I tend to keep a sharp nose out for possible nearby flatulence, and I am beginning to pick up strong whiffs from the old downtown political establishment -- the ones former Mayor Laura Miller always called "The Boys" -- in terms of how they will deal with next May's watershed City Hall elections in Dallas.
We have chatted here about this before -- the elections, not the flatulence per se. I have not been the Lone Ranger in proposing that next May's council election could be the biggest City Hall game-changer that anybody now living, even really old people, will remember.
See also: The Next City Council Election
Or not. Some people don't want the game to change. I'm starting to see where they will go and what they will say in order to head off change. And you know what? They may win. It all depends.
Already the champions of the old way of doing things are going around town talking to key groups, meaning people who can put money into races, preaching two main messages: 1) Because six single-district council members are being forced out by term limits, the election will be a big chaotic mess, and 2) In all those races, unscrupulous hippie a'ginners opposed to all things good will take advantage of the chaos by scaring people, telling them they should fight the future, and we all know how stupid those people are. Therefore, write big checks to fight the a'ginners.
That's their North Dallas and big bucks strategy. We already told you here about their South Dallas strategy, to paint their opponents as racist elitists who want to make it harder for non-whites to get to work.
Crazy, right? Anybody who opposes the old elite is a wacko-hippie-a'ginner-Luddite-racist-elitist opposed to the future and against increased minority employment. Who would believe that?
If our benchmark is the 2007 Trinity toll road referendum, a majority of people may believe it. Only it won't be put that way. Instead, the old regime will simply do again what it did in 2007 -- stand with its hands on its hips at the community forums and say, "They have no alternative."
That actually can be a devastatingly effective political argument, because silence from the other side is all the proof it needs. Silence from the other side reduces that side to sheer opposition.
We're against the toll road. We're against highways. We're against the golf course. We're against the horse park. Guess what? So far, we're just against. And against doesn't get it.
Hey, nobody moved to Dallas or stayed here to be within walking distance of Belo Garden, nice as it is, nice as it is. We're not San Francisco. There's not a view of the bay to base your entire life on, for better or for worse. This is pretty much a foot-in-the-door get-something-done-for-yourself city. And people here have an almost instinctual mistrust and bad taste in the mouth for anything that sounds like standing still. Maybe it's the heat.
The new forces gathering around the May election don't have to be painted into the a'ginner corner, but they'll have to watch their footwork to avoid it. At their recent press conference announcing formation of a new political action committee, speakers for the Dallas Green Alliance peeled off a soul-stirring list of positive goals for the city -- better neighborhoods, a more responsible approach to basic infrastructure and an economic development policy that rewards businesses that have been faithful to the city instead of giving away the company store to out-of-town corporate sleep-arounds.
See also: The Dallas Green Alliance
At state Representative Rafael Anchia's recent debate on the Trinity road, urban planner Patrick Kennedy reeled off a laundry list of metrics by which the old guard has failed the city. They have failed us with policies that push economic development to the suburbs. They have failed us by failing to attract the city-building demographic, the creatives and entrepreneurs who are helping other urban centers around the nation burgeon.
In all of that there is a strong, positive message. I'm not the person to make the bumper sticker. But the new guard is in a position to preach a stronger, better city and then turn around to the old guard and ask, "What is your alternative?"
On the other hand, the Green Alliance made it plain at their press conference for the new PAC that they will use opposition to the Trinity toll road as an ironclad litmus for candidates seeking their support. And the only reason Kennedy was even present at that debate was to oppose the toll road.
For people who have a deep understanding of the toll road issue, there are many powerful reasons to use the toll road as a litmus, to see it in fact as emblematic of everything wrong with the old guard, especially the lying, especially the patronizing. But there's a trap in it. Only do that, only oppose the toll road, only list all that you are against, and you walk into it. That's what the old guard hopes the new guard will do.
Dallas voters may not be sure exactly what needs to be done, but they know it's not nothing. They will vote against people who seem to lack forward momentum.
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I have a sense the second new PAC recently announced by D Magazine publisher Wick Allison may be on to this. When I talked to him about it, he sounded as if he really did not like the city-vs-the-'burbs paradigm -- too negative -- and really was thinking about positive formulations.
Look at it this way. The old guard has a right to challenge the opposition for ideas. It's not a bad point. And the voters are not wrong to look for candidates who sound like they're going to do something.
And then there is this. The vision of the new guard is exciting ... no, it's absolutely thrilling when they get around to stating it. I always think of Angela Hunt telling me eight years ago her vision was of some dude living in a tower downtown, putting his bike on the elevator on a Saturday morning, drifting down through the city and out into the nation's biggest and most wonderful urban, linear park.
We have a living breathing window on that vision in the Klyde Warren deck park, a peek into a smart, diverse, humane city of the future, full of people working together to make things happen. The old guard does not have that to offer us. Their campaign, in fact, is the utterly negative one. The trick is to not let them flip that image -- something they have proven adept at doing in the past.