How can we miss you...

...if you won't go away, Paul Coggins? It seems that every three months a new rumor crops up that the Dallas-based U.S. attorney is heading off to greener pastures somewhere -- a judgeship, a promotion, something.

"He's going to one of those intensive Spanish-language seminars," one assistant U.S. attorney in Coggins' office told Buzz recently. "Everybody's wondering what that means."

Um, that he wants to learn to speak Spanish?

That wasn't good enough for the office gossips, who wondered whether Coggins was angling for an ambassadorship or top spots at the Justice Department or U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Coggins has the same effect on his assistants that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has on stockbrokers. Every hiccup is a sign to be divined.

Coggins himself has helped spur the talk of his departure. Last summer the Texas congressional delegation nominated him to fill the seat vacated by U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders. He withdrew his name in December.

Buzz kinda likes Coggins, so we hope his underlings wish him well -- not in that "please somebody promote this guy out of here" way.

Coggins, calling from the HIDTA Spanish seminar in Austin, says he's not going anywhere just yet. (HIDTA is the acronym for high-intensity drug trafficking area, a designation applied to the Dallas region last fall. It gives local law enforcement access to a pot of federal money to fight drugs.)

"I'm staying in Dallas," Coggins says, citing his wife's imminent run for Congress. His job as U.S. attorney also keeps him from being put in the uncomfortable position of picking sides in the Democratic presidential race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley. (He has ties to both.)

"That's the attractive thing about this office," he says. "The attorney general is pretty strict" about prohibiting politicking by her U.S. attorneys.

Still, if Coggins' spouse, Regina Montoya, succeeds in her planned bid to unseat Rep. Pete Sessions, Coggins would already be in Washington.

And if neither Gore nor Bradley wins the White House? Coggins laughs. "I had a pretty good private practice before I had this job," he says. "I guess I'll have one again."

And take Julio with you

Paul Coggins isn't the only local fed being rumored for greater things. Julio Mercado, head of the DEA's Dallas region, may land the No. 2 spot at the agency, thanks to a reshuffling at the top caused by the departure of DEA chief Thomas Constantine.

Sources at the DEA and others from the Justice Department and FBI, who have fielded calls checking his references, say Mercado is a candidate for the promotion.

That's news to him. "It would be an honor," says the Brooklyn-born drug warrior. "But I don't think I'm seriously in the running. They're probably looking at 15 [or] 20 people."

Penny pinchers

Given Belo Corp.'s recent history of tight finances, Buzz wondered how the company, which owns The Dallas Morning News, was able to scare up the $24 million it recently invested in the Mavericks and the arena.

One word: Styrofoam.

Effective September 1, the News began clamping down on its spendthrift delivery people, who were squandering the company's fortunes by wasting coffee cups, according to a caller who said she is a News contract carrier.

"If you want to drink coffee, you should bring your own coffee cup. There will be no Styrofoam cups supplied anymore. They're too expensive and being wasted by non-paying people," reads a memo to delivery people, she says. Only "paid-up contractors and their" carriers can drink the brew, which our source described as "sludge."

Bad timing

The smell of burnt gunpowder had hardly cleared from the air around Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth last week before the shooting deaths of eight people there became a political -- i.e., a gun control -- issue.

"This isn't a gun issue," Fort Worth television evangelist the Rev. James Robison told reporters as the news helicopters still thupped-thupped overhead on the night of the shooting that left seven worshipers and one gunman dead. "We've got a spiritually sick country, and we need some healing."

In other words: Guns don't kill people. A spiritually sick country kills people. (That raises the obvious question: Do we have more mass shootings than Europe because we're spiritually sicker than, say, France? An ugly thought.)

Still, someone was bound to say it eventually, Buzz supposes, and Robison certainly wasn't alone in his belief. We just found it a little creepy that a minister, who had just finished praying with some of the shooting survivors, would make the point so quickly. Really, Rev. Jim, when you go to comfort the widow of a traffic accident victim, do you put in a good word for 70 mph speed limits too?

Turnabout is fair play

We've become a fan of city council member Laura Miller's Web site,, figuring it's a good place to troll for vicious tidbits, like this one -- Miller promising an update for her "Oak Cliff News" items once her city commission appointees provide her the information she needs.

"Where is your news copy, y'all? You're late," she chastises the appointees, by name, on the Web.

Buzz, being deadline-challenged, has heard that one before. So has Laura "Late Night" Miller, her former editors tell us. To help out her appointees under the whip on deadline, here are a few ploys we've used to buy time:

"Give me 30 minutes; I just have to check one more fact." (Take the rest of the day.)

"I'm waiting on a [fax, phone call, telegram, message]." (Unplug the phone.)

"I'm coughing up blood." (Retch convincingly.)

If none of these works, tell her you're through writing news. You're going to run for city council.

Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams