They made the WaMu Banker's Pen look like the cast of Lost. We're talking about the top-tier candidates for mayor, who last night gathered at a Dallas Police Association forum and strived to appear the most inoffensive and the least like Mayor Laura Miller.
"We don't need another rock star," said former state representative and retired airline executive Sam Coats. "We need a choir director."
Harmonize the Vote!
The Dallas Police Association, a perpetually disgruntled employee group, opted for an orderly debate rather than an interesting one, inviting only seven of the approximately 632 candidates running for mayor. The moderator explained that they based their selection on which candidates have the best chance to win and which ones are the most qualified. A surprisingly competent media panel grilled the candidates as a sparse crowd that looked nothing like Dallas watched quietly.
The candidates the DPA choose were attorney Darrell Jordan, retired construction executive Tom Leppert, aspiring choir director Coats, former council member Max Wells and current council members Gary Griffith, Ed Oakley and Don Hill. That group includes four middle-aged white guys, two old white guys and a business-friendly black guy who has been on the city council since 1999. Throw in Mary Suhm and a coal plant, and you'd have a Wick Allison wet dream.
The Police Association's largely collegial forum dragged on for nearly three hours, during which nobody in particular stood out as the superior candidate. The four who seemed to present themselves the best were Oakley, Hill, Jordan and Leppert. They each appeared polished, confident and thoughtful -- then again, they weren't exactly going up against the founding fathers, even if some of them seemed like their contemporaries. Griffith started out strong with a very detailed talk about his neighborly approach to crime fighting in his East Dallas district, but he tailed off as the night wore on. He doesn't have much of a presence. Coats came off as the most likeable and irreverent, but he sometimes appeared lost up there. As for Max Wells, he looks like he should be playing shuffleboard at Del Boca Vista Phase 3.
Nearly all of the candidates talked about how they would build coalitions and foster harmony on the council, a slight but premeditated jab at the very polarizing Laura Miller.
"I will conduct myself in a business-like manner at City Hall," said Griffith, very slowly and deliberately so everyone could hear him.
Of course, had Miller decided to run again for re-election, at least a few of them, including Griffith, probably never would have run for mayor in the first place. And those that did -- with the exception of Don Hill -- couldn't have matched wits with her in any kind of political forum. For all of Miller's faults, she knows how to make her case vividly and memorably, something few of her prospective successors know yet how to do.
Here are some other observations from last night:
Max Wells continually refers to himself in the third person, as in, "Max Wells has a proud record of community service."
Sam Coats said that one way Dallas could bring more people to downtown would be for the city to lobby for its own National League baseball team. "If we're going to think outside the, box let's think outside the box," he said.
The fastest interval known to man is the moment between when Tom Leppert is introduced and the moment he brags about his business experience. "Suffice to say, I'm the only person in the race who has led a large organization the size of Dallas, in my case, several times [larger]," he said early in the forum, a theme he would revisit again and again.
Ed Oakley blamed the mayor for losing the Dallas Cowboys and claimed that incident convinced city council members to try to run the city through committee. "Someone called me the defacto mayor of the council," said Oakley, which is awkward, because that's what we call Jim Schutze.
By the way, fiscal conservatives, if there are any in Dallas, will loathe Oakley, who bragged about multi-million-dollar bond packages he pushed for -- along with added discretionary funds for individual council members -- as if money is not an object in government.
Don Hill stressed economic development throughout the evening. Of all the candidates, he probably pandered to the law-enforcement crowd the least, as he was rightly skeptical of his rivals' promises to hire hundreds of new police officers.
If I had to declare a winner of last night's forum, I'd say it was Darrell Jordan. He was well-versed, forceful and persuasive, without being slick. He seems like the kind of person who could convince others to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do. Perhaps with one notable exception. --Matt Pulle