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Oak Cliff's Better Nature Takes Charge

The Oak Cliff secession movement in 1990 was one of Oak Cliff's very few expressions of political will in the last 30 years, and even that weak attempt at assertiveness was based on the region's profound inferiority complex. Its ethos was sort of: If you're going to treat us like your red-headed child anyway, then, fine, we don't want to be in your damned family any more.

I don't remember anybody saying, "Oh, no, please stay." Most of the Yankee blow-ins said, "What's Oak Cliff?"

It's right across the river from downtown. Oak Cliff is hilly, forested with cedars and can feel like Austin if you blink your eyes. And smoke some dope.

At the turn of the previous century it was upscale. The turn-of-the-previous-century was a long time ago. In 1990 Oak Cliff was at the wrong end of white flight -- well, maybe that was the right end, come to think of it. But the point is, Oak Cliff was decidedly down at the heels.

There have always been two strands of leadership in Oak Cliff: the proud champions versus the grovelers. On the one hand you have guys like Bob Stimson, a former city council member and current president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, who has always known that Oak Cliff is cool and wouldn't live anywhere else if you paid him. But then there also always has been this parade of leaders, often on the city council, who think Oak Cliff should settle for whatever it can get because it can't get much anyway.

That was what was wrong with Dave Neumann, the incumbent who just got voted off the city council. Just an example: People in Oak Cliff had been fighting for years to get the right kind of mixed development on Fort Worth Avenue -- a very tough fight because it means somebody had to borrow money to build to a market that isn't there yet.

So right in the fat middle of all that, without any consultation with the people who had invested all that time, Neumann comes along with former Mayor Tom Leppert and announces he's done a deal with Walmart for the very area they were working on.


I'm not a Walmart-hater, in the right place and time. But Walmart in that location kills all kinds of other efforts to do something new and better. Walmart just soaks up all the business. It's the retail equivalent of a bad Japanese nuke plant. Nobody can get near it. Nobody can borrow money to go in and do small shops or organic grocery stores or anything like that. The money's all going to say, "Hey, there's a Walmart going in there, forget it."

And here's the point: Neumann was proud of the Walmart deal. He was expressing the old Oak Cliff chip-on-the-shoulder, down-in-the-mouth, better'n-a-sharp-stick-in-the-eye fatalism.

Wow, it'll be a brand-new Walmart instead of a used one trucked in from East Texas!

So guess who one of the people on the other side of that whole fight was? Scott Griggs, the guy who beat Neumann in the election last weekend. Griggs is the other strand -- the proud, smart one.

It's very exciting. It's Oak Cliff's better nature stepping to the wheel of the ship. It's all about Oak Cliff is cool, Oak Cliff rules and no more Oak Cliff fools.

I'm not saying it hasn't always been there. It has. That's why I talked about Stimson. But the fact that the voters of Oak Cliff turned to that better nature now and away from the old nature is very exciting and just damned happy news.

Oak-Cliff-Oh just became Oak Cliff-Oh-Yeah.

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