The most astonishing thing is that they believed her. I know from private conversations with some council members that many of them still don't know what the OMB is. They have no idea what the real issues are. The technical flood-control aspects of the plan are 10 feet over their heads.
The other aspect of the Trinity project that will only come into sharper focus in the year ahead is the question of environmental racism in Cadillac Heights. Former Mayor Ron Kirk, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, has insisted for years that building new levees downriver has nothing to do with building a new truck route for a few zillionaires: It's a form of racial reparation, he says, because the poor black and Hispanic families in Cadillac Heights never got their own levee in the old days.
These poor people have been trying desperately for years to get Kirk or Congresswoman Johnson or anybody else in power to hear them when they say they don't want levees; their families are dying of cancer and birth defects, possibly from decades of deliberate poisoning of the ground beneath them; they want out. The evidence of their plight is overwhelming. No less mainstream an organization than the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas has joined in calling for justice for Cadillac Heights. In a recent letter to acting Mayor Mary Poss, the Reverend Terri Morgan said the CLF believes the people of Cadillac Heights "bear the direct burden of ill health, poverty and racial exploitation."
In a heartrending display of political desperation, the poor people of this neighborhood undertook a letter-writing campaign recently to Mitchell Daniels of the OMB, without having any clear sense of who or what he is, only because they had heard that a powerful man in Washington knew of their plight. Daniels had the personal decency to answer these letters with his own signed letter, in which he said in part that the Corps should have considered buying out the residents of Cadillac Heights instead of walling them in with a levee.
"The Administration believes that the Corps should not enter into a Project Cooperation agreement or begin any physical construction work on the authorized project until this and other concerns with this project are resolved," Daniels said in his letter to the residents.
Make no mistake about this. That's the White House speaking. That letter bore the presidential seal at the top. When it referred to the administration, it was with a capital A. That's the Executive Office of the President of the United States saying that this project smells to high heaven.
In the week before the council was to vote on signing the agreement, all of the members were lobbied by opponents of the project who pointed out that the project's future is extremely uncertain and that by signing the agreement the council would needlessly lock itself into the levee-building part of the project and forever preclude a federal buyout of Cadillac Heights. Several council members insisted that there would be nothing binding about the agreement and that they could get out of it or change it at any time in the future.
On the day of the vote, The Dallas Morning News published a Page One story by Victoria Loe Hicks establishing that the agreement would be binding and that a yes vote on it by the council would rule out the federal buyout for Cadillac Heights forever.
Councilman John Loza, who represents Cadillac Heights, made an eloquent plea for a no vote. He was joined by council member Dr. Elba Garcia, who said she was "voting from the heart" in opposing the agreement.
The rest of them ignored the testimony of the Baptist General Convention, ignored the damning report by the OMB, ignored all the evidence of fraud and chicanery brought to them by civic groups such as the League of Women Voters, and they voted for the city to sign the agreement anyway.
There is only one lesson here. Who cares if they get along with each other? If we put a mayor in office who means more of the same, we will never see an honest day at City Hall. The problem is that they get into these deals like the Trinity River, where two powerful forces are operating on them at the same time: 1) They don't get it, and 2) the fix is in.