It seemed that the third time might be the charm for South Dallas clergy members who want to recall Mayor Miller. After two failed efforts–in 2003 and 2004–the Clergy for Recall claimed to have enough signatures to force an election. In fact, the leaders said they had 89,000 names, 16,000 more than the city requires. So that’s why it’s all the more puzzling that, just as they appeared to achieve their goal, they punted and decided not to submit the petition to the City Secretary. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
The original press conference was scheduled for 2 o’clock in the Flag Room, which is on the sixth floor and overlooks the fountain at City Hall. I arrived about 30 minutes early and found only a few people in the room. Puzzling, I thought, but I saw a Channel 5 truck out front–and marveled at how those guys can park anywhere; the truck was up near the fountain–and figured we must still be on. But tick-tock. At ten minutes before 2, though, with just a few more journalists on hand, I knew something was wrong. Sure enough, the Channel 5 truck was pulling away. I sprang into action and visited with one of the DMN reporters, Emily Ramshaw, whose office is down the hall. She contacted her colleague Dave Levinthal, and he said that the clergy were still in meetings at Mount Tabor Baptist Church, off Simpson Stuart Road.
Not sure of the exact address, I headed across the street to the main branch of the library, where I got an Internet card to use the public computers (it’s good for a full year). By that time, Levinthal had filed a great piece on the behind-the-scenes maneuverings to stall the petition.
Sure enough, by the time I made my way to the church and took a seat in the gym, where the press conference was to be held, the mood was that the petition would be called off. (Which was strange, given the large “Recall!!! Mayor Miller” sign that still stood out front.) Soon the clergy filed in–about 20 in all–and Bishop Harold Edwards approached the podium, which was just shy of mid-court, and stood a few feet in front of a volleyball net. He launched into a sometimes eloquent, sometimes over-the-top address that explained why he thought the petition should not go forward. “I am a weary warrior in the battle against hate,” he said to a chorus of “amens,” “that’s rights,” and “mmm-hmmms.” He said that Mayor Miller has severely divided the city and that “Dallas is in a dire ditch.” He lamented that the public discourse has become hateful and mean-spirited, but he argued that the recall would only cause more division. He recommended that the clergy stand down, saying, “Let’s not continue to play the hate game.”
That set the stage for the Rev. S. C. Nash, who has lead Mount Tabor since 1988. He said that he was conflicted about how to proceed and insisted that his group had the signatures to force the recall. He then claimed that Miller “does not represent all of Dallas” and asked why crime is still a major issue under Chief Kunkle. (Nash then took a shot at Belo, saying, “The Dallas Morning News and Belo are painting the picture that African-Americans and crime go together.”) But he said that many groups and individuals–including opponents of Laura Miller, such as Maxine Thornton-Reese, Lois Finkelman, Gary Griffith, and Alan Walne–had made the case that the recall would only hurt the city. He wanted to set an example of love and forgiveness and quoted from 1 Corinthians: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” He then concluded, “As Christians, we cannot operate within the parameters of hate.” With that, he urged the city to work toward harmony and said that the recall would stand down.
The whole affair took on two personalities: the overwhelming desire to oust Miller and the genuine hope for reconciliation. But the Q&A that followed was less cordial. Another gentleman moderated, but he did more to clash with reporters than answer questions. (How much did it cost, what do you tell the 89,000 people who signed on to the effort, will the clergy allow the signatures to be audited by a third party, did the investigation of Don Hill play a role?) The most pointed exchange came when Levinthal asked about the credibility of the clergy as a political force, which evoked this (paraphrased) answer: “You said you’re with the Dallas Morning News? Let me ask you this about credibility: Have you allowed a third-party audit on your circulation?” Levinthal handled himself wonderfully, but it showed a certain level of tension and frustration on the part of the clergy.