Look back in anger

What a difference a year makes. And if we only knew then...
For example. Last winter, the majority of the Dallas city council balked at the idea of letting the voters decide whether or not to build a sports arena.

It was a ridiculous idea, they said, a stupid concept, an insult to their intelligence.

"The only concern I have," said councilman Glenn Box, who has since left the council, "is there's been a huge amount of misinformation this year. Like the idiotic poll this week."

The idiotic poll, if you recall, was conducted by a local marketing company that, on a slow business week, independently decided to quiz 500 registered voters in the city of Dallas about whether or not they wanted to spend their tax dollars on an arena.

Sixty-four percent said no.
But did Box and the other arena zealots--most particularly Mayor Steve Bartlett--get the message? Heck no. Instead, they dismissed the results out of hand, saying that the question itself was idiotic. Because we were not going to spend tax money on this thing.

To this day, I truly admire Box and Bartlett for sticking to their guns on this one--I mean, can you imagine their gall, telling people that the city was going to construct, operate, maintain, repair, staff, heat, and cool a cavernous, $141 million, publicly owned sports palace at no cost to the taxpayer?

Since this concept is a bit tricky to sell on the average dope who knows how to balance a checkbook, the mayor took a bold step last year and endorsed a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News--written by a political consultant and paid for by the bidness boys in town--to get this tricky point across.

"Q: Will taxpayers foot the bill for building a new arena?" the ad read.
"A: No. The cost of building a new arena would be paid by the teams and their fans."

In truth, the very week that Bartlett was publicly trumpeting this myth, he was privately beseeching area lawmakers to introduce legislation in Austin that would have generated millions in tax dollars for the new arena.

In retrospect, the whole arena debate was incredibly condescending in the dismissive way the elected officials viewed their public.

One particularly revealing comment came from councilmember Sandra Crenshaw, who said, "I don't think the voters understand the economics of all this."

Two months later, those stupid voters threw her off the city council.
Our city fathers told us, if you recall, that there was simply no time for such nonsense as a public vote--even a nonbinding, citywide straw poll. After all, they said, Mav's owner Don Carter was only giving the city until Feb. 24 to cut a deal--or he was out of here.

That's Feb. 24, 1995, mind you.
"I'm never opposed to allowing the voters to vote," mayoral candidate Ron Kirk said last March, "but I don't think we have the luxury of waiting until May [1995] to get the voters' input."

Ten months later, Carter's still here. With no new arena in sight.
Fear not, however. With absolutely no input from the public on this and a mayor who would rather massage Paul Fielding's feet than disappoint a millionaire looking for a handout, I predict a 1996 groundbreaking--using funds stripped from the convention center, which will therefore not get the facelift it needs on the old half, which will reduce convention bookings, which will lower the hotel-motel tax income (which goes to pay off the debt on the convention center expansion and Reunion Arena), which--listen up here math majors--will not generate enough income, even with both sports teams, to break even.

Happy New Year.
Speaking of Fielding, the fall of 1995 brought him an unexpected tonsillectomy. Which, as you can well imagine, is just about the worst thing that can happen to the man.

I mean, what is Fielding without his mouth?
What's Finlan without Venable? Caraway without Mallory? John Wiley Price without the 10 o'clock news?

To the mayor's credit, we did not see him celebrating while his No.1 nemesis was convalescing at home. Nor did we even detect a tiny, mayoral smirk when Fielding finally returned to city hall--orally crippled, sitting in on only parts of meetings, unable to toss out, with his usual abandon, his cynical two cents on most every city issue.

On the other hand, we must note here--for future biographers of the mayor, surely destined for higher office--that taking the thorn out of the mayor's paw does not necessarily result in a corresponding increase in productivity.

Perhaps it's the holidays. Perhaps it's the new restaurant Joey's. (I saw Kirk there just last week enjoying a leisurely two-hour lunch with a friend while mayoral chauffeur-bodyguard-slave Larry Conner stood outside in a leather jacket trying fruitlessly to warm his Christmas chestnuts.)

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Laura Miller

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