Well, it's time, once again, for your end-of-the-week rankings of the top eight mayoral candidates. Usually when I do this I make it clear there is a very distinct chance I don't know what I'm talking about. Now, I have an additional caveat: I didn't attend a single mayoral forum this week. Not one. I was working on a story on the mayor's race for the paper version of Unfair Park that will appear on Wednesday, so this week's assessment is even less informed than usual.
Of course, I'm not entirely sure I missed anything by skipping a week's worth of forums. I already know that Tom Leppert's father died when he was young. I already know that Max Wells has a "love affair" with Dallas. I already know that Darrell Jordan lived in Dallas in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and how that seminal event left an indelible mark on his soul. What else do I need to know by going to another round of forums?
Actually, I'll be back on the campaign trail next week, even if it's as much an exercise in futility in explaining the value of a quiet note to Timbaland.
Yesterday, nearly all of the candidates disclosed their latest campaign donations, and, as expected, Tom Leppert led the field having raised $553,166. That should guarantee him victory. After all, we all remember the last time Carol Reed ran a heavily funded candidate against a black opponent from the Southern sector with tax problems. Oh, wait.
I'm not sure how campaign donations matter in a local election. I'm not saying they don't, but to what degree I have no idea. Don Hill, who told The Dallas Morning News he only had $15,000 at hand, may not need a dime to make the run-off. His chances depend on how well Leppert, Max Wells and Ed Oakley can carve into his Southern sector base. To put it more bluntly for Wells and Leppert, can a white guy from North Dallas beat an entrenched black council member from Oak Cliff on his home turf? Right now, I'm saying no, but, as usual, I reserve the right to about as wrong on this as Carol Reed was about Craig Watkins. And with that, here's your top eight:
1) Don Hill: I'm sticking with Don Hill, even though he had as bad a week as Mike Nifong. The news yesterday that Hill's mayoral fundraising lags far behind nearly all of his competitors wasn't good at all. Even worse, the way he handled it underscored his lack of organizational skills. He was the only candidate who didn't file his financial reports with the city -- and even Jennifer Gale managed to file his/her $137 in contributions with the clerk's office. It wasn't all bad, however: This week he did pick up the endorsement of the Dallas Firefighters Association, which is an important and credible group.
Still, why am I sticking with Hill at the top spot? Well, he still seems like a safe bet to make the run-off, given that nearly all of the competitive council races are in the Southern sector and all of the black council members in the Southern sector have endorsed him. If turnout is low and it only takes 15,000 votes to play till June, how does Hill not get this? Somebody post an explanation.
2) The Dallas Citizens Council: Sometimes when a basketball player or football player wins an MVP award, he dedicates it to the whole team, explaining that he couldn't have done it without them. In that spirit of magnanimousness , I hand the No.2 ranking to the Dallas Citizens Council, who as far as many people are concerned, created Tom Leppert out of thin air. If I were Darrell Jordan, a resident of Dallas for nearly 45 years, a former managing partner of my law firm, a former president of the State Bar of Texas and a member of the board that tried to bring the 2012 Olympics to Dallas, I'd be a little bit resentful that a relative newcomer to the city may wind up kicking my ass on election day. By all accounts, Leppert was a very smart, effective and progressive CEO of Turner Construction, and he'll probably make a good mayor. But at some point, someone needs to make him earn one of the top two spots here.
3) Ed Oakley: Who knew this was coming? In the last filing period, covering all of 2007, Oakley raised nearly as much money as Leppert. Oakley is going to be right up there. His campaign message is almost identical to Don Hill's -- If you like the direction the city is going, I'm the person to choose -- but he has money and a relatively clean slate. Plus, he's probably the best campaign strategist of the whole lot. For now though, I'm still putting Hill and Leppert ahead of him, but it's by the thinnest of margins -- and I may not know what I'm talking about.
4) Max Wells: I think there is some separation between the above three candidates and Wells. But Wells should run really well in his old Lake Highlands-Far North Dallas council district, and I think John Wiley Price will come through for him, even though when it comes to backing the winning horse, Price is on a worse losing streak than I was in high school when I couldn't get a prom date until my friend Charis felt sorry for me. (Hey, it's painful disclosure week on Unfair Park.)
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5) Darrell Jordan: Jordan doesn't have the luxury of having a past or current constituency like Wells, Hill and Jordan, and he doesn't have Leppert's money. So if he's going to beat three of them next month, he may have to go on the attack fairly soon. He doesn't have to get nasty, but the guy is an accomplished lawyer, and he should be able to forcefully pick apart his rivals campaigns, most of which are premised on very dubious claims. At some point Jordan is going to have to decide if he's just an extraordinarily smart, friendly and magnanimous guy who is the perfect choice to serve on this city's most important boards and commissions or if has a tough, calculating and confrontational side that most successful political candidates have.
6) Sam Coats: The flap over his board membership on TXI is not a good thing for his campaign. What I don't understand is this: If I were an environmental activist, I'd want to keep someone like Coats -- an open-minded, thoughtful progressive -- on the board of a major polluter. Because what are the chances that his replacement would be better? What are the chances that his replacement would meet with you and dutifully listen to your concerns, like Coats did with the members of Downwinders at Risk? There's no chance. If you kick Coats off the board, his replacement is going to be a lot worse. But I also don't get why Coats would launch a tough bid for mayor on a strategy that he can win Democratic voters without realizing that his connections to TXI would come back to haunt him. That was foolish and has detracted from a very bright and witty campaign.
7) Gary Griffith: That Griffith would think that an ad explaining his love for Rudy Giuliani would actually be of importance to local voters says a lot about the struggle he's having reminding people he's in the race. That Giuliani's law firm gave money to Leppert's campaign makes this a kicker. My guess is that Griffith has too much support in his Lakewood council district, if not other pockets of East Dallas, to finish this low, but after the week he had, where else can I put him?
8) John Cappello: J.C. sneaks into the top eight by virtue of the fact that I didn't have to hear him this week. Cappello, like the rest of them, is a very nice guy, but at some point he might need to do this crazy thing some candidates do when they explain who they are and why people should vote for them. --Matt Pulle