No 'Doze

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I talked with Mike Daniel, a veteran civil rights lawyer and major figure in housing desegregation in the city (and a Democrat, I might mention).

Daniel said of Oakley's statements on the apartment issue, "The man is talking purely in thinly veiled overt racial statements."

In Oakley's standard stump speech, he often speaks anecdotally about apartment buildings where police have been called out several times in one night. Daniel recalled an old ally in the housing desegregation wars of the past: Daniel's ally was confronted at a public meeting by homeowners waving sheaves of crime statistics showing a high incidence of police calls at nearby apartments.

"They said, 'Here, look, we got the crime statistics,'" Daniel told me. "He said, 'OK, you've told me where the victims live. Are you suggesting that the white people who live in the single-family homes are coming in and victimizing these people?'"

Daniel said, "The fact that there is an incidence of crime at an apartment complex just tells you where the victims are."

Hey. That's a good point. If there is crime in an apartment complex, isn't the community's obligation to go in and protect the honest, decent, hard-working residents of that complex? I mean, isn't that true at least for Democrats? As Democrats, can we really be outside in a mob with torches screaming "DE-MOL-ISH! DE-MOL-ISH!" What's left for the Republicans to do?

And just while we're at it, allow me to touch on another Democrat/Republican thing. Whenever Oakley is pressed on how he would make the DE-MOL-ISH! thing happen, he always refers to the city's so-called TIF programs—a fancy term for big tax breaks for developers.

Presumably the city would create incentives for developers to go in and DE-MOL-ISH! apartment buildings they would not otherwise be inclined to take on. Beneath a picture of a bulldozer, Oakley's mailers promise to replace apartments with "privately developed, single family for-sale homes."

So I have a question: If we're going to use millions of dollars in tax money to make this happen, what's so private-enterprise about that? Why isn't it a tax-funded distortion of the marketplace?

You think I'm reaching? I spoke with Gerry Henigsman, executive vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, who told me he has two main problems with Oakley's rhetoric: 1) private multi-family housing construction is leading the Dallas economy upward, and 2) the most common, effective and stable remedy for bad apartment buildings out there in the real world has been redevelopment by the private sector—not Commissar Oakley on his Caterpillar tractor.

"What I don't like and I think is really unfair," Hennigsman said, "is when you paint the entire multifamily housing stock with the same brush."

Citing several areas around town where multifamily is being upgraded or rebuilt by private-sector developers, he said, "They're the ones that are leading the way. The truth of the matter is, most of the time what will lead the redevelopment of an area will be multifamily, because it brings in the rooftops that you then need to support the retail and commercial and that type of thing."

Even that is a little too Republican for me, because it assumes that knocking down poor people's apartments and replacing them with rich people's apartments is a good thing. I just have this sentimental, bleeding-heart notion that poor people should live indoors too.

I did a reality check with Ken Molberg, a lawyer and longtime leader and activist in the local Democratic Party. He gave me about the best justification I have heard for swallowing hard and voting for Oakley anyway:

"I start with the proposition that I don't want the same old bunch of backroom boys up in North Dallas deciding what happens in this city. I've seen it happen too many times over the years. And that's where I firmly put Leppert, without question."

He said that makes Oakley his only choice: "I do believe that this is a guy whose ear will be directed toward people who are very much concerned about things like I am, which is the environment. I don't claim that Ed is your top-notch environmentalist by any means.

"But I think he's a good solid listener, and he's a mechanic, and if you can get his ear, he will listen to you and he can do something with it."

Yeah. Then I talked to another lifelong Democrat who is a serious environmentalist. She said, "Oakley is the worst disaster for the environment who has ever served on the city council."

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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