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Whipping boy

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"It wasn't so much that people were snobby. It's one of those situations where there's a difference, and you can't get around it. You know, the kids were driving really nice cars, and there I was with my '71 Chevy Malibu," says Loza, who's a bit shy on the subject. "It wasn't so much envy as much as I felt awkward," he continues, requiring some prodding before offering an example. "If I was hanging out with friends, I guess I'd rather go over to their place rather than have them come over to mine, that kind of thing."

At age 35, Loza is much thinner today than he was in high school and a bit thinner than when he was elected--a subtle change that prompted some vicious gossips at City Hall to speculate whether the city's only openly gay councilman has AIDS. In fact, when he was 28, Loza was diagnosed with diabetes--a disease aggravated by stress that can cause weight loss.

Once again Loza's life is stressful. A lawyer, he complains that his practice has been harmed by his council work. In fact, his license is suspended because he's behind in required continuing education classes, though he still practices law.

And he still faces people who tease him because they believe he's weak.
"I know nobody's ever going to describe me as a firebrand or a table-thumper, or anybody who is particularly exciting," he says. "And I know no one's ever going to think of me as someone who lights up the room when he walks in. That's fine. I know what my personality is, and I don't have a problem with it. But at the same time, the strength I did have with regard to conciliation and bringing people together...I thought that was something the city could use."

Indeed, Loza is not one of the council's finer orators. About the most stirring speech he has made during his two-year tenure came last April, when Loza peddled the Trinity River bond package to Hispanic voters, passionately arguing that the project would bring jobs to Hispanics who live in West Dallas and Oak Cliff.

"We're not going to listen to the naysayers because it is our future that is at stake here in this bond election and to our future we have to say yes," Loza said.

That day, Loza cemented his reputation as a councilman whom Kirk and the establishment could count upon to help deliver the Hispanic vote when big projects are on the line. At the same time, his characterization of the project's critics as "naysayers" alienated many of his own constituents--particularly those in East Dallas--who opposed the Trinity bonds. The issue passed with just 51.6 percent of the vote. In Dallas, where politicians are pigeonholed as either pro- or anti-establishment, Loza had effectively taken sides with the "outside interests" that his former political allies in District 2 rail against.

"You can't be on both sides; they [Kirk and his allies] make it very clear, " says Blumer, who with Laura Miller composes the council's anti-establishment wing. "I've seen people, when they get on the council they take a look at what the situation is, particularly with this mayor, and they really don't want to appear to be outside the loop. When everybody's wondering what's going to define you [and] you take a strong stand on something, that puts you in a particular category. [Loza] absolutely has supported the establishment on virtually every issue."

In October 1997, just a few months after Loza took office, the deal for a tax-financed arena made it to the council for approval. Sharon Boyd, who had campaigned on behalf of Loza because he had pledged to oppose any taxpayer funding of the project, had begun to suspect that Loza was changing sides. Boyd says her suspicions were confirmed during a chat she had with Loza the day of the vote.

"He came by and said, 'Well, Sharon, I feel that if I go along with this, the guys downtown will see that I can work with them,'" Boyd recalls. "I said, 'Mothers told their virgin daughters, don't give it away because the guy's not going to buy the cow if they can get the milk for free.' John had just given away his virtue, and he's not going to get a second date."

Today Loza says his onetime opposition to the arena deal changed because its taxes on hotels and rental cars don't put an "undue" burden on his constituents, many of whom are poor. He also notes that voters subsequently approved the Trinity project and public financing for the arena.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley