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Early Take on Mayor's Race: Two Real Contenders, Lotta Stooges

The other night I attended a public forum where nine candidates for mayor of Dallas fielded questions from a moderator. I think I’m beginning to get the picture. But first, let’s clear the decks.

From here on out, I can’t really promise you that I’m going to be objective. I guess the next thing I am expected to say is that I do promise to be fair, but I really do not want to make any promises I cannot for-sure, for-sure keep. Tell you what. I promise that I will never come over to your house and steal stuff. That’s one hundred percent lock solid. Never. Not even once, not even small stuff, like things you wouldn’t even miss. Now down to business.

There are two people in this race — Scott Griggs and Albert Black. Then you have nine people who are in it but not really. Let me explain.

Example. The kid. At Tuesday night’s forum was a completely charming young man named Miguel Patino, a write-in candidate. He just graduated from a Dallas high school. He had the best line of the night, describing how his apartment was broken into and it took the cops 40 minutes to get there. He said Pizza Hut beat them by 20 minutes. Great. Not a real candidate.

The stage was crowded with mayoral contenders at the Buckner Terrace neighborhood mayoral forum Tuesday night, most of whom were not contenders.EXPAND
The stage was crowded with mayoral contenders at the Buckner Terrace neighborhood mayoral forum Tuesday night, most of whom were not contenders.
Jim Schutze

Then you have the wealthy volunteers, Lynn McBee, a socialite fundraiser who lived in the Park Cities until about five minutes ago, and Regina Montoya, a Harvard lawyer who worked for the Clinton White House, was a partner at Akin Gump, has never done diddly in elective city politics and now suddenly wants to add mayor to her bucket list.

Both people are smart and have devoted good portions of their lives to helping the poor, Montoya through her service on the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty and McBee as CEO of the Young Women’s Preparatory Network, an education group. But neither one said a single word Tuesday night that communicated any awareness at all of the issues they would face as members of the Dallas City Council. In fact some of the issues they did talk about were things I had never heard of.

Montoya said: “Right now, if you want to see the state of the city (and the) mayor’s program, you usually have to go to a big chamber of commerce event. It’s going to cost you $75, $100 to attend, and that doesn’t even include the parking.”

WHAT?!! People pay $100 to hear the mayor talk? NO! Well, among other things, guess what? I think somebody must have forgotten to send me my invitation. So that’s what I mean. These are nice, smart people, but they live on Planet Elsewhere. They’re not real candidates for mayor of Dallas.

Then we have the commie, Alyson Kennedy of the Socialist Workers Party, about whom I have written before and whom I sort of adore, but she’s from Planet-Just-Beyond-Elsewhere. She’s like the kid – comic relief.

Then we have the stooges (remember, no burglaries at your house, not by me, promise). And this hurts me terribly to say, well, a little, because both former State Rep. Jason Villalba and current State Rep. Eric Johnson are people I really admire. I don’t think they have an inkling in their heads that they are stooges. But they are, Johnson even more than Villalba.

Some weeks ago I wrote a column vowing that I would go over the May campaign finance statements three months from now with a fine-toothed comb looking for the money that would show which candidates for mayor are stooges of the old Dallas Citizens Council-style leadership. A week later, the old Dallas Citizens Council-style leadership popped up with a pre-emptive public letter saying they were foursquare behind Eric Johnson.

It was a big shock for some, because Johnson has always put himself forward as a liberal Democrat. No one was more shocked – jacked out of shape, I would say – than Villalba, a Republican, who clearly had thought he was the one going to the altar with the old rich guys. In fact Villalba called me that night, told me to turn on my tape recorder and gave me the following kind of crazy on-the-record statement:

“As a member of the group of individuals who are candidates in this race, I am suspect as to the intentions and the motivations of those individuals who claim to be conservatives and yet have decided on one of the most liberal members in Texas legislative history (Johnson), a known militant, a known bomb-thrower and an individual who will unquestionably take the City Council of Dallas back into the dark ages of what we have seen in the past decades of Dallas politics.”

He did call me back the next day and ask that his comments not be used and be taken off the record. I explained that off-the-record is like the clock, doesn’t go backwards, and I declined. So what’s going on here?

Oh, my God, some rascal must have told both of these poor lads to show up on the chapel steps in the morning and they would be married to the money. But only Johnson got in. They slammed the chapel door on Villalba. Johnson gets showered with rice and rose petals, and Villalba has to go home and order from Pizza Hut. That stuff stings, as Villaba’s on-the-record off-the-record quotes reveal.

But even that was a fake ceremony. Neither of these guys was ever going to be the real groom. They’re just boyfriends. They both play the same part in the Citizens Council agenda, which is anybody-but-Griggs. At the forum, Johnson was hitting hard on the Citizens Council line that we don’t want a mayor who will be “divisive.” That’s a reference to Griggs. Let me tell you about Griggs and divisive.

Albert Black is the only other person, in addition to Scott Griggs, who' s really in the race.EXPAND
Albert Black is the only other person, in addition to Scott Griggs, who' s really in the race.
Jim Schutze

Griggs and fellow council member Philip Kingston divisively got a charter amendment passed by the voters – passed by the voters, note – making it illegal for the old Citizens Council-style leaders to lie to the public about the cost of city bond programs. Thanks to Griggs’ and Kingston’s divisiveness, the city now must show the full cost of bond borrowings to the voters before the vote.

Griggs and Kingston also divisively got another charter amendment passed – passed by the voters – making it illegal for the city manager to slash the city auditor’s budget as vengeance for negative audits — something a former city manager had just done. Without that charter amendment protecting the independence of the auditor, we would know not one word of the crazy, deplorable junk-pile mess at the Dallas visitor’s bureau, as exposed in a recent tough report by the city auditor.

Griggs, Kingston and former City Attorney Larry Casto divisively settled a decades-old police pay lawsuit that was going to cost the city a billion dollars. They settled it for pennies on the dollar, but only after two mayors and two former city managers had made the situation worse by serially lying to the public, saying the city would never have to settle.

Get the pattern here. Divisive means telling the truth. Divisive means being honest with the public. Divisive also means being realistic and commonsense about money, instead of being sneaky and crazy. So it means getting in the way of the Trinity toll road, getting in the way of the fake whitewater rapids on the river, getting in the way of the fake suspension bridge that still can’t be opened. And, much more important, it means getting in the way of billions of dollars in tax giveaways to wired special interests while basic infrastructure rots and social services wither on the vine.

That’s the kind of divisive that Griggs and Kingston are. I notice that whenever their divisiveness goes out to the voters in the form of a charter amendment, the public says hell yes and votes for it.

Also in the race and extremely thoughtful at Buckner Terrace was school board member Miguel Solis. I have so little negative I can think to say about Solis, I don’t know where to begin. I may have to go steal some stuff from his house. I mean, just things he won’t miss. He’s an extremely smart champion of school reform. All the stuff he says about school reform I agree with. Generally speaking, when I say those same things here, you hate my guts. That’s all I know to tell you. I do think it means he’s not a real contender, and neither am I.

Another guy, real estate developer Mike Ablon, was not there and apparently has attended very few of these forums so far. He comes from absolute nowhere in city politics, from Planet-Not-Even-a-Planet. He’s not out there doing the hard and dirty work like forums and show-ups, but he has a zillion bucks worth of ads up on TV already saying he grew up on a chicken farm. He made one stab at accusing Griggs of being an anti-Semite who didn’t grow up on a chicken farm, but it sort of noodled. It was like, “What, again?” I’m sure he’s also against divisiveness. This is a guy from nowhere who thinks he can buy it. Let’s hope he’s wrong.

Then there is Albert Black, and I’m not sure the Griggs camp has the proper amount of respect there. Black is a retired successful African-American businessman who has never served in public office but knows this city inside and out better than most people who have. He’s tough, funny, sharp and wonderfully authentic. He’s been in with the Citizens Council, and he’s been out, which is where I guess he must be now.

Griggs is a contender based on vision, track record and character. Black has his own track record of non-elective public service, and he has character. They both have one thing the others do not. Winner. And not both of them can.

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