Strong Mayor: Mike Rawlings Loses the Game but Wins the Crowd at Literacy Center Benefit

Damn. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings got me last night. I resisted, but he got me. Anyway, I finally found the answer to a question that has long nagged me. When he does that affable dumb jock routine? Yeah. He's about to take you for a whirlwind visit to the cleaners.

My wife was already falling out of her chair laughing because Rawlings was so hilarious onstage at the Lakewood Theater, where he was one of three celebrity contestants in a benefit show for the Aberg Center for Literacy.

I wasn't laughing. I didn't intend to laugh. I believe it's a violation of journalistic integrity to laugh at jokes made by elected officials. It's like when everybody else claps. We don't clap, OK? And I don't think we should laugh. But he got me. I wound up falling out of my chair too.

The event was a mock quiz show staged around the NPR radio show A Way With Words" (KERA, 1-2 p.m. Saturdays). The real-life hosts of the show, Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, showed up to do it as a fund-raiser for the Aberg Center, which offers English literacy, GED-preparation and Spanish language courses for adults. The other celebrity contestants with Rawlings were Mike Rhyner of "The Ticket," KTCK sports radio, and Jacquielynn Floyd, columnist for The Dallas Morning News.

So, you know, it was a very egg-heady kind of a thing, except for Rhhyner, who's not egg-heady, but he's a witty quick kind of a guy. The master of ceremonies was Krys Boyd, host of Think, the midday talk show on KERA, who is kind of an official public egg-head.

Anyway, Rawlings did a big scam on everybody, coming on at first like he was really intimidated, talking about how everybody in the theater "got 100 points more on their SAT than I did." When Rhyner banged out the first answer in about no seconds, Rawlings got up and made a mock retreat like he was leaving. He set it up. You were almost feeling sorry for the guy.

Then he launches into a series of bullet-fast answers, slapping the buzzer before the NPR guys can even finish their questions. Plus, he's doing all this hilarious mugging, pointing at one point to Barrett, the NPR lexicographer and self-avowed word-nerd, telling the audience behind a cupped hand, "He's slow."

Floyd apparently speaks French and snapped to the question about which sister city of Dallas is associated with a mustard (Dijon, France.) Ryhner is one of those guys who just remembers a lot of stuff, like the name of the Jack Palance character in City Slickers (Curly).

But the thing about Rawlings is that he guesses the question itself after about one word. In fact at one point one of the NPR people scolded him to let them finish their questions. They started one, "A native of Phoenix is called..."

Bang, Rawlings hits the light. "Dallasite," he says.


He's a game-player. The hosts did screw up, I thought, on explaining the rules, so Rawlings bet some points he probably wouldn't have bet had they explained it better. When they penalized him anyway, he did a fake cough into the microphone which sounded a whole lot like, "Bullshit!"

I thought the NPR people were starting to look a bit testy, but then they lost it, too, laughing when Rawlings was given a chance to choose the category of questions. He said he would take, "One of President Bush's and my favorites, children's books." And guess what! It turns out Rawlings is like crazy good at guessing titles of childrens' books from the first lines, guessing Where the Wild Things Are and Chronicles of Narnia before Floyd and Rhyner even heard the full line.

Once he had the rules down, Rawlings went all in on a final question, slapping the buzzer again before the host had even finished a question about billionaires in Dallas and a recent article in Forbes magazine.

"Seventeen," he said.

Nope. It was 18 billionaires in Dallas, tying us for 10th place with Paris among cities in the world with the most billionaires. He would have run the table.

As it was, Floyd won the contest, and maybe that was how it should have been, given that it was supposed to be a kind of word-nerdy egg-heady deal. But let me tell you: Rawlings won the audience.

Aberg is a very interesting outfit, run by Teri Walker, with whom I had lunch some months ago. They field classes and mentoring to help people achieve literacy and pass GED tests. The NPR hosts, Barnette and Barrett, both made quite moving speeches last night, obviously written for the occasion, focused on the importance of the work Aberg does.

Walker makes a compelling case on three points: that an enormous portion of the populace of Dallas is bi-illiterate, that is, unable to read or write in any language; that volunteers can and do achieve great success in helping people become literate; that nothing is more important to the life-success of a child than having a literate mother.

Anyway, I'm sitting out there laughing my ass off at Rawlings, watching him roll up the house after acting like he was all humble and scared and everything. It was rope-a-dope. I walked out at the end of the evening thinking to myself, "Well, it worked on me."

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