The Pearls

Be honest with me. I can take it. If I say four little words, you get drowsy and want to lie down for a nap, right?

Dallas City Charter Amendment.

We know all about that in the newspaper business. Charter amendment stories are what we call "snoozers." Do not operate heavy machinery while reading charter amendment stories.

But let me put this to you differently. The "strong mayor" debate going on in Dallas is not about charter amendments or political science or any of that wonky business. Put all that stuff right out of your mind.

This is about Laura.

This is totally about the personality of Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. See. Got your interest a little bit, didn't I? I know: She's interesting. That's one reason it's about her.

She's the issue. This is about Laura Miller, Laura Miller and Laura Miller. The Blackwood proposal is a complicated package of changes to the city charter to do away with the city manager system in Dallas and concentrate power instead in the office of the mayor.


But none of those very technical points will drive the debate. Instead, what you're going to see on TV and in the expensive direct-mail pieces showing up at your door soon will be Mayor Miller sitting on the sofa in her home or some facsimile, wearing her pearls and the Republican suit again. She's a Democrat, of course, but her political consultant is Rob Allyn, and he could make you think your cat was a dog.

She's gonna look great. She always looks great, but she's going to look greater. She's gonna look tough. She's also going to look a little bit sad. Hands folded primly, chin thrust upward, eyes cut to your eyes, she's going to tell you, "Ever since I was elected mayor, I have been trying and trying to get City Hall to work. But that naughty city council just won't let me do my job."

If Laura Miller can make that sale, you and a whopping majority of the other people who vote in this town are going to vote IN FAVOR of the so-called Blackwood amendment.

In her public statements about it, Miller is already crafting the debate on the May 7 charter election as a one-on-one boxing match. In one corner, Laura Miller. In the other corner, the other guy. The Dallas City Council.

Following last week's council briefing on legal issues in the Blackwood proposal, Miller told the TV cameras that if Blackwood goes down to defeat, the only thing the city council will ever offer to replace it will be plans to strengthen the city council.

See. That's a simple paradigm. Laura Miller in white hat. Dallas City Council in black hat.

We could also say that the Dallas City Council has helped frame it this way by uniting unanimously against the Blackwood proposal, as well as by showing a certain dismal whininess about it, as they did again last week. So far the opposition to the Blackwood amendment has been less than charismatic.

Let me just tell you something about a contest of personalities here. Laura Miller wins. If she and Allyn succeed in framing it that way, Miller wins by a knockout in the first round. I don't know if the council gets that or can admit it to itself. In a battle of personalities, the council is no match, because very few people would be a match.

I've been a Laura Miller watcher since she showed up in Dallas as a college intern at the Dallas Times Herald in 1978. Even as a kid, Miller had a mega-wattage buzz about her. I remember one of my editors expressing doubts she'd ever work out as a reporter. I asked why. He said, "She's got too much personality."

It's true.

Of course, in order to make the boxing-match scenario come alive, she and Allyn have to accomplish what the dramaturges call "suspension of disbelief." That is, they have to fool you out of your natural tendency to say, "But wait a minute, that's not a guy in the other corner. That's 14 guys."

Think about it. Let's say you happen to agree with me that Dallas City Hall is stuck on the dime and needs some kind of a fix or a whack on the head with a two-by-four or something. Why is it stuck on the dime?

The Laura-and-Rob thesis is that it's all the council's fault. Laura is the only good guy. The rest of them are all Palookas.

How can that be? Do you mean to tell me that Lois Finkelman and Steve Salazar and Maxine Thornton-Reese and Sandy Greyson and Elba Garcia and Gary Griffith and all those people on the council are exactly alike and equally no good? And here's the risk for Miller and Allyn: If Miller and Allyn fail to make that story stick, then Miller starts to sound like a naughty teenager.

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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