Don Hill Has "Courage." So, Thanks, FBI!

Low on dough, Don Hill's finally talking about that danged ol' FBI investigation. Yeah, right -- what FBI investigation?
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Well, he brought it up. This afternoon, at a mayoral forum hosted by the Stemmons Corridor Business Association, Don Hill mentioned that he has been the subject of an FBI investigation. Of course, Hill didn’t break any news; everyone's known about the feds' interest in Hill ever since they were seen executing a search warrant at his law office in Oak Cliff on a Monday in June 2005. But of all the forums I've attended, this is the first time I heard him say anything about it.

Hill handled it well, somehow turning his role in a federal inquiry into allegations of bribery at City Hall into a testament to his character. He says that since the FBI began its investigation, he helped pass a $1.35-billion bond package and Forward Dallas!, while also working on the Inland Port in Southern Dallas. And he’s right about that: The FBI investigation didn’t impede his effectiveness as a council member one bit, which says something about him and his colleagues.

“I believe I demonstrated the courage you want in a leader,” he said at the forum. “I’m a leader who has been tested under fire.”

Hill then asked the audience to judge him on his performance as a council member and not on the investigation. While not disparaging the agency in any way, Hill quipped that “it didn’t take two years to charge Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, and I don’t think I’m as smart of a person.” The audience chuckled at Hill’s joke, and with that, he moved on.

It probably doesn’t matter much, but Hill’s joke is a little off. The Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Enron in October 2001. Skilling was not indicted until February 2004; Lay, five months later. So, by that accounting, Hill still has a few months to go.

As for the rest of the forum, it was relatively uneventful, other than a mild jab Max Wells took at Tom Leppert for coming out against his crime district plan. Leppert had earlier called it a tax -- which it is -- and said that the city needed to have the “fiscal discipline to put our money where our mouth is.” Wells retorted that Leppert hasn’t been in Dallas long enough to grasp the crime problem.

“Tom, you’ve moved here from Hawaii, and you’ve been here three and a half years,” Wells said. He also said, correctly, that Leppert wants to hire more officers but has absolutely no plan on how to pay for them. He doesn’t want a sales tax hike and won’t say if he’d reallocate the money from existing public programs -- parks, libraries? -- to the police department. Wells comeback seemed effective; it will be interesting to see if he starts going on the offensive against Leppert now.

Of all the candidates in the race, only Leppert and Wells have sparred with each other to any noticeable degree. The two candidates are natural rivals: Although both loyal Republicans, Leppert and Wells are vying to become the candidate of the local business community. Leppert may have a larger share of support from the Dallas Citizens Council, but Wells, who is endorsed by Ray Hunt, should also run well with the business types. If The Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers is right and the mayor’s race is all about getting out your base, then Leppert and Wells will continue to tweak each other until election day. --Matt Pulle

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