The Zac Factor

Steve Blow, a metro page columnist in The Dallas Morning News, wrote a column last week about the mayoral candidacy of former Dallas Observer music editor Zac Crain. I sometimes enjoy Blow's stuff, which has a comforting kind of good-old-boy twang to it, like a mouth harp on a hay ride, even if it's hard to figure out the point. I also had been thinking about Crain's run and had just interviewed him over lunch, as a matter of fact, so I thought maybe I'd try to explain what I think Blow may have been trying to say but couldn't quite get out.

I think Blow wanted to say that even though Crain, a candidate for the May 2007 mayoral election, is extremely, in fact, unbelievably, young at age 32, and even though he is a former music editor and columnist for the Observer, he does appear to have an honest job now (associate editor of an airline magazine); he has a legally wedded wife and a child and a home in which he keeps them; and the fact is that under our political system in the United States he does have a legal right to run for mayor.

Blow makes a very salient observation, I think, when he points out that the current mayor is a former Dallas Observer columnist. So you can't just go out and lock Zac Crain up.

I agree, and I agree so much that I would even like to build on Blow's point. I should mention that a number of interesting people have declared their candidacies for mayor, formally or informally, and I intend to talk to and write about most of them.

First, the population thing. We tend to be very ethnocentric in my business, so we're always telling you how the electorate divvies up ethnically. But let's talk about something other than ethnicity.

When we start to look at Dallas in terms of age groupings, some interesting shapes emerge, Zac Crain-wise. First off, the young voting age cohort, from age 20 to 34, makes up 27 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census 2005 American Community Survey. The next group, from 35 to 54, makes up another 27 percent.

The working geezers between the ages of 55 and 64, among whom I proudly count myself, make up only 8 percent of the population. Another 8 percent is in the age group between 65 and 84 that is retired and/or living under a bridge, hoping their children will drive by and toss them out a jar of peanut butter, of whom I look forward to being a member someday soon. If anybody's listening, I prefer crunchy.

I think you can split the second group in half: You can take the 35- to 44-year-old group and add it to the Zac Crain cohort, because the 35 to 44 people simply haven't faced the awful truth yet and still think they are young. So that would give us 42 percent of the city who are either young voting-age people or voting-age people who think they are young.

When Crain and I had brunch at Barbec's on Garland Road last week, it was clear to me he had been noodling these numbers or numbers like them. But the number that seemed to have struck him most clearly was 100,000—the 12 percent of voting-age residents who actually vote in mayoral elections.

On the one hand, he doesn't like it. "You have a tiny fraction of people who are being manipulated by an even tinier fraction of people," he said.

On the other, he clearly sniffs at least a squeaking amount of opportunity in it. The smaller the turn-out, the less to turn the tide.

At least half a dozen people have lined up to run next year, and half of those will have the million bucks apiece required to put on big media campaigns. So let's say that's $3 million aimed at cracking the egg three ways.

Crain suggests he can have a shot by bringing new voters into the game—people who are sort of like him. "Not necessarily a 32-year-old married father," he said, "but someone who shares some of those values, who is starting to pay attention to the city.

"If you can get close to 30,000 of those people and put them into the mix, well, that changes everything. All the people with a million dollars are going to be trying to carve out a piece of 100,000 people, so if you put 30,000 into that, it's a whole new ball game."

My first inclination was to doubt he had it right. When I got back to my office, I looked up the last election in which a former Dallas Observer columnist had staged a coup, Laura Miller in January '02, when she led a field of five. A whopping 132,000 people voted in that one, from whom Miller took 64,000 votes or 48 percent.

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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

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