No Bird, No Bush

Whoa there, pod'nuh. Let's pull this buggy over and catch our breath for a second. Some major developments occurred last week, and I didn't see news of it oozing out from the usual media. There were stories about the details, for sure, but I didn't see anybody pointing out the really big news. Before we rush on down the road, could we review?

The big ongoing story in Dallas, I don't have to tell you, is the election next May to ditch the city manager system and establish a "strong mayor" structure for City Hall. The big news last week was that virtually all of the dyed-in-the-wool, fight-to-the-death opponents of establishing a strong-mayor system in Dallas came out with their own versions of a strong-mayor system in Dallas.

Let's not be fancy with the analysis. The headline I did not see but should have seen was: "Strong-Mayor Opponents Come Out in Favor of Strong Mayor."

Is that a hello or what? But I didn't see it. Three weeks ago, every single member of the city council except the mayor was adamantly opposed to any kind of strong-mayor system and said it would lead to the city being taken over by communist mafia Yankee bastards. Now as of last week, the city council says it's working on its own strong-mayor proposal.

The Dallas Citizens Council apparently is going to float its own version of a strong-mayor system. You may not know who they are. It's a private group that meets in secret and used to run the city. I don't know a lot about them beyond that. I think they may have secret handshakes and hats with animal horns on them, stuff like that. But we're supposed to care.

Oh, here's the best part: The "Coalition for Open Government," which is the main anti-strong mayor organization, is also working on a strong-mayor proposal.

How could this be? Please allow me to suggest a theory, a historical parallel. I don't mean to diminish the role of the French Resistance in fighting the Nazis--they truly were courageous and effective--but it seems to be fact that many French people joined the Resistance more or less as De Gaulle was marching into Paris. It's called getting on the right side of history.

For the last month the opponents of a strong-mayor reform have been carrying out various levels of public opinion measurement. I can't get anybody to admit they have done any high-definition polling, but the Coalition, for example, has been running phone banks in which part of what they do is solicit the opinions of the people they call. And I suspect that somebody by now has done some even better measuring, because people with big checkbooks often want to test the wind before writing big checks.

What can we see? What is the best indicator of the way public opinion must be running? It's the fact that all of the opponents of a strong-mayor reform have basically jumped off their own ships and are now swimming madly for strong mayor island.

Sure, they have an agenda, and I understand it. I may even lean toward it. Or I should say I might have leaned toward it before it started looking so stupid. They want to tell you to vote against the "Blackwood Proposal"--the strong-mayor reform on the ballot May 7--in order to give them time to come up with their own more better strong-mayor proposals more later.

So, let's say you're you. And you think City Hall is a junk pile. You're in favor of the strong-mayor thing mainly because you want to be able to focus on at least one person down there whom you can hold accountable. And now here come all these people waving paper at you and shouting, "Oh, no, hold on, you need to vote against this thing next May so you can vote more later for our more better ideas."

OK. What are their ideas? This brings us to the second major hello of last week. My headline for that story would have been: "Backers of Alternate Strong-Mayor Proposals Unable to Agree on Proposals."

Look, let's take this down to the basics. What is the bottom-line accusation here, the source of the city's malaise, the real reason people are so mad at the Dallas City Council? It's that people think the city council can't agree on anything.

So what happens when the council denounces these accusations, says they are unfair, says it can, too, agree on things, says we don't need a strong-mayor reform at all, says it has its own much better strong-mayor idea that we do need and then says it can't decide on what its idea is?

This is called reinforcing negative stereotypes. It's usually done by others to you. When you do it to yourself, it's called destiny.

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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