Just two days after suffering the worst defeat of his short political career, Mayor Tom Leppert offered something different from his typical canned State of the City address that we've grown accustomed to hearing around this time of year.
"I am very optimistic about the state of our city, but I will also tell you that for the first time since I've been mayor, my optimism about Dallas also has a cautious note," he told an enthralled crowd at the Hyatt Regency this afternoon.
While he did reissue a punch line we've caught before (A random citizen approaches him at a public place and says something like, "Hey, you look familiar. Aren't you the mayor of ... Houston?") and spent the majority of his 30-minute speech discussing pet projects like his downtown vacant buildings initiative, complaining that the city's health care costs are too high and touting another drop in the overall crime rate (down 8.5 percent from last year), he found time to address a few touchy subjects.
We already told you about his reaction to the just-released dash-cam footage -- "this kind of behavior is absolutely, absolutely unacceptable" -- but he also had strong words for the folks over at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While he didn't name the federal agency directly, Leppert said he and City Manager Mary Suhm are frustrated with "some of our federal partners," which are "not accountable to the citizens of Dallas."
Leppert and Suhm both scampered off before we could get clarification, but Leppert left little doubt that the corps is one of the partners he was calling out.
"Their decisions too many times do not seem to consider how long things will take, how much it will cost and the financial and safety impact on the property owners on both sides of the levees," he said. "If there are really safety issues, then let's lay them out and quickly move forward. But the process to finding a solution must move resolutely forward."
Prior to his criticism, Leppert gushed about the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge -- "the strongest indication that the pieces of the Trinity River Corridor Project are finally at long last falling into place" -- and said the ongoing improvements to the city's floodway will "culminate in a benchmark levee system" for the country.
With all of his white council colleagues on hand, sans Angela Hunt, and only Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway attending from the group of seven minority council members who opposed Leppert on the Love Field Airport contract extensions and recent tax hike, the mayor cautioned the audience not to be overwhelmed by the headlines about the budget, some of which he said were "perpetuated unfortunately by politics." (Wait, wasn't he the one sending out campaign e-mails and pricey mailers?)
"That kind of news can really cloud one's perspective, one's conclusions and the decisions that we make about the direction of our city," he said.
After mentioning the successes at The Bridge homeless shelter, Leppert segued into the controversy surrounding Cliff Manor in Dave Neumann's district. The anger and concern expressed by neighbors was "understandable" regarding DHA's plan to convert some of the units there into permanent supportive housing, the mayor said, but he thanked those who "stayed engaged in the process."
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Along with the council members in the room, notables like Dallas Citizens Council chair Joel Allison, SMU president Gerald Turner, University of North Texas System Chancellor Lee Jackson, state Reps. Will Hartnett and Carol Kent, former city council member Bob Stimson and Republican Dallas County judge candidate Wade Emmert were treated to Leppert's big news about the city-owned Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel.
"If you promise not to tell anybody, I'll let you know they are running ahead of schedule and are opening at the end of next year, not 2012," he said.
With the secret telling out of the way, Leppert wrapped up with a few challenges looking forward: education, bringing more businesses and jobs to the city and improving the southern and western part of the city.
Ah, that's more like it. Doesn't get any more canned than that.