Mayor Mike Rawlings Is Refusing to Debate the Trinity Toll Road, and That's Weird

To: Mayoral Candidate Marcos Ronquillo From: Concerned Citizen Jim Schutze Concerning: Please don't mention toll road.

Marcos, I see here that you have a mayoral candidate forum coming up next week in Oak Cliff, where you are scheduled to debate Mayor Mike Rawlings on the issues. I know from our previous conversations that the Trinity toll road is a matter of personal concern for you, so I assume you had planned on bringing that up with the mayor. I just wanted to give you a heads-up, based on a conversation I had with the mayor earlier this week:

Don't do it.

The mayor has ruled out the toll road as a topic that he is willing to debate. It's just out. He told me he has decided not to debate it. Period. He said, "I have made it real clear to people who have asked me that I am not going to debate the tollway situation."

This came up because of a situation in which a city council member, Philip Kingston, attempted to enter one of these forum deals, similar to your own. He intended to ask the mayor some things about the toll road. I don't know if you saw my report on this. If not, you need to be reading Unfair Park more faithfully.

Anyway, the deal was that Kingston had been invited by a member of the Dallas Breakfast Club, a business group, to attend a meeting where Rawlings was supposed to give everybody a sales pitch for the toll road. At the last minute, when Kingston was at the door and already had his name tag on, the club sent some muscle out and told Kingston he wasn't welcome.

I was there with my hatcam on, and I filmed it. A commenter on Unfair Park suggested later that wearing a hatcam is not the sort of thing one expects from a professional journalist. I agree.

Later in the day I called Rawlings' office to ask if the Breakfast Club had bounced Kingston at his request. I asked Rawlings, because every time I asked Kingston why he got bounced -- and I did ask him a few times -- Kingston just kept saying Rawlings' name and doing that "bok-bok-bok" thing with the elbow-flapping. So, you know, he was saying they bounced him because Rawlings was chicken to answer questions about the toll road.

Rawlings did call me back, which was nice of him. His answer was a little unclear. He said he had no idea why the Breakfast Club bounced Kingston. Well, wait. He actually said he "couldn't speak for them." Maybe that's a little different from saying he had no idea.

But he also said this: "I have made it real clear to people who have asked me that I am not going to debate the tollway situation."

Shazam. Will not talk about it. I asked why.

"There is nothing on the ballot that the citizens are voting about," he said. "It's a public issue that everybody's writing about ... It's just something that I decided some time ago that I'm not going to get out there and do."

Well, you know, there you have it. He will not debate you on the toll road issue. And, Marcos, please excuse me, but since I intend to publish this note on Unfair Park, I need to take a second to tell some of our readers who may not be familiar what we mean by "toll road issue."

The mayor says we need to spend between one and two billion dollars building a six-to-ten-lane tolled expressway along the river through downtown. We don't have the money. He has promised that it will not be an expressway but maybe more like a two-lane country road. Opponents say the road as authorized by the feds has to be a six-to-ten-lane expressway or nothing. The mayor says it will help people get to work faster. Opponents say federal studies show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the toll road will not work as a time-saver.

The mayor told me he intends to tell people his view. "I hope my point of view is really clear," he said. "My point of view is that we can have our cake and eat it, too, on this." But he's not going to take any questions.

I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I am pretty certain that the mayor will have no objection to you going out and giving your own point of view on the toll road in separate presentations. But he's not going to allow you to ask him any questions face-to-face about his own point of view.

I asked Councilman Kingston why he thought the mayor wanted to have the toll road issue handled this way, with separate presentations by each side but no head-to-head challenging by either side of the other side's arguments. He just kept doing the bok-bok-bok thing with the elbow-flapping. I found it sort of embarrassing. We were in a fancy coffee shop downtown, and here he was doing bok-bok-bok. There was nobody around, though, so I guess it was OK.

All right, that's it for now, word to the wise and so on. Obviously you will deal with this rather delicate matter in the way you see fit. You will have to appear with him at a bunch of these candidate forums between now and May, so you'll have to figure something out.

I don't know what to suggest. If you decide to go the bok-bok-bok route, you should see Kingston do it first. He has got that sucker down. I can't do the bok-bok-bok, because I'm too dignified. I have my hatcam to think about.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze