Trinity River? Check. Jim Foster? Check. Dwaine Caraway? Check.
On Thursday Dallas city council member Angela Hunt told The Dallas Morning News that her group’s message of stopping a high-speed toll way isn’t reserved for one neighborhood or another. That’s a smart, inclusive message. It’s also untrue.
At various southern sector precincts, the TrinityVote campaign is a distributing a handout that exploits black Dallas’ dislike of Laura Miller. Here’s what the hand out says:
“Laura Miller’s toll road has delayed flood protection and economic development in the Southern Sector for almost 10 years. Laura Miller says we have to have this toll road. We say she’s wrong.”
The letter, which features a photo of a stern-looking Laura Miller, goes on to say that voting for Proposition 1 on November 6 would stop "eminent domain" and spur economic development, among other things.
We can easily pick apart the handout, starting with the fact that the toll road is no more Laura Miller's than it is Tom Leppert's -- Ron Kirk's, maybe? And how, exactly, will there be eminent domain issues for a toll road built upon city-owned property? (Hunts says there are "about 12 homes" at risk where the toll road rises out of the levee.)
But I don’t want to quibble with the language. No one’s under oath when they make a campaign ad. Really, the handout’s premise is what’s the problem. Playing off southern Dallas’ dislike of Laura Miller is shamefully opportunistic. It has nothing to do with the many merits of TrinityVote’s position, and it’s exactly the type of slippery maneuvering that Mayor Leppert has done from the get-go by dismissing the diverse and far-flung TrinityVote movement as merely the selfish machinations of one trouble-making council member.
“On the one hand I see your point,” Hunt tells Unfair Park, when asked if this mailer is making the vote personal. “But Laura Miller is a supporter of this toll road, and I think it’s important for people in the southern sector to be aware of that.”
It’s important for them to be aware of that because it distorts the vote, tapping black Dallas’ enmity of Laura Miller for crass political gain.
“There’s no question Laura Miller does not have a good reputation in my community,” says Joyce Foreman, a paid campaign worker with the TrinityVote team. “I’m using [the mailer] everywhere I can. Wherever we can use it, we use it.”
Imagine if Hunt’s campaign avidly handed out a mailer in Preston Hollow with a picture of Commissioner John Wiley Price that urged voters to hit the "yes" button because “John Wiley Price supports the toll road.” Some folks might see that as, oh, problematic.
Of course, there’s another way to look at all this: Hunt is not going to play the woe-is-me saint and lose, like so many grassroots candidates before her. After all, the Vote No! Save the Trinity side started all this nonsense when they send out mailers telling voters “Don’t let Angela Hunt send more than $1 billion down the river.” That also personalized the debate, while having the added demerit of being factually incorrect.
So in one of politics’ age-old questions: When your opponent’s not fighting fair, do you stand on the altar and pray? Or do you punch him when he’s not looking? My guess is that while a lot of TrinityVote people would ordinarily decry tactics like the Laura Miller handout, they’re secretly thrilled that they have a leader who is willing to slug it out with Leppert and the gang. Only the good die young.
If we've learned one thing recently, it's that if Dave Neumann invites you to a party, don’t necessarily assume he wants you there. The Oak Cliff area council member -- and Mayor Tom's appointee as chair of the Trinity River Project Committee -- asked Angela Hunt to speak at his upcoming town hall debate on the Trinity River toll road. Hunt couldn’t make it but designated former mayoral candidate Sam Coats to speak in her place.A former airline executive and state representative, Coats sent Neumann, a toll road supporter, a rather high-minded e-mail congratulating him for his civic goodness:
I have rearranged my schedule and am looking forward to being with you and presenting at the meeting on the 29th. Please let me know the format, how much time each side will have, and who will be there to speak on the other side of the issue.
It speaks well for our city that this debate is bringing forth all the pros and cons of the proposed Trinity Toll Road. I learned years ago during my experience in the Texas Legislature that democracy works best when there are strong interests on both sides of an issue. That brings all the facts to the table and allows people to make their own intelligent decisions. The times when democracy fails are when only one side is heard, or when there is no effective advocacy on the other side of an issue. You are to be commended for not letting that happen in this instance.
Well, not to take Coats too seriously here, but it looks like democracy flunked. Wrote Neumann
Thank you for your email. I would have called you but I do not have your phone number.
This is a community meeting for the residents of Mountain Creek....not a debate. I am hosting personally and having the Mayor as our featured guest.
You are welcome to attend as a citizen like all others in the audience. I advised Ms. Hunt that we changed the format a week ago.
David A. Neumann
That’s vintage Neumann, easily one of the dimmer bulbs of the new council. Coats’ number is in the phone book. You could also find it through a quick Google search. If Neumann wants to rescind his invitation to Coats, at least have the decency to tell him first.
“The tears are still falling,” Coats tells Unfair Park.
Bob Johnston, who had the unenviable job of serving as the mouthpiece for Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, resigned this week after the judge told him to.
“He was very complimentary about the work I did and how broad my knowledge was," says Johnston, whose official position was executive assistant. "It was all very complimentary, he just said he wanted someone else."
A least one prominent Foster supporter told me that he suspected Bob Johnston of leaking unflattering stories about the judge to the press. Johnston did work for Foster’s predecessor, Margaret Keliher. Actually, Johnston only leaked two things to me: a pair of letters Foster wrote arguing for stricter clean air standards for North Texas. We published those letters on Unfair Park and complimented Foster for finally taking an environmental stand, a rarity for local Democrats.
“I get in this position before where I’m suspected of leaking things because I talk to the media, but that’s part of the job,” Johnston tells Unfair Park. “I’ve been in this business 45 years now, and I have friends in the media that I’ve had for years, but I don’t know if any of them would testify that I’ve given out confidential information.”
Actually, if there is a leaker in Foster’s office, it’s the county judge himself. He’s my best source for his own incompetence, most recently when he couldn’t answer a simple question about what he did when he visited the state legislature. I don’t know if a new spokesperson can help the judge speak, but good luck with all that.
Lost in all the coverage of Wednesday’s city council shouting match is the history between the two combatants: Roy Williams, whose federal lawsuit helped create our 14-1 form of government, and Dwaine Caraway, the deputy mayor pro-tem. Williams has run for council several times, once against Caraway and another time against Caraway’s wife, Barbara Mallory. Both times Williams lost and endorsed the Caraways in a subsequent run-off. But the two have an uneasy truce.
“There is no problem with Roy and myself," Caraway said Thursday on KHVN-AM. “We had a shouting match yesterday -- it was a disagreement with a citizen and a friend.”
But just a few hours later, the outspoken Caraway wanted to set the record straight on his freindship with Roy Williams.
“I respect him as a citizen, and I respect the fact that he fought for 14-1 but I don’t want the public to get the perception that we talk and go to dinner and exchange Christmas gifts,” he told me.
Caraway is one of the most hardworking council members you’ll ever meet and has helped lead the charge against the drug houses and seedy motels that plague Oak Cliff and other southern Dallas neighborhoods. Some of these neighborhood blights he’s shut down for good, earning him enough acclaim to sweep him into office in a landslide last summer. But Caraway is still sensitive to the jab Williams delivered on Wednesday: that black council members like Caraway are a little too close to Leppert and the white business class who created him.
“The thing I can say about Tom Leppert is that he has delivered everything we have asked for,” Caraway says. “He may change, Matt, and I may do a story with you calling him all kinds of names, but right now he’s been one of the most honorable, hardworking mayors I have ever known, and that is why he has such support.”
OK, Dwaine. We get the point.
“He has all of my support. Every bit of it.”
Sure. Do you have anything else you want to say?
“He has delivered everything requested of him.”
What do you think of Leppert’s business casual look?
“I get a little passionate about it.”
Sounds like you’re kind of fond of Tom?
“My head is not stuck up anybody’s rear.”
OK, the last two quotes may have been taken out of context. Just a little. --Matt Pulle