There is the glamourous and consequential side of journalism: Covering a presidential race, writing about a war, detailing the side effects of a new cancer drug, profiling Maggie Gyllenhaal. And there is this: Attending a debate for Dallas mayor at 7:30 in the morning, hosted and attended by 43,000 immaculately well-dressed and coiffed realtors who made Annette Bening's American Beauty character seem like Courtney Love.
Yesterday was one of those mornings where I doubted my career choice as the two-hour mayoral forum ran rampant with platitudes, weak promises and white people. For a city that is chaotically and wonderfully diverse, the two mayoral forums I've now attended -- yesterday's and the Dallas Police Association's event last week -- nearly all of our candidates for mayor as well as the people in the crowd seemed like they were airlifted out of a JC Penny's in Louisville.
Still, yesterday's mayoral debate at the Hotel Palomar, featuring 11 of the declared candidates, previewed a few of the campaign themes we're likely to see over the next weeks. There are some real, substantive differences among the candidates, and we'll get to those in due time. But for now, since it's a Friday afternoon and I was supposed to turn this in yesterday morning, let's deal with some of the lighter developments that Unfair Park is seeing early in the mayor's race.
� Max Wells refers to himself in the third person more often than an NFL wide receiver.
Tom Leppert, the presumed favorite by people smarter than I, has gotten his facial tick under control. In last week's debate, the otherwise calm and collected Leppert had trouble controlling the right side of the face when someone lightly criticized him for overemphasizing his business background. It would twitch a few times, then stop. It wasn't a big deal, but if you weren't always dutifully taking notes as the candidates were talking -- guilty -- and just stopped to look at them, you'd notice it. Yesterday, however, Leppert had no such problem. I think that might have been the best development for the Leppert campaign because...
The other candidates clearly don't like him and are going to start seriously attacking him very soon. Even though Sam Coats was a corporate executive at Continental Airlines and Schlotsky's, and Max Wells was DFW airport board chairman -- during 9-11 he solemnly reminded us -- Leppert has said again and again that he's the only candidate who has led a large complex organization -- in his case the behemoth Turner Construction Corp. Yesterday, after Leppert bragged about his CEO experience for the 45th time, Gary Griffith nudged Coats and the two laughed derisively, like the two intelligent kids sitting in the back of an high school English class quietly ridiculing the front-row brown-noser.
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If the FBI's got something on Don Hill, they need to tell us now, because Hill is seriously kicking ass in these forums. He knows the details of Dallas City Hall but has a smart, sellable big-picture vision of focusing on economic growth above everything else because it can fix everything else that's wrong with Dallas. He's also just a really good public speaker and is likeable and gracious. He has all the qualities you want in a mayor, except being the central figure in an FBI investigation of alleged bribery at Dallas City Hall.
Darrell Jordan is extremely funny, and if humor still goes a long way in politics, he's going to be our next mayor. Yesterday morning, while Leppert was recounting how under his leadership Turner Construction Co. made more money than the gross domestic product of the European Union while donating 40 percent of its pre-tax revenue to cancer research -- or something close to that effect -- a loud fire alarm went off. Instantly, Jordan quipped. "That's was a lie detector." Perfect timing, perfect delivery.
Edward Okpa, who came to the United States from Nigeria more than 20 years ago, is the kind of candidate Zac Crain wants to be: Exceptionally smart and funny, and he can effortlessly cast himself as a fresh alternative to the establishment front-runners. Talking about the Trinity River Project, he joked that when he first came to Dallas and needed directions, someone told him to take the highway and look for the Trinity. "I was looking for the river and ended up in Waco," he said, drawing the most laughter of the morning.
Coats, however, delivered my favorite line: "We're not a city of J.R. Ewing, country clubs and big hair anymore," which might have been news to the realtors in the audience. --Matt Pulle