Maybe you've seen them, the billboards selling "Erma Bombeck for Dallas mayor" and "Cesar Romero for Dallas mayor." You have? You don't get it? Neither did Buzz.

Was this some sort of hip, postmodern commentary on the mayoral election? A dig at mayoral candidate Laura Miller's new happy homemaker persona or some vague ethnic commentary on her opponent Domingo Garcia?

Then we noted that Bombeck, Romero and their fellow billboard candidates--Roy Rogers and Lawrence Welk--were all dead. Odd. While the dead have a long and proud history of voting in Texas elections, they don't generally field candidates. (Honestly, though, has anyone checked Tom Dunning's pulse lately? Just wondering.)

But Buzz is here to answer your questions, not merely ask them, so we called billboard company ClearChannel Outdoor to find out what's up. A nice woman there explained: It's a get-out-and-vote campaign.

"We just really wanted to get something out that would get people talking," she said.

Well, they suckered Buzz, anyway. Do we count as people?

ClearChannel has erected 30 of the billboards around the city in cooperation with WFAA and The Dallas Morning News. ClearChannel is donating the ad space, worth about $22,000 retail. The goal is to attract the curious to the media outlets' Web sites, where they can find a link to real information about the city election. (Strangely, the link on the Morning News site to the effort has disappeared. Buzz suspects that the News' regular readers--average age 108--may not have understood that the daily was being clever. Those wacky kids.)

The nice woman at ClearChannel said the company wanted "to pick people who weren't with us anymore" to avoid confusion and, one suspects, to keep from getting sued by celebrities who might take offense at being connected to Dallas politics. "We were going to pick Texas history characters but decided to go with more pop-culture characters...We wanted to challenge people a little bit, but we didn't want people they never heard of." In other words, make them obscure enough to pique voters' curiosity, but don't confuse them.

A noble effort. A little strange, but noble. And here's a thought: If you know who Erma Bombeck and Cesar Romero were, but can't quite put your finger on Sam Rayburn or William Travis or "Ma" Ferguson, you should definitely vote--and make it a "yes" for the Dallas school bond issue.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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