Politicians Uniting Behind the Trinity Toll Road

How about that amazing line-up of politicians and business groups put together by Carol Reed, the political guru running the Vote No! campaign for the November toll road referendum?

The entire city council except for Angela Hunt. The entire county commissioners court. The entire congressional delegation. The United Brotherhood of Politicians.

The only way for Dallas to avoid perdition, they all say in unison, is for voters to vote no in next month's referendum and stick with plans for a toll road between the flood control levees downtown.

How, in the United States of America in the 21st century, could so many local politicians agree so vehemently on so narrow a position? Think about it.

They are not even necessarily for the toll road. They are only for the toll road between the levees in the new river park downtown.

Half of what they say is against the toll road. If the toll road doesn't go inside the park between the flood control levees, they say it will be too expensive, too ugly, too bad for development; they won't keep trying to get state and federal money for it; they won't keep asking their wealthy friends for donations for it.

To hell with it, if it doesn't go inside the park between those levees.

Isn't that curious? Among this many local politicians, wouldn't you at least expect some back-and-forth about where to put the thing?

And then suddenly the FBI brings us this other news about our local politicians and the way politics gets done in Dallas. This just in: It has to do with money.

Five years ago, before The Dallas Morning News turned totally Pravda on this issue, it reported that a city-hired consultant had found almost no economic value to the city from the toll road but considerable value in the proposed park between the levees.

"The proposed Trinity toll road is not likely to spur significant economic development in downtown, Oak Cliff or most areas up or downstream, according to a study commissioned by the Dallas City Council," a story by Victoria Loe Hicks reported.

Hicks quoted one of the consultants as saying: "The park is where the maximum benefit comes."

Hicks reported: "Under any scenario, the poor, predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods of Rochester Park, Cadillac Heights and Joppa can expect no noticeable economic boost, the study suggests."

Ah, but there was one neighborhood that did stand to benefit enormously from a toll road, according to Hicks. "Conversely, there is likely to be one major economic winner, regardless of which alignment the council chooses. It is the aging warehouse district where the new highway would intersect Stemmons and State Highway 183.

"Without the tollway, that area would see little or no development, the study predicts. With the tollway, it would be a good candidate to sprout sleek, suburban-style office campuses."

And, uh, who exactly are we talking about there? Well, Hicks laid that out too: real estate tycoon Harlan Crow and oil and real estate billionaire Ray Hunt.

Crow is the man who funded the hiring of "blockers" in an unsuccessful attempt to foil the TrinityVote petition drive for the referendum. Hunt is the guy President Bush has suggested in recent weeks may be de-stabilizing Iraq by signing less than legal oil contracts with the Kurds.

If you possess the means to de-stabilize Iraq, do you think you could de-stabilize Dallas? I don't believe you'd even have to give people money. Just look at them.

From the very beginning to this very day, Crow, Hunt and Robert Decherd, CEO of Belo Corp., which owns the Morning News, have been stalwart funders and supporters of the toll road between the levees campaign.

My argument here is that Reed's wall-to-wall March of the Politicians doesn't look like normal political discourse because it's not. It's top-down social and business chain-yanking—big people doing the yanking, little people doing the squealing.

Two weeks ago there was a flap over e-mails between city staff and hired guns running the Vote No! campaign. In response to open records requests, mainly from Angela Hunt and from Dallasblog's Sam Merten, the city released a boxful of documents depicting a relationship way beyond cozy.

The issue here is simple. City employees are banned by law from working in or with political campaigns. Some city employees take the law seriously. They all remember the mess former Mayor Laura Miller got in for asking a city staff member to find a podium for a political event.

Whenever I call Chris Heinbaugh, the mayor's chief of staff, he literally doesn't want to forward my message to the mayor if my question is about the toll road. I have to go through the mayor's political spokeswoman, Becky Mayad, who does not work for the city.

Apparently other city employees are less virginal. E-mails between Trinity Project director Rebecca Dugger, a city employee, and Craig Holcomb, a hired campaign operative for Vote No!, were...well, how to put this delicately? Pretty embarrassing.

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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