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Good God, That Was One Helluva Fight

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Well, I think I’m going to miss our Trinity River toll road campaign, though I can’t explain why. As in, why was it so contentious to decide whether to build a road we’re not entirely sure we can build through a park we’re not confident we can have? Somehow, this four-month campaign, hinged on issues that are years away from coming to fruition, polarized the city, with one faction passionate about a park and another passionate about sprawl.

Just in case it’s not perfectly obvious, I voted against the toll road, and it was the easiest vote of my entire life. I voted yes to Proposition 1 because one day in the distant future I’d like to be able to take a wife, a girlfriend or just Jack E. Jett to the new lakes during my lunch break and have a picnic. Or go for a run. Or walk my dog. I voted yes because I think that having a waterfront park downtown could make Dallas one of the best cities in the country -- or at least something other than a nondescript metropolitan area littered with strip malls, freeways and office buildings. I voted yes because, as someone who buys horizontal striped sweaters from the Gap, it’s so extraordinarily rare that I get to do the cool thing.

But the North Dallasites have spoken, and it’s time to move on, though not before we hand out our first and last Trinity River awards to the major and minor combatants of the campaign. Lifting a column prop from this guy, I’ve collected a series of Biblical quotes to hand out as prizes in a nod to our victorious mayor, the religious Tom Leppert, whose love for Christian rock speaks volumes about his sense of aesthetics.

"Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none." -- Ezekial 7:25

To the Dallas Citizens Council for spending $200,000 to push for a highway in a flood way that will result in pollution, sprawl, a ratty park and, quite possibly, a ravenous flood. Fine work.

"It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." -- Acts 9:5-6

I don’t know my faith as well as I should and never heard of this quote until it turned up in my Google search. Who knew the Bible could be so edgy? (Editor's note: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.)

Anyhow, this award goes to Angela Hunt, whose stature is now on par with Mayor Tom's and who overshadows the rest of the Leppert lapdogs who sit blindly and obediently at the horseshoe. Throughout the Trinity debate, Hunt had to respond to outright lies (Leppert’s false claim that the Army Corp of Engineers approved the toll road) lunacies (Craig Holcomb’s contention that Riverchon Park, situated right next to a toll road, is an appropriate role model for a world-class park) and Veletta Lill, Hunt’s predecessor whose contribution to our public debate was to crystallize how smug and condescending the Vote No! side’s points really were.

Yet even as the other side tried to distort the debate, Hunt stuck to her message, proffering a vision of Dallas as sleek, cutting-edge city that doesn’t do cartwheels to cater to commuters. That Hunt never really tried to come up with alternative location for the toll road -- I felt like she only half-heartedly pushed the Industrial option -- showed that she was out of sync with the majority of voters who care more about congestion than recreation. But rather than lie, like the opponents, and make a big phony argument (or even a big, factual one) in favor of Industrial, Hunt made it clear that her heart was in the park. To people who love Dallas, but would like it to move past the 1980s, Angela Hunt is their mayor.

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” --Matthew 6:34

To Mayor Tom Leppert, who staked his political future on a toll road that under the rosiest of scenarios almost definitely won’t be finished by the end of his second term -- if he makes it that far. A dynamic, forceful campaigner, Leppert deserves props for winning his second election of the year, but unlike in his triumphant mayor’s race, Leppert played loose and fast with the truth in desperate search of a victory for the people who spun him from whole cloth.

It’s only going to be bad news for Leppert from here on out, like when the cost of the road inevitably skyrockets past the $1.3-billion figure Leppert suggested was written in stone or if the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers says we can’t build the thing in the first place or when, 20 years from now, we have a truck-filled toll road by a park about as vibrant as a Papa John’s in Little Italy. Unless the toll road and park turn out exactly like those pretty pictures the NTTA showed us, Leppert will find what his predecessors discovered before him -- that being mayor of Dallas is a dead-end job.

"When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves." --Deuteronomy 7:1-220:10-17

Geez, the Old Testament is hard-core. I think I understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a little better now. Anyhow, this award also goes to Leppert, who has given every indication that he will go scorched earth on Hunt and everyone who lined up on her side.

Leppert foreshadowed his lack of munificence when he inexplicably left Hunt off the City Council’s Trinity River committee -- even though she clearly knows more about the project than any of Leppert’s Lap Dogs. (And yes, I’m trying to make that into a catch phrase.) But Leppert had a chance to belatedly strike a blow for civic unity by acknowledging Hunt, or at least her supporters, during his victory speech from Gilley’s on Tuesday.

You see, there is a dignified political tradition we have in America where, after the election -- even a bitter, hard-fought one like this -- the winner takes special pains to praise the loser. On Tuesday night, though, Leppert didn’t so much as mention Hunt’s name or even offer faint praise to the TrinityVote side. How hard would it have been for Leppert to tell his business-friendly audience, “Angela Hunt and the Vote Yes! side care as much about the future of the Trinity River Project as we do, and we need to tap into their passion and dedication to make sure we have something that all sides of the debate can be proud of.” Would that have been that difficult?

And, another thing, Mr. Mayor, it was extraordinarily tacky for you to let Veletta Lill join the throng of celebratory council members behind you during your speech. Just because your creators are pushing her to run against Hunt, a contest in which Lill will get trounced, didn’t mean that you should have given her a chance to stand hand in hand with the current council for a photo op. It looked like you were trying to marginalize Hunt all over again.

"For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass." --James 1:23

To The Dallas Morning News’ Steve Blow, who, as bears consistent repeating, doesn’t even live in Dallas and continually pumped up the value of a toll road culture with gems like these: "The truth is that a far greater number of people will enjoy the new Trinity parks through their windshields than in a kayak or on a jogging path. And that's OK. That's the way I most often enjoy White Rock Lake."

Other than Leppert nonchalantly comparing the construction of a toll road in a flood way to building the Suez Canal and the Eiffel Tower, Blow’s windshield remark was the single most maddening statement of the campaign. Seriously, Steve? We build parks so people can enjoy them from their cars? Is it that right? Have you ever been to White Rock Lake on one of those glorious Sunday afternoons where you’re actually thrilled to live in Dallas, as kids, parents, runners, cyclists, dogs and couples bask in one of the most beautiful urban parks in the country? Can you just check it out and tell me, save for that tiny stretch between the spillway and Garland Road, how many cars pass you by traveling faster than 20 miles per hour? OK. I’m done.

"As Noah prepared the ark by faith in the warning given that the flood would come, so he went into it, by faith in this warning that it would come quickly. And on the day Noah was securely fixed in the ark, the fountains of the great deep were broken up." --Genesis 7-6

This award goes to my colleague Jim Schutze, who, like Noah, did some of his best work after turning 100. (Boo-yah!) Schutze has spent years railing against the folly off building a road inside the Trinity River’s earthen levees, and just when it appeared all his hard work was about to pay off, the Vote No! side cobbles together a tiny victory by convincing North Dallas to vote for their interests and southern Dallas to vote against theirs. If and when the flood comes, I expect Jim to be in his arc -- or, in this case, a Mitsubishi SUV -- heading west to Santa Fe, mumbling incoherently like Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye." --Matthew 7:3

To The Dallas Morning News editorial board, who avidly reported on the perceived flaws of the TrinityVote side without spending anywhere close to the time and energy pointing out the fallacies of building a toll road through a park. If the edit board wants to remind readers of its stance on the issue 452 times in the week before the election, fine. I like it when a newspaper flexes its muscles. But at least pretend to get worked up when Leppert repeatedly discredits the anti-toll roaders' concerns about the project by falsely saying that the Army Corp of Engineers has signed off on the project.

And at least feign outrage when Dave Levinthal, one of your best reporters, writes that the Vote No! side can’t begin to back up the statements in a direct-mail piece that sums up their entire campaign. Finally, how could you not condemn, again and again and again, the hired goon blockers sent to scuttle the referendum in the first place? If The Dallas Morning News and its edit board paid the same attention to the toll road argument as it does to the inner administrative workings of DISD, everyone but Veletta Lill would have voted yes.

“I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." --Jeremiah 29:11

To my fellow East Dallas residents, who voted overwhelmingly against the toll road and in support of Hunt, who represents a large swath of the area. Given the unlikely alliance between northern and southern Dallas, those of us on the wrong side of Central Expressway are likely to be the losing end of many more elections. There’s not a whole lot to look forward to politically, so let’s hope you all have faith in an afterlife, because there’s not going to be much for you in this one. Have a good weekend! --Matt Pulle

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