the only candidate in this race that when it occurred I said I am against removing the statues until such time that our police and our fire and our potholes and our schools are fully funded.
“We are asking for you the people of Dallas to spend your tax dollars, your hard-earned tax dollars, on something that a citizens activist group or somebody from another part of the city wants you to do, when we have needs. My position as your mayor is to focus first on the issues that matter. Let’s take care of our children, let’s take care of our schools before we spend a single cent, a single red cent on removing statues.
“I am not in the business of political correctness. I am in the business of taking care of the people that I will represent. I will fight it tooth and nail.”
That ain’t wriggling. That man just straight-up loves him some Confederate stone.
Lynn McBee, the person who lived outside Dallas in the wealthy enclave called the Park Cities until about two minutes before declaring for mayor, gave an answer to the same question that … that … oh, well, I’ll just tell you what she said. Same question, Karl Marx, the founders, renaming, taking down monuments.
McBee said, “So my great, great, great, great-grandfather was Moses Austin. His son was Stephen Austin, and his daughter was my great, great, great, great-grandmother. So I am a seventh generation Texan, and I love my history, and, uh, I think, you know, we need to, as we think about these issues, we need to think about how we contextualize history.
“I am proud of my history, and I am proud of my family that moved here and wound up (inaudible, something about 300 families).
“I do think when it comes to how we prioritize things in the budget, we need to make sure we are taking care of police, we are taking care of basics and doing the things we need to do in directing money in those ways.”
Definite wriggle. It’s not a great, great, great, great wriggle, but she did get away with telling them how much history she possesses personally, and then she said the contextualize thing. That means leave 'em up. But she didn’t say leave 'em up like Villalba did. So wriggle.
Far and away the creepiest wriggle came from Ablon. He didn’t even let the Loons Matter dude finish his Karl Marx speech for the umpteenth time, for which I admit I was quietly grateful.
“I heard the question,” Ablon said. “You don’t ever erase history. If you erase history, you repeat it. Some of history is very sad. Some of it is tragic. A lot of it is painful, and a lot of it is glorious.
“You can keep history and turn it into a teaching tool. I sent both of my daughters to Poland and Germany last year when they turned 18. They went to the death camps. If those were down, people would say it didn’t happen. If they were down, we’d repeat it. You can turn things that are bad into teaching tools.
“I am not equating the Confederate monuments to the Nazi death camps. I am talking about history. You never erase history. You retell it. Charlotte did it. Charlotte took it to a vote of the people, and the entire city voted together to keep it together and turn it into teaching tools.”
I don’t know where Ablon got the thing about Charlotte — I assume he means North Carolina — voting in a referendum to keep its Confederate monuments in place. I don’t believe that ever happened. The debate on monuments continues to roil waters there. Recently athletes at the University of North Carolina foiled plans to return a Confederate monument to campus, to the great relief of many.
The creepy-crawly part of his answer was his bland assurance to the Loons Matter crowd that he does not equate Confederate monuments with the death camps — exactly the equation made by people who argue for removal. But not Ablon.
And then the business about the teaching tools? So does that mean we should have a Heinrich Himmler Elementary School in North Dallas?
A member of the audience called out, “What about the Confederate memorial here?” but was shushed by the moderator. Ablon did not respond. He received polite applause.
Candidate Albert Black was by my observation the only black person in one of the whitest rooms I have seen since I stopped watching old Perry Mason reruns. He said: “My heritage is of slavery. I can go no further on my father’s side than my grandmother. Our people were dragged from a land, taken to this one and made to work for over 400 years for nothing, and it was very, very ugly.”
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Referring to his wife’s attendance at John B. Hood Middle School, since renamed, when mascots and cheer uniforms still had Confederate themes, Black said, “If you want to see an ugly sight, you see my wife, Gywneith, in a Confederate uniform at John B. Hood Junior High School. She’s in a Confederate uniform, this beautiful black girl, celebrating the Confederacy. I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s wrong.”
Not one bit of a wriggle there, the only black guy in the room, telling it right off his chest, exactly how he feels, and guess what? Black got one hell of a hand when he was done. Serious applause. Of course it could have been a couple of other things.
He didn’t wriggle on immigration. He talked about having respect for the foreigners he sees working hard in this country. He didn’t wriggle on another preachy question about how the city is terribly in debt. Black said interest rates now make this a great time to carry debt and the city would be foolish to start prepaying debt under these conditions.
He got a very solid hand when he finished. I don’t know if the loons loved him, but they certainly respected him. You never know. Maybe all those people really want is somebody with some balls for a change.