With Friends Like the Trinity Toll Road Mafia, You Don't Need Enemies

The Trinity toll road mafia recognizes only two positions to be held on the need for a new 10-lane tolled expressway through downtown on the banks of the Trinity River: 1) short hairs or 2) bullet in the face.

I talked briefly yesterday to former City Council member and anti-toll road crusader Angela Hunt. She was sort of agog (oh, not really) about the nasty quotes in The Dallas Morning News over the weekend concerning State Representative Rafael Anchia.

See also: Dallas State Rep. Anchia Files Bills to Kneecap Trinity Toll Road

Anchia, long a favored son of the establishment, introduced anti-toll road legislation in Austin last week. By Sunday former mayor and longtime Anchia admirer Ron Kirk was already shooting at his face. Kirk called Anchia "misguided and disingenuous" (stupid and dishonest).

News politics editor Gromer Jeffers said:

"Kirk talks as if Anchia's been lured into some cult. He says his friend mistakenly believes not building a toll road would actually help ease traffic by forcing people -- when congestion is at its worst -- to ride bikes and walk."

Here's a guy, Anchia, who for years has always been almost universally viewed as strong, bright, measured and a contender. Notice that in Eric Celeste's piece in the new D Magazine, Anchia is one of the people incumbent Mayor Mike Rawlings practically asked for permission before he decided to run again.

But Anchia sticks his neck out on the Trinity toll road, and ... BANG! Right in the face.

Short hairs. Bullet in the face. You choose.

When I talked to Hunt, she said she thought it was easy for them to go the face-bullet route with her, because she came out against the toll road soon after her election in 2005, before the toll road mafia knew much else about her, and she was out there alone.

"You can kind of get by with isolating one person," she said. "You can say, 'Well, she's just crazy. She has the wrong motivations. She wants attention. She just doesn't understand.'"

Stupid and dishonest.

But as more and more people have come out against the toll road recently, she said, and as those people have begun to take on the stature of an Anchia, the bullet in the face personal invective and character assassination have started taking on a certain odor of desperation.

"When it starts becoming a whole bunch of people, especially people you formerly respected and talked well about, it's becoming harder and harder for them to look credible," Hunt told me.

All of the invective is always aimed at the same goal, she said. It's always about turning the toll road issue or any other question into cool kids versus dweebs.

"If you don't want X, you don't love Dallas. Fill in the blanks. If you don't want the convention center hotel, you don't love Dallas. If you don't want the Trinity toll road, you don't love Dallas."

The last and nastiest of the bullets, she said, is race, which is why the city is now being asked to believe that a bunch of rich white guys downtown want to build the toll road as a civil rights project. They forgot to tell us about that for 18 years of this debate until just a few months ago, but, yeah, this is for poor people.

"There is a related axiom," Hunt said, "that if you don't want X, you are a racist in Dallas. I think that's what we're seeing the toll roaders pull out now in relation to the Trinity toll road, and that is the nuclear bomb tactic. That's the last resort that these folks have."

I have to mention here that a third pathway is offered sometimes in the toll road issue, not so much by the toll road mafia, per se, but by an odd subset of people whom we might call toll road mafia wannabes. That is, they're not in it yet, but they'd like to be. The path they offer is the path of total, wandering, willy-nilly obfuscation.

A well-known exponent of total obfuscation on the toll road question, 2013 City Council candidate Bobby Abtahi, was back on the op-ed page of The Dallas Morning News yesterday with what I must concede was sort of an obfuscatorial masterpiece. Abtahi was arguing that issues are complex, so we shouldn't vote for candidates based on the issues ... well, wait, no. He didn't say that.

He was saying more that issues are complex, so if two candidates have different positions on an issue, we should vote for ... no, he didn't say we should vote for both of them. Exactly. Damn it. I've fallen into the Bobby Abtahi mental whirlpool again! Help! The harder I swim, the faster I drown.

He said: "There are different ideas about how to make that happen, and we should focus on the depth of those ideas. We should focus on the seriousness of a candidate and his or her vision. We should vote for those individuals who have the bandwidth to bring those visions to fruition."

Here's all I know. When Abtahi ran for council two years ago against Philip Kingston in District 14, I asked him twice if he was for or against the toll road. His final answer was this:

"A lot of this, and I will admit, there are these feuds and these battles that have happened I guess over the last even maybe 30 years or 20 years that I wasn't a part of, and I'm not privy to. I see that as maybe the greatest thing that's holding our city back, that we have this, I don't know whether it's just, so-and-so doesn't like so-and-so because something happened 20 years ago. I see myself as kind of the next generation of leadership that is looking forward to things that matter and not rehashing old wounds."

See also: Abtahi and Kingston: Who's the Bigger SOB?

I wrote in my notebook, "No hair."

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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