Sam Coats, You're Movin' On Up

Ed, couldn't you have found a mayor people actually voted for? And one they remember? C'mon -- you're loaded.

Only a political reporter would ever say this: Sam Coats is super hot. This week, the afterthought candidate became the rage of the local blog world after he debuted two pitch-perfect commercials on YouTube, both of which underscore his independent, intelligent and folksy candidacy. In the first commercial, Coats makes a succinct argument against placing a high-speed toll road in the middle of the planned Trinity River park by walking along the idyllic river in one shot before looking at an ugly, noxious highway above him. In the second, Coats makes a light-hearted but effective pledge to bring a little civility to City Hall. In each spot, Coats sounds smart and looks cool, like an aging B actor landing a plum role in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Both of Coats’ advertisements as well as his anti-toll road position have earned the candidate a large dose of praise and a little criticism on news blogs across town, including ours, D magazine’s and the Morning News. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care a lot about this. All of those outlets gave Zac Crain’s candidacy a disproportionate amount of attention, most of it unearned, and we saw the good that did him. But Coats’ good week on the blogs is emblematic of more important trend. Coats, who is a tiny, balding senior citizen, is the one candidate in the field who turns people on. I saw it at his town hall meeting in South Oak Cliff. I see it among the Observer’s non-newsy people. I see it from the comments on our blog. Is this a rather lame method to measure the excitement of a given campaign? Probably, but I’ll ask this of you, dear reader of Unfair Park: Are you excited about any of the candidates running? Have you heard anyone who is?

Other than Coats, everyone else is saying all the right things, while managing to say nothing in particular. And with that, here’s your top seven. Yep, we’re down to seven. I think we can eliminate Jennifer Gale:

1) Don Hill: This week, the mayor pro-tem belatedly addressed his FBI issues, effectively casting himself as a survivor without playing the victim or race card. Hill also blasted Tom Leppert, questioning him in an open letter today on whether the former construction executive created any business for minority contracts locally, or if he did so only far away from the city he wants to run. Is this desperation on behalf of Hill? Is he trying to make up for the fact that his campaign is practically broke? Or is Hill merely toughening up for the stretch run, addressing the only two issues that can keep him out of the run-off--Leppert and his possible strength in the Southern sector and the lingering cloud of an FBI investigation. Nobody really knows, least of all me, but at this point I’m still waiting for someone to tell me how Hill doesn’t already have enough southern sector votes in the bag to make the run-off.

2) Tom Leppert: There’s no point in me paying attention when Leppert talks anymore. He never says a single thing that’s disagreeable. He may be the most disciplined campaigner ever created.

This week Max Wells (more on that below), Darrell Jordan and Hill took shots at Leppert, which is as good a sign as we have that he’s the undisputed front-runner. But if Leppert wants to hold the top spot in Unfair Park’s unreliable and unscientific ranking of the candidates, he needs to campaign on a few things that don’t involve his biography, resume and business-oriented philosophy of governance.

3) Ed Oakley: I don’t need to listen to Oakley anymore either. Since the campaign began in earnest six weeks ago, I can’t imagine that Oakley has won over a single voter. He uses his time at each forum congratulating himself on the perceived accomplishments of the current council, earnestly reminding prospective voters of his tenure on various council committees, as if they have actually been paying attention all these years. Hint: They haven’t.

Oakley’s problem isn’t that he’s unfamiliar with the issues; he’s not. Of all the candidates running, Oakley knows the peculiar mechanics of local government better than anyone. The problem is that Oakley doesn’t do himself any favors when he shows this off. Here’s what he told me in an interview last month:

“I’m not bragging, but I’ve been there, and what I bring to the table is that I know all the inner workings of City Hall, and I know how to make it hum for the city of Dallas. I know exactly where to start. I just know it. I’m like, ‘Give me the test. I know it all.'”

4) Sam Coats: Zac Crain endorsed Coats on his MySpace page yesterday, raising all sorts of questions. Here’s just one. What status do you have to reach in life before you can “give an endorsement.”

Now back to the number four candidate: Coats position on the Trinity is not interesting in and of itself. I’m not sure how many people really care if a park that doesn’t exist yet is destroyed by a high speed toll road. But it’s not the details of his stance that’s important, it’s what it means. Coats is at least suggesting he’d be independent from the usual interests that hog the discussion at City Hall.

Coats’ other positions reveal him to be a candidate full of ideas, many of which are not politically expedient. He wants to empower a southern sector authority that will have a 20-30 year mission to address job creation and development, a surprisingly long time frame coming from a 66-year-old candidate. He’d like to document illegal immigrants into some sort of welcoming, administrative office (he’s short on details here) and figure out a way to integrate them into the rest of Dallas. “If we can do that, we’d be an example to the rest of the country,” he says.

Finally, while Coats position on the board of TXI has justifiably raised concerns about his values, he is the only candidate I’ve heard compliment Laura Miller for taking on TXU. “I hope she keeps the pressure on them. I’m not convinced these three coal plants on the table are the right thing to do. Those are the dirtiest of the three,” he says.

If you’re wondering why I continue to lavish praise on Coats, it is not necessarily because of his ideas. It’s the fact that he has them. For the other candidates who want to be higher up on this list--and that may actually be a kiss of death--start saying something. At this point, I don’t even care what it is.

5) Max Wells: Let’s give Wells credit for being the first candidate to take on Leppert. In a press release today, Wells’ campaign points out that Leppert lived in Hawaii before he moved to Texas, even telling the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper “Hawaii is our home.”

“Tom Leppert is criticizing my anti-crime plan because he doesn’t have one of his own,” Wells says in his release. “I don’t know how they run city government in Hawaii, but in Dallas, Texas, voters are smart enough to decide if they want to hire 600 more police officers to patrol our streets.”

This may sound like politics as usual, and it is, but Wells' criticism marks a sharp contrast from the affable and anemic mayor’s race we’ve endured so far.

6) Darrell Jordan: Jordan has finally found his issue: criticizing Leppert for questioning the wisdom of spending $50 million to improve the Cotton Bowl. Remember when Republicans were wary of spending tax payer dollars on questionable public projects? Me neither.

7) Gary Griffith: So let’s see: Wells is mocking Leppert for once calling Hawaii home; Jordan is attacking Leppert for not supporting the Cotton Bowl; Hill is turning the FBI’s investigation of him into a testament to his hardiness; and Coats is making waves on every news blog in town by lining up against the powerful developer class that wants that toll road. So tell me? Where does that leave Griffith? --Matt Pulle

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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