Mayor's Race Already Looks Like a Very Bad West Side Story Remake

The 2019 Dallas mayoral election is starting to look like the rumble scene in West Side Story.
The 2019 Dallas mayoral election is starting to look like the rumble scene in West Side Story.
Fred Fehl Wikipedia
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CORRECTION: After this column appeared, Mike Ablon communicated with the Dallas Observer through a spokesperson to say that he had resigned his position as chairman of the Trinity River Local Government Corp. on Dec. 7.

The 2019 Dallas mayoral race is beginning to look like a bad parody of an old-time Broadway musical. I don’t know what to do but tell you about it.

Real estate developer Mike Ablon filed legally required paperwork appointing a campaign treasurer a month ago for what D Magazine and The Dallas Morning News have been reporting as a run for mayor. But, oops, Ablon forgot to fill out the line on his form saying what office he’s seeking.

A month later Ablon still hasn’t cleared that up. For the last two days now I have been calling him at his office, calling his cell phone, sending him emails and explaining to his staff that I only want to know one thing: Is he running for mayor or not? I finally got a callback from a spokesman saying he will have an announcement about his plans "in the next couple weeks."

What difference does that make? Here’s the difference. If he’s running for mayor, the city's charter requires Ablon to resign as head of the Trinity Corridor Local Government Corp., the entity set up by the current mayor to build that $150 million park on the river downtown that you and I talked about here Monday — Six Flags for Rich People.

But as long as Ablon leaves the line blank on his campaign treasurer form, City Secretary Bilierae Johnson says he doesn’t have to quit the LGC.

Please tell me you have not forgotten Bilierae Johnson. She is that paragon of official fairness and objectivity who falsely accused Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs in 2015 of threatening to physically attack her. Please remember that the accusation against Griggs was payback for crossing the mayor and city attorney.

The police chief said the charge was nonsense. The only witness signed a sworn statement saying it never happened. When the police refused to charge Griggs, the city attorney tried to get a grand jury to do it, but the grand jury refused. The city attorney resigned. What we have left is Bilierae Johnson.

Two weeks ago, Johnson, the paragon, replied to an inquiry from Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, telling Kingston, “Mr. Ablon did not forfeit his position on the Trinity LGC by filing the CTA [campaign treasurer appointment].”

Her reasoning, she said, was that, “I have not heard or seen where Mr. Ablon has made a public announcement.” But she didn’t tell Kingston what her version of a public announcement is.

Apparently Johnson also never picked up the phone, called Ablon and said, “Hey, you forgot to fill out the line that says what you’re running for.”

And, as I say, my multiple attempts to get him to tell me the answer produced only a stall. So there we have it.  Ablon obviously is a candidate for mayor; the charter obviously requires him to resign from the Trinity LGC; and he obviously does not intend to do so.

Why is any of this significant? For one thing, it shows how this crazy park plan on the river is already screwing up the mayoral election and probably also is turning into a campaign issue. The wealthy sponsors of the plan are the same general social set who came up short on fundraising for the fancy-schmancy AT&T Performing Arts Center by $40 million, eventually requiring the city to cough up a $15 million bailout from Dallas taxpayers.

Now they are promising their new $150 million fancy-schmancy park on the river will be built entirely with private funds, but a year into it, they seem to have only $10 million in hand. So guess whose house that $140 million shadow begins to fall on?

When Mike Ablon filled out his form appointing a treasurer for his mayoral campaign, he forgot to say he was running for mayor. Or did he forget?
When Mike Ablon filled out his form appointing a treasurer for his mayoral campaign, he forgot to say he was running for mayor. Or did he forget?

In the meantime, a kind of corny gang warfare is unfolding in the mayor’s race where the old-time business elite have persuaded everybody and his dog to declare for mayor in order to throw the election into a runoff.

I believe the candidate on the other side from the young progressive wing at City Hall will be Griggs, the aforementioned falsely accused, even though neither he nor anybody else has confirmed that to me, nor have they filed any official paperwork yet.

The great nightmare of the old elite is that Griggs or somebody else from that wing will take the mayor’s office, and the progressives will achieve control of the council. He and his cohort are moderate middle class neighborhood builders with great track records for encouraging development and small business growth, so you might think the old business leaders would find them attractive. And maybe they would, if it were not for their one fatal flaw. Fairness.

Griggs, Kingston, former council member Angela Hunt, state Reps. Rafael Anchia and Eric Johnson, others: a whole new emerging young leadership cadre in the city wants to encourage development and a strong economy. In order to get there, they want to cut out the old, one-sided, good-old-boy giveaways. They seek to redesign city policy so that the whole community benefits from growth.

That phrase — whole community benefits — is what the old guard calls communism. Their way of running the city has always been that only they benefit and anybody who doesn’t like it can go to straight to Garland.

Griggs poses a unique threat to them, because they have already tried their very worst and dirtiest tricks on him. The false accusation against him in 2015 was a felony. He, his family and his legal career would have been destroyed. He faced them down with utter equanimity, came out unscathed and kept on fighting. Now he sees them coming. He knows exactly what to expect.

So what is emerging already in the run-up to the 2019 mayoral election is this West Side Story scene. All of the Harvard and Yale Jets like Ablon are coming out of the alley popping their fingers singing, “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way.” And I guess they think it’s up to Griggs to play the part of the Sharks, although I don’t see him taking that bait. (Editor's note: Jim will be punished for that pun.)

What they want is a Broadway rumble, or as one shrewd observer suggested to me yesterday, the Dallas Citizens Council crowd may just want to put lots of surrogates in the field in hopes one or more of them can mess Griggs up a little, like the Bilierae Johnson job. I don’t think it’s a great strategy or even a credible threat. When I saw the musical 100 years ago, I couldn’t take the Jets seriously as hoods because of the rhythmic finger-popping.

I don’t think Ablon wants to fill out his form for a few more weeks, because he’s not a real candidate. In terms of achieving power and suck-up points with the elite, that park job of his has way better leverage than the mayor’s office. I think that’s the one he wants to keep.

But I also know this. If Griggs wins, the Park Cities party set had better raise that whole $150 million for the park themselves and not come hat in hand to City Hall again for the balance. Like I say. He sees them coming.

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