Mayor's New Pro-Hotel Pal Can't Defend Leppert's Promises During Trinity Campaign and Advocacy of Inland Port Delay

As mentioned in this week's cover story, one of the reasons former council member Ed Oakley says he lost to Tom Leppert in the '07 mayoral runoff was his decision to run a negative campaign in the final weeks. Oakley's negativity climaxed with taking a cheap shot at Leppert by airing a TV ad that focused on his facial tic, along with claiming his construction company was up to no good during his tenure.

So we were a bit, well, confused when Oakley told us he was throwing himself into the hotel campaign because of the anti-hotel group's TV ads attacking Leppert and mailers portraying the mayor and council member Ron Natinsky as "criminals."

"I'm personally getting involved in this campaign because I'm offended by the ads," Oakley said, sitting in a Starbucks just hours before attending a pro-hotel rally in front of City Hall.

Five days later, Oakley became a member of Enough is Enough's steering committee, a group of businesspeople and politicians outraged at the personal attacks of Leppert coming from the anti-hotel group. But when we spoke with Oakley, he revealed shaky confidence in some of Leppert's statements issued during the Trinity River toll road campaign.

Although he doesn't remember it, Oakley was in attendance at the September 2007 Oak Cliff debate where Leppert assured the audience that the North Texas Tollway Authority pledged $1 billion to the road and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "signed off" on the project. As a former chair of the city council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee, Oakley admitted that if he or former Mayor Laura Miller were debating instead of Leppert, their knowledge about the issue would have been much greater given Leppert's short duration in office at the time.

"He took the facts that he had, and he either misinterpreted them or misspoke," he said. "And I would call that the amount of experience that came with the job from June to October."

If Leppert did misspeak, Oakley said it doesn't make him a liar. "He may have not had all of the information or he may have mixed information up," he said. "But I think what he said in there, he believed."

While Oakley wouldn't label Leppert's comments as misleading, he offered a much different response to whether he would have said the corps approved the road. "I would have probably said all of that is in progress. We're going through the process."

Oakley didn't address Leppert's role in advocating for a study that would have delayed the inland port project 18 months, but he said there's "a huge fear that the Alliance Airport folks don't want this." The inland port in South Dallas is a combination of rail yards and trucking centers that will compete for international shipping business with Alliance Airport, an industrial airport in Fort Worth managed by Ross Perot Jr.

When asked if Leppert's close ties with Perot might be influencing the mayor, Oakley said, "I've heard that." He also addressed the controversy involving developer Richard Allen, county commissioner John Wiley Price, Leppert and Perot.

"There is this perception and there is this concern that the influences from Alliance will affect the ability for this to get developed and compete," Oakley said. "And if there are alliances between commissioner Price and the mayor and Perot and whatever entities, and if I had invested in ownership of 6,000 acres of land, I think I would have a lot of concerns about that."

Leppert is "doing a great job," Oakley said, and he cited repealing verified response as the only major issue when he disagreed with him. "I don't know why political capital was spent on reversing that other than a few people who contributed to enough campaigns that got enough votes to redo it."

The mayor won't have much time to relax after the Saturday referendums on Proposition 1 and 2 as the city council faces a significant budget deficit. "I can't even imagine in my wildest imagination how this council will balance a $100 million shortfall without a tax increase," Oakley said. "And it's not about being conservative, it's about being realistic."

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