United They Stand

Who says Mayor Laura Miller is divisive? Under her watch--and thanks partly to her support of the strong-mayor initiative--North Dallas business people and the pro-business Citizens Council have aligned themselves with their historical opponents, Southern Dallas minority politicos and grassroots neighborhood types such as Sharon Boyd and Avi Adelman. Someone should nominate Miller for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Maybe that's taking it a bit too far. Still, Buzz did a double take when we saw the disparate groups lined up against the strong-mayor proposal. Is the plan really so bad, or was something more cynical at work here? We went for cynical (natch). This sudden unanimity among the factions, we suspected, is less a matter of joining hands and singing "Kumbaya" than plain old distrust. For example, we suspect business folk might not object to a strong mayor as long as they were certain their guy would get the job, but they damn sure don't want a strong mayor coming from any competing group, and vice versa.

We decided to run our theory by someone smarter than us, Cal Jillson, professor of political science at SMU. While fear of having the other camp's guy elected may be part of what motivates opponents, Jillson says, the real problem is the proposal itself.

"There is a willingness to listen to arguments for a strong mayor, but not this strong," he says. "This proposal...would make the mayor in Dallas as strong as any mayor in the country.

"I would favor something more along the lines of what Laura Miller herself proposed, which is a mayor that is strong enough to set an agenda [and] chart out a direction for the future development of the city, but then require majority-building on the council to approve that agenda...But this...thing is just so strong that virtually any sensible person who looks at it says, 'Wait, wait--this is just too much.'"

Jillson says that selling a modified strong-mayor proposal to the Citizens Council might be doable. Selling it to minority leaders who were long shut out from power at City Hall might be tougher, though given the growing minority populations in Dallas, there's no real reason for them to oppose a stronger mayor outright.

"I just think the proposal is overblown, so it's generating opposition from all points on the compass, except the mayor herself."

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams