This Morning at City Hall, Mayor Tom Leppert Put Lipstick to Levee and Said It'll Be Fine

It almost isn't possible to describe what Mayor Tom Leppert and a line-up of loyal politicos were trying to accomplish this morning in the Flag Room of Dallas City Hall. Talk about lipstick on a pig.

For weeks everybody has been wondering whether Leppert and the Dallas Citizens Council would be able to move enough heaven and earth, politically speaking, to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to back down from its findings that the Dallas levee system along the Trinity River is dangerously inadequate. Obviously, the Corps ain't backin'. (Here's the just-posted 55-page briefing on the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Periodic Inspection Report of the Trinity River floodway the city council will receive Wednesday.)

According to this morning's press conference, at which a Corps representative was present but did not speak, the Corps still says the levees along the Trinity River downtown are screwed and Dallas can forget about its vaunted toll road project between the levees for the better part of two years until somebody figures out how to fix them. So the Trinity River toll road project, 11 years old and counting with nothing to show for it, has just been delivered a yet another gigantic kick in the ass.

The 20-month (at least) delay, in fact, could well turn out to be a death sentence for the road.

Shortly before the press conference, Michael Lindenberger of The Dallas Morning News reported that the North Texas Tollway Authority is going to cease work on design for the road. That has to be taken as yet another big nail in the coffin.

So this morning Leppert, an ardent champion of the toll road through downtown who has promised to keep it on the fast track, had to find a way to make all this a good thing.

I'm sitting there in the front row waiting for it to start, just me and my imagination. Always a bad combo. For me, this is like political Cirque du Soleil. Strike up the orchestra.

O.K., here comes the giant pig strapped to a trapeze, snapping and spraying slobber aloft, and then on another trapeze from the other side of the tent, here come the three French guys in lavender tights holding a gigantic tube of lipstick. And down there below, in the center of the ring, is Tom Leppert in a top hat. Can he do it?

Leppert was what I would call faux-frank about the problems with the levees. He was actually doing OK until he made the absurd assertion that the toll road project and the levee system are unrelated, which is sort of like the captain of the ship telling you that the sinking problem has nothing to do with the scheduled roller-skating event on the upper deck.

Leppert called the whole situation "A Way Forward" - a very Rove-ian phrase, if I may say so. The idea is this: Now that we know how totally screwed we are, we know where we stand.

Yeah. But why are we standing here? "How do we move forward and how do we get to the finish line," Leppert asked. Oh, boy, football metaphors --always a dead giveaway for disaster. "How do we do it in a fashion which first and foremost strengthens the levees while at the same time leveraging the Trinity River corridor project in the solution?" he asked. I know the answer to that one.


So it broke up pretty quickly. I would call the mood afterward somberly unconvinced. I'm left there in my chair. I wanted to tell my imaginary French guys in tights, "Hey, that doesn't count! That was the wrong end of the pig!"

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