The Ad Man Cometh: One Mayor's "Great Value" Is Another Council Member's Waste of $30,000

Categories: City Hall
LuntzatCouncil1.JPG
Photos by Anna Merlan
Frank Lutz addressing the council yesterday
The Degolyer Estate at the Dallas Arboretum is a beautiful spot, a big house set back from a broad lawn, edged this time of the year with pumpkins and purple flowers. In the library, retreating Dallas City Council members and various other City Hall types (City Manager Mary Suhm, the mayor's chief of staff Paula Blackmon, among others) sat Thursday afternoon at round tables munching chocolate-chip cookies. I wedged myself onto a floral couch; the City Hall guys from The Dallas Morning News sat crammed around a dainty tea table in the corner.

As Robert noted yesterday, this was day one of the city council's annual retreat, and Thursday's program included presentations from two public relations pros, Molly Foley from Next Generation Consulting, and, more controversially, Frank Luntz, whose company, Luntz Global, refers to itself as "emerging powerhouse in the profession of message creation and image management." As you probably recall from yesterday, some of the man's biggest achievements include telling George W. Bush to refer to "global warming" as "climate change" and apparently convincing the entire Republican Party to use the phrase "death tax" instead of "estate tax." Luntz and Foley had promised to deliver survey results to let the city council know how we, the people, feel about them, their governance and the city we live in.

Foley's presentation focused on how to attract "Millennial" workers to the city, those elusive 29-and-under types. According to Foley's highly scientific research, which seemed to consist of broad conclusions she said were backed up by 2001 Census data (when most "Millenials" were teenagers and probably still living at home), we Millenials enjoy Facebook, Twitter, coffee bars that are open late, dog parks and not working very much. It was like Stuff White People Like done up in PowerPoint.

Foley urged the crowd to "create a culture in Dallas that's positive, vibrant and fun." She produced a survey by her firm that ranked our city as No. 26 out of 34 American cities with populations over 500,000, based on such criteria as walkability, green space, WiFi hot spots and "after-hours opportunities," which is not, disappointingly, what it sounds like.

But the main attraction was Luntz, whose presentation was controversial before he even got to the front of the room.

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Angela Hunt had already told The News she was "very concerned" about Luntz, based on his political background as a GOP pollster and FOX News contributor, and questioned his price tag (which was, if you recall, $15,000 from the city and $15,000 from an anonymous donor).

Luntz immediately addressed his past work, kind of.

"My reputation is someone who comes from the right of center," he told city officials, but added that the state and local governments that he's worked with have skewed Democrat.

Luntz said that the Dallas research was "the smallest project that caused me the greatest amount of anxiety," and promised to tell the council members what people say about them "when you're not in the room." He tried to win over them right away by telling them how misunderstood they, and other politicians, are. "Nobody appreciates the effort, stresses and strains" of the job, he said. But the good news, he added, is that local politicians "are the most trusted level of government. That said, it still ain't great. People here want you to stop with the politics -- they're looking for real."

Dallas, Luntz said, "is more focused on the future and more optimistic" than any city he can recall polling. He called the overall picture of Dallas he got from polling around 400 of its residents (with a 4.7 percent margin of error) "good, but mixed."

Some numbers: Luntz said that around 44 percent of Americans think the best days in our history are still ahead of us. In Dallas, that number jumps to 63 percent. "You don't have pessimists here," he said. Sixty-four percent of Dallasites think they're better off than their parents, versus 60 percent nationally, and 57 percent think their kids' lives are better, versus 34 percent nationally. Seventy-seven percent want the city council members to represent all citizens equally, versus, say, representing the neighborhoods and communities where they live (whoops). People in Dallas feel slightly less safe walking around at night than most of the country does. Sixty percent of Dallasites say they want a "career," versus 21 percent who say they want a "job."

Council member Vonciel Jones Hill asked at that point if that meant Barack Obama's jobs bill would have had better success if it had been called a "career" bill.

"I said I would not do anything in politics," Luntz said, glancing at the mayor. "But I never duck a question."

"Next slide," said Mayor Mike Rawlings said, a little tersely. Luntz started to say something else. "Next slide," Rawlings repeated.

Luntz looked at him. "Wow," he said.

Rawlings also hurried Luntz through the last part of his presentation, which we thought was the most interesting (and has the most to do with why he's so controversial): offering the city council members "good" words versus "great" words. Don't say "sustainability," but use terms such as "cleaner, safer and healthier." Instead of saying "working together," say "partnership." In place of "sacrifice," use, "We're all in this together." Don't "inform" the public, "educate" the public. (So if you notice a sudden shift in city council's vocabulary, that would be why.)

But Luntz also wasn't above teasing his audience a bit, which sometimes went over well and sometimes really didn't. When Dwaine Caraway asked him to repeat himself at one point, Luntz gestured at the bold paisley number your former mayor had on and said, "Of course he can't hear me over that shirt he's wearing." That got some scandalized giggles. He asked a few city council members if they could name some ways they provide their citizens with "fewer hassles," which, not being Maytag repairmen, they had trouble answering. Mary Suhm jumped in after a moment, saying that the council makes, "a safer city, for God's sake."

"She reminds me of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction," Luntz said, gesturing towards the city manager with his chin.

Near the end of the afternoon, Vonciel Hill asked Luntz about something he'd mentioned earlier -- that white people are, statistically, "less optimistic" about the future than African-Americans or Latinos.

"You really want me to go down that direction?" Luntz asked. He told her that white people have "concerns with the president," specifically the direction he's taking the country, that directly contribute to their lack of optimism.

"I absolutely disagree," Angela Hunt said promptly.

"Let me finish first," Luntz said, a little testily. "Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Perry." Hunt started to say something in her defense, and Luntz replied, "You interrupted me."

"Stop," Rawlings said quickly. Luntz went on to say white people are also particularly afraid of "their jobs going to China." (Update 10:10 - In an email just now, Hunt adds, "While it may be true that many whites disagree with the President's positions, that doesn't adequately explain the difference in optimism among races. I think the reduced optimism many whites have about the future has less to do with President Obama's policies or what he has done and more to do with the fact that as the first black president, he's emblematic of significant racial demographic shifts in our country and the fact that whites are losing their historic hold on power.")

After Luntz concluded, Hunt did not look happy. We went over to chat.

"I think we just wasted $30,000 on a banal presentation that could have been provided as a handout," she told us. "I'm not interested in how we develop better messages to better manipulate the public's perception, or learning buzzwords to prompt the most visceral reaction." She added that she thought the poll questions were often leading. 

Scott Griggs agreed. "It was just too poll-driven," he said. "We need to focus on getting to work, finding solutions and getting results. This is spin." They both also questioned whether a 400-person online survey with a nearly 5 percent margin of error was truly useful (Gallup polls, for context, generally have a two or three percent margin.)

But out on the patio, Rawlings said he was satisfied with the presentation. "I've always believed certain things about Dallas," he told Unfair Park, and he appreciated seeing hard numbers to substantiate them. "It was a very extensive piece of research for a great value," he said.

He declined to say who had donated the other portion of Luntz's fee. Why did the donor want to remain anonymous, we asked? "Some people who give to the city just like to say, 'Don't give me any credit, I just want the city to be better,'" Rawlings said.

"So for $15,000 do we get a copy of this survey?" Scott Griggs asked a little earlier, as the afternoon wore on. No. At least not yet. The council members will get the whole thing at some point soon, and we're supposed to get a copy too. We'll make sure to put up the full presentation for your leisurely perusal once we've got it.
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82 comments
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Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

Scott, Luntz has provided several very real ideas that corporations use. One was good enough that I sent it to a previous client.

WAC I earned every dime one billable hour at a time from business clients that smell BS like yours a mile a way. I was the cleanup guy that delivered when other consulting firms failed. That is how I earned my living. All the hours I spent at city call were gratis. I retired from consulting last year to give to others. And you hiding behind a fake name?

Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

I think this tells us all a great deal. Further proof of Angela Hunt desperately trying to tote the democratic party line no matter how out of touch it is with reality. Where is the data to support your wild hypothesis? How would Ms. Hunt explain the dramatic rise in popularity of Herman Cain among the exact voters she is attempting to label and discredit? Frank Luntz has a stellar track record of data driven perspective in the corporate community, not just the political community. A perfect example of council members becoming deaf based on a label versus the content. Credit would be due to Mayor Rawlings for some balance and professionalism.

Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks

Who the hell likes Herman Cain? What the eff are you talking about? I don't know anyone that thinks Herb knows what the hell he's talking about. If you want a conservative in the White House, fine, but this guy is not a credible candidate for President. And Frank Luntz is a douche.

scottindallas
scottindallas

Judd, what's the track record, real production, real efficiencies, real savings?  or, has he delivered spin only?  That's not worth anything, just deceptive.  I praised Luntz for his sometimes astute observations, though he doesn't produce/improve anything except perception, again, that's deceptive marketing that may work short term, but it counter productive with millenials, who distrust such spin, and who detect such spin much easier than the old folks Luntz surveys. 

WereAllConsultants
WereAllConsultants

Hey Judd - Dont you have a consulting deal with City Hall right now???

Yep
Yep

Herman Cain was hand picked by the Republican party to take Race out of the discussion when a room full of white people were attacking him in the debates. He is nothing more than a black token to diffuse race from the discussion. Frank and Mayor Mike are birds of feather.........................

Yep
Yep

Clarification:Herman Cain was hand picked by the Republican party to take Race out of the discussion when a room full of white people were attacking him (The President - A black man) in the debates. He is nothing more than a black token to diffuse race from the discussion. Frank and Mayor Mike are birds of feather.........................

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Congress has not approved any of president Obama's policies ,only Health reform was passed.How can people blame Obama for all that's wrong with the world when nothing has been done.Senate fought bill giving money for Teachers,Police and Firefighters today.How can people be so racist that in there heart's ,because this man is Black they automatically hate any thing he does.May god help us all.I have voted for White men for President all my life and supported them right or wrong and to see and hear this is heartbreaking.

scottindallas
scottindallas

I don't think it's because of race.  Our politics are that polarized.  They did it to Clinton, they do it to Carter.  I imagine some see race as a problem/issue, but most are far more craven than to worry about the color of a man's skin, they see only one color, Green.

MayorWatchdog
MayorWatchdog

I am glad you get it Betty. A couple of comments you have made, including your mistaken support for Mayor Rawlings was troubling to say the least. 

TheTruth
TheTruth

And yes, they want him out mostly because he is black. They dont want to work with him, and they swear they will repeal his health care reform, once a republican takes office. It was a genius move by the Dems to put forth this piece of the jobs bill, to expose exactly what the Republicans true motives are - Racism. They are trying to blame him for all the Bush did in the prior 8 years. 

Marvin
Marvin

I saw Luntz conduct a live focus group on one of the cable news channels, and he actually scolded people for having opinions he didn't like. I wouldn't trust any of his "research".

Yep
Yep

I saw it as well. He sure did. 

Sturms_Bloody_Rectum
Sturms_Bloody_Rectum

A working retreat? The toolbag elected officials could not have done any of this work from their own city office's? Elected officials needed a professional speaker to come in and give everyone a pep-talk? I hope all you officials got a ribbon after the speach, and Luntz gave each and every one of you a hug while whispering in your ear, "you're special". I hope all the city/county official's had a nap after their lunch, then all scooted onto the school bus for a return ride to the office.

F'n hacks that get elected and spend the city/county/federal money like it's their own slush fund, while deflecting any warranted criticism. Next time the officials need a working meeting, go to the local tavern, lock the doors, get drunk, and solve the city's/county's problems while spilling the truth to eachother.

scottindallas
scottindallas

I hate to say it, but I find Luntz a compelling genius.  I don't agree with his agenda or really much of what he does.  But, he has interesting things to say and compelling points. 

I think it's easy to destroy the Luntz-speak.  However, it takes earnest conviction and an understanding of what's going on.  Sadly, those attributes are anathema to party politics.  So, I am convinced that most of that character are excluded from the outset.  This white guy is far from sanguine about the future of this country. 

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Same as it ever was.....

Mayor Mike's response --  "It was a very extensive piece of research for a great value."  Memo to Mayor Mike -- I'm happy to provide the same info (including the brilliant commentary from Ms. Next Generation), along with paperback copies of Lutze's book from which his magic words came, at the next get together for the bargain price of $5,000. 

Spin-Meisters
Spin-Meisters

I bet one of Rawlings handlers said, "we need to figure out a way to get one of our guys 30K." This is the best they could come up with. 

Cityrunamuk
Cityrunamuk

Hunt and Greggs' comments are reflective of the national discourse that we in Congress and the White House.  A basic refusal to accept basic policy differences among US citizens.  It not racial at all.  It is at its heart views reenforced by the current economic status of our country that the policies implemented by the White House, supported by Congress - when the Democratic party had control, have not produced the promised results.  And in fact have made our economic condition worse.  I live in CM Hunt's district.  She is representative of her views only, which at the end of the day, is what our nation is all about.  Individual views, free entreprise and majority rule...............

Sturms_Bloody_Rectum
Sturms_Bloody_Rectum

with all due respect, blame of our woes can go on forever, either side, left or right. It's the F'n toolbags doing backdoor deals selling our district/city/country down the shitter. Everyone knows of each problem they have to solve, but there's some bastard that wants to get payed on the side of said government contract. F the lobbyist/friends of the elected. It's simple to fix, but corruption adds to the cost.

Side note:I'd like to see if the city's employment rate and/or pay rate has increased in the economic down turn since late '08. I've seen outlining city employees not lose one F'n job, and a pay rate freeze put into effect for one year. WOW, God bless you, you F'n shit stained city higher-ups. 

scottindallas
scottindallas

from an economic perspective, it makes some sense to give gov't workers their raises as this should encourage demand generally.  I might limit those raises on the upper end.  Another counter-intuitive step would be for gov't to hire at the base level, and knock out any back logs.  Again, increasing demand and doing something the private sector is unwilling or unable to do.  Gov't serving as a counter cyclical stimulus makes good sense, not that gov't is above reform.

scottindallas
scottindallas

This is a bi-partisan endeavor.  Don't be such a tool, or a fool.  The biggest drivers of our debt is Bush's Medicare part D which he never even tried to fund.  Short term, our military commitments, the Bush tax cuts, and the recession are causing our current budget shortcomings.  Obama has capitulated on every issue he's passed, his disapproval numbers increasingly come from people on the left of Obama.  If we're left with two choices, he and whoever the GOP advances, Obama will win.  I didn't vote for him then, won't vote for him next time.  I voted Libertarian the last two presidential elections.  Take your partisan sophistry and do some independent research and thought.

heart and soul
heart and soul

We need to know who gave the $15,000. If someone is paying that kind of money to influence the council then the city needs to disclose who that person is.  The is a complete outrage.

yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

It's Mike. Hello? What more do you need to know?

heart and soul
heart and soul

Fine then make it public. Tell us where the $15,000 came from. I need it made public.

MayorWatchdog
MayorWatchdog

Yeah, no shit. Of course, the donor expects the 15k to come back to them in spades. Yeah, and this piece of shit Mayor, that bought his election will pay them back. Its how he works, which he has proven over and over. I believe we are now seeing the most corrupt Mayor in the last two decades starting his reign. Many are banning together to send his ass to prison. 

heart and soul
heart and soul

I do think he is corrupt and he has proven it with all his backroom deals. The park signs, the rigged redistricting map and here it is again and I am sure this is just the beginning. He has just gotten started.

I have friends at Tracy-Locke NY that told me this guy was a crook and "slime" also that he takes credit for the work of others and is a bad guy to work with. I figure it is all true.

RTGolden
RTGolden

I wonder if the Council ever considered just, you know, going out into their districts and asking their constituents this stuff.  That would save some money for the city and probably generate more accurate results.I hate to be the Angela burner here, but she's got it all wrong.  Maybe the White folks she associates with (Parkies and other people with more money than sense) feel pessimistic for racist reasons, but this off-white citizen is pessimistic because our politicians, no matter which side of the aisle, are only interested in preserving their existing power-archies, and not in fixing up the country/state/city.  Even more dismal, our wonderful citizenry, through a wonderful mix of Ignorant apathy and addiction to the path of least resistance, KEEPS VOTING FOR THE SAME TWO PARTIES AND EXPECTING SOMETHING TO CHANGE!!!!

scottindallas
scottindallas

I suspect that Angela would agree with you.  That is a far cry from blaming Obama for the problems.  I think Angela was bristling at the partisan nature of the comment.  I appreciate your bi-partisan, and far less hope filled assessment than the partisan sniping that always suggests the alternative is an improvement.

MattL1
MattL1

Wow.  As mentioned before, it sounds like the city paid Frank F*cking Luntz (note the asterisk, I'm getting better) 30 grand to do a half-ass survey about stuff they could all learn from reading a decent Unfair Park comment section.  I believe he mayor's quote says a lot about Luntz's methods.  He essentially says that the presentation reaffirmed already-held beliefs.  That's what he does.  It's easy to do that.  Challenging them is the difficult one.  Damn.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

GOOD WORDS: Planning retreat to create a vibrant culture.

BETTER WORDS: Or, they could just repave the fucking streets.

Derek V.
Derek V.

30 k was worth it, if only for the Caraway shirt joke.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Damn.  Being born in the '60s, I've always gone back and forth over whether I was a "boomer" or a "tweener."  But since I like facebook, twitter, coffee bars that are open late, dog parks and, most of all, not working very hard, it turns out I'm a millenial!

Does this mean I can start hitting on 20-something women?

Milli
Milli

No worries, it just means your really immature. Congrats, its no fun being a grown up. 

MattL1
MattL1

Welcome to the club.  We have jackets and everything.  

Adam from East Dallas
Adam from East Dallas

I am a fan of Hunt.  But I think she needs to listen to the grown-ups of politics on how to change City Council's much maligned image. Amateur hour is over.  This is Hunt's last term and if she wants to be more than a big city council person - and we all know she does - it's time to stop talking and listen when the Beltway Elite come in town to teach you how it's done. Kuddos to Rawlings for letting the press in to watch and report on the meeting.  The downside is that as long as the press is there how can they have a truly frank discussion or "planning retreat"?

Gangy
Gangy

I think it's time we stop listening to the Beltway Elite and start taking the citizens seriously.

Replay
Replay

I doubt that Rawlings (or  anyone else invited the press). Despite the fact it was billed as a "retreat" it is still subject to the State of Texas Open Meetings Act........the "public" should have showed up "en masse" and gobbled up all the chocolate chip cookies..........

yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

Going forward, anyone who complains about OccupyDallas need only read this blog.

Heavy Metal Church Lady
Heavy Metal Church Lady

How about a $30,000 study of where all the money has gone on the Trinity RIver Corridor Project?

Luntz making money off Dallas taxpayers is scandoulous. It's not good science--it's not even social science. It's social engineering via politically biased euphemisms. We can, and do, get that for free on a daily basis. Standing Wave anybody? More like Falling, Tumbling and Drowning Wave laced with PCBs and e-coli.

Who is responsible for the Luntz hire? Names, please.

Appalled
Appalled

I love that drive by insult to Mimi calling her Glenn Close. I wonder who gave him a big ass tip for it afterwards. But he's still a tool.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

That's what Luntz does.  If anyone was expecting something different, she was misinformed about the engagement.

Gabe
Gabe

Luntz sounds as comfortable and competent as Michael Scott. 

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