Sam Coats Adds Name to List of Folks Gunning For Jim Foster's Job

Mark Graham

Sam Coats

In Friday’s recap of Angela Hunt’s fund-raiser, we mentioned how it felt a little bit like a reunion of the anti-Trinity River toll road gang. Sam Coats, a key part of the TrinityVote team, wasn’t able to make it, but he doesn’t want people thinking he’s disappeared from Dallas’ political scene. In fact, Coats is getting ready for a run at becoming Dallas County Judge in 2010.

“I’m a long way from a formal announcement, but I’m not making any secret that I’m planning to do this,” Coats tells Unfair Park. “Come January, I’m gonna give full time to raising money and making it known that I’m the leading candidate in this thing.”

Coats, who finished sixth in last year’s mayoral election, is the second Democrat to announce his intentions to unseat Jim Foster, with Larry Duncan confirming his plans to us at Hunt’s fund-raiser. Also expected to run is former city council member John Loza. Coats says Duncan and Loza are “both good guys,” but claims his ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans gives him an edge.

Coats calls Foster “a nice man,” but he wouldn’t elaborate on someone that many Democrats view as an embarrassment to the party. “My approach to this is going to be talking about me and what I bring to the table, and not talk about him at all,” he says. “I just don’t think that’s appropriate.”

At least six months ago, Coats says several people in the Democratic Party began calling him, telling him it was important to have a “strong candidate on the ticket.” He consulted with his wife Judy, and says she told him to go for it because the timing was right. “There’s no divorce in the making yet, and that’s the key,” Coats says.

He says the county judge position is a perfect fit for his experience, which includes a term in the Texas Legislature, serving as chairman of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, working to help resolve issues related to Wright Amendment restrictions at Love Field and turning around Continental Airlines and Schlotzsky’s.

“The job just fits my pistol well,” Coats says. “The more I looked at it, the more it appealed to me.”

Coats’ late entry into last year’s mayor’s race cost him votes, he says, as several people told him that they were unaware that he was running and were committed to other candidates by the time Coats made his announcement. So this time, he’s letting everyone know well ahead of time, and says he’s been getting a lot of encouragement. He says he's even received support from some Republicans, including Mayor Tom Leppert.

“He and I don’t agree on everything, but he told me that he heard I was running for county judge, and he encouraged me to do so,” Coats says.

Although he came away from the mayor’s race with some personal debt, Coats says he had a good time and didn’t find it to be a negative experience. “I thought I might be depressed afterward, but I really wasn’t.”

He says Leppert has “done a good job,” and is keeping the council “working in a very constructive manner.” Coats stresses that working with the city will be important to being county judge, and he looks forward to working with the mayor.

“He’s obviously put his heart and soul into the job,” Coats says. “I’m not one to criticize him.”

However, Coats does say he’d prefer the convention center hotel project be funded privately instead of publicly, a feeling he’s had since serving as chairman of the convention bureau. “I think it’s a risk, but I’m not going to throw bricks at it,” he says.

And clearly Leppert and Coats were on opposite sides of the Trinity issue, with Coats pointing out that the recent flooding from the Mississippi River will make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “very apprehensive” about building a road inside Dallas’ flood way.

“I still don’t think that bloody toll road will every get built, because I’d hate to be bond counsel and have to sign off on the billions of dollars worth of bonds you’re gonna have to sign off on to build a toll road in a flood way,” Coats says. “But I’m not going to stand here and take cheap shots at it. The people voted on it, and we lost and they won. Let’s see how it plays out.”

Coats says he hopes that losing both the mayor’s race and Trinity vote won’t be the “kiss of death,” and maintains that he has the energy, experience, skill set and business backing to make a serious run at county judge.

“I really do want to serve, and I really do want to give back to a community that’s been very good to me,” he says. “And I’m just independent enough where nobody can pull my strings, and that’s a nice feeling.” --Sam Merten

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten