Monday, January 30, 2023 Jan 30, 2023
28° F Dallas, TX


In tiny Addison, scare tactics and PR stunts win an election
By Chris Tucker |

LAST MONTH, while most people interested in politics were watching the Dallas mayor’s race, an interesting election was taking place in Addison, that little town out by Prestonwood Town Center. There, 371 voters gave incumbent mayor Jerry Redding his fifth term in office. Redding’s opponent, Jerry Mansfield, received 164 votes. The mayor’s running mates, Councilman Richard Roder and council candidate Greg Cole, also scored 2-1 victories over Steve Rupp and Mark Dominic, Mansfield’s allies.

Redding’s “Addison team” carried the day, but that was only the ending. And before you decide that you don’t care about what’s happening in Addison as long as you’re not caught in the traffic, muse on these points:

● For the first time, Addison was dragged into the modern world of politics, in which (choose one) media consultants, image makers and slick PR firms have as much as candidates to do with the out-come of an election. Like the partisan gods of Greek epics, these powers choose sides and fight one another; often, the candidates seem to be only middlemen.

●Addison may be the biggest little town in Texas in terms of potential wealth. Its six square miles have been a developer’s dream for the past seven years – especially since the town passed its liquor-by-the-drink laws. As this election has shown, some powerful people will spend big dollars to control Addison.

●Addison is being held in noncompli-ance with federal grant agreements by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The ruling came mainly because airport czar Henry Stuart refuses to let the FAA look at his complete financial records. Under a 1976 operating agreement with the town of Addison, Stuart’s Addison Airport of Texas Inc. keeps 97 percent of the airport’s multimillion-dollar gross; the city gets 3 percent. Currently, all federal grant money is being withheld from the airport.

IN ADDISON, all roads lead to Addison Airport. And since many of the genuine issues, rumors, innuendoes and lies that dominated the election involved the airport, it’s fitting that an airport man spearheaded the opposition to the Redding ticket.

Jim Donaldson, a lanky, balding man given to wearing Western-cut jackets, is the former general manager of Mission Air, a fixed-base operator at Addison Airport. Mission Air, primarily a fuel vendor, offers many of the same services for airplanes that service stations offer for cars. A former corporate pilot, Donaldson opened his business in May 1982 after lengthy squabbling with airport manager Henry Stuart over what Donaldson claimed were discriminatory regulations. Stuart runs the airport for the Town of Addison and allegedly makes the rules for operators there, but he has another role: His Addison Airport of Texas Inc. (AATI) is the largest fuel vendor at the airport and is in competition with the other operators.

Donaldson and other airport operators charged Stuart with conflict of interest and met with city officials to plead their case. (Stuart does or doesn’t serve as Addi-son’s city aviation director, depending on your source.) They were informed repeatedly that the airport was Stuart’s concern and no city policies regarding the airport could be changed without his consent.

Stymied, Donaldson and the others turned to the courts and the ballot box for relief. After enlisting the financial support of Hugo (Buddy) Schoellkopf and other disgruntled Addison businessmen, Donaldson approached the political consulting firm of Fairchild/LeMaster. He wanted the firm to handle a campaign to oust Redding and Roder, whose seats were up for re-election, and to fill the seat of retiring Councilman Bill Sellmeyer.

Though political consulting is not its only work (the firm also does “corporate spokesmanship” training), Fairchild/LeMaster has been through tough campaigns. Normally, the candidates come to them; this time Donaldson had money and a cause, but no candidates.

But their first task was to find issues, not candidates. An axiom in politics says that an incumbent is hard to defeat unless the challenger can find issues to exploit. And “issues” – euphemisms aside – are things people are angry about or can be made angry about.

Fairchild/LeMaster’s Rob Allyn (whose speeches put much of the punch in Bill Clements’ last hurrah) believes that elections are won with “time, money and volunteers.” Money was no problem; Donaldson’s backers -quickly forged into a “grass-roots organization” called Citizens for a Better Addison (CBA) – had vowed to spend up to $20,000 to overthrow Redding and his men – about $10 for each of the 2,100 registered voters. The volunteers would come later. What worried Allyn and his associate, Maggie Bray, was time.

Allyn, Bray and Lisa LeMaster, co-founder of the company, had their first meeting with Donaldson on January 13. March 2 was the candidates’ filing deadline, so they didn’t have much time. As Allyn and Bray began looking for issues and candidates, they quickly learned that Redding, Roder and Cole would not be their only adversaries in the election. Ad-dison, an odd amalgam of old-line residents and upwardly mobile transients, would thwart them at every turn.

Like many small suburbs in the shadow of Dallas, Addison has an identity problem. Most of the people who live there work in Dallas. What’s more, most of them play in Dallas, too, and draw their cultural nourishment from Dallas. And, unlike its neighbors, Carrollton and Farmers Branch, Addison has no public schools that might help foster a sense of community. Many families leave Addison when their children reach school age rather than put them in the Dallas Independent School District. Perhaps half of Addison residents live in apartments or town houses; most of these are single people. It is not a typical community.

Responding to charges that crime had risen dramatically during his seven years in office, Redding once said, “I don’t doubt it. It’s the nature of the city.” His statement, taken out of context, handed his opponents a convenient issue, but the mayor might have been closer to the truth if he had said that Addison has no nature in the sense of community identity.

“Everyone we talked to in Addison fit one of two categories,” Allyn says. “Many said there were problems with traffic, crime, zoning and other things. The other category was almost more scary. We’d knock on the door and they’d say, ’Oh, do I live in Addison?’ “

Many potential voters told Allyn and Bray that they didn’t know Addison had a town government. Several didn’t know that Addison was incorporated; they believed it was a neighborhood like Lake Highlands or Preston Hollow. To Allyn and Bray, this ignorance spoke volumes.

“The government hadn’t made any effort to integrate new people into the electorate,” Bray says. “Redding was doing nicely with the voters he had, so he wasn’t interested in bringing in any new voters.”

Having added the issues of crime, traffic, “roller-coaster” taxes and closed-door government to the CBA issue of airport mismanagement, the Fairchild/LeMaster team began looking for candidates. They didn’t want to pick a “slate” (nobody runs on a slate, just as no candidate admits to being a politician); they wanted three independent candidates who would accept the backing of the CBA.

“We wanted someone with a business background – man or woman, black or white,” Allyn says. “We wanted someone with a sophisticated attitude toward growth because we didn’t want to turn the clock back to the rural days. We wanted someone with his own judgment who wouldn’t take everything we told him for granted but would check us out and not agree with every issue we talked about. Above all, we didn’t want another Jerry Redding.”

Fairchild/LeMaster works mainly with Republican candidates, so Bray’s first move was to obtain a list of all the Republican primary voters in Addison. That led her to the chairman of Addison’s Republican precinct, 27-year-old Mark Dominic, a government contract negotiator at Texas Instruments. Dominic, who had worked in numerous Republican campaigns, first thought that Bray wanted him to help in another race. After consulting family, co-workers and residents of his apartment complex, he announced his candidacy for a council seat in late January.

Meanwhile, Allyn made the rounds of homeowners’ associations, churches, country clubs and women’s groups for membership lists. Since residents of Addison use Dallas as an address, computers could not be used to serve up a handy list of Addisonians. Everyone had to be matched against one of Addison’s four zip codes.

Allyn and Bray came across several likely candidates who had not lived in Addison for the full year required to run for office. One woman, a government-relations executive at Electronic Data Systems, was eager to run but had lived in Addison for only six months. But she had a friend who seemed very well-qualified. It was not until the woman met with Fairchild/LeMas-ter that they discovered that she lived one block outside the Addison town limits.

By the first week of February, with filing deadlines less than a month away, Bray and Allyn began to get nervous. Donaldson was calling almost every day to check on their progress. For a time, they thought Bill Hicks, a RepublicBank vice president, might be an ideal candidate. “After two days of talking with him, we figured we had a mayor,” Allyn says. “He was everything we wanted – a family man, young, bright and interested politically.” Two days later, Hicks learned that he was being transferred to Midland. On February 8, Mark Sherman, a manufacturer’s representative at the Dallas Menswear Mart, looked like the man of the hour – but Sherman felt that his travel commitments would keep him from doing an effective job on the council.

By mid-February, Allyn and Bray were talking to Pat Cashman, owner of Skef-fington’s Formal Wear in Addison. Cashman had run and lost against Redding in 1977, the last time Redding had had an opponent. But Cashman had been appointed by Redding to the City Planning and Zoning Commission and had buried the hatchet with the mayor. Ironically, Cashman suggested that they talk to Greg Cole, apparently unaware that Cole was Redding’s chosen candidate.

After talking with Cashman, Allyn feared that word of their recruiting effort would reach Redding. “The last thing we wanted was to let Redding know what was coming,” he says. “We didn’t want him to gear up for a big campaign. We knew he’d find out eventually, but we wanted him to wait as long as possible.”

At that point, Allyn and Bray were discouraged. They believed that three candidates were needed to mount a decent campaign. “It’s one thing for people to say they’re concerned with Addison and another thing for them to put their names on the line, set aside their private commitments and put themselves out as candidates,” Allyn says. “We were beginning to wonder if anyone would be qualified, when we had found so many potential candidates who couldn’t run.”

Ironically, the crash of a small plane near Belt Line Road in early February may have helped their cause. The plane came down not far from Steve Rupp’s house, killing the inexperienced pilot and stopping only yards away from a house filled with people. Rupp, a Southwest Airlines pilot, had heard the plane’s engines losing power. The next evening, Rupp talked with Bill Hicks and expressed his concern over safety at the airport. Hicks spoke to Fairchild/LeMaster, and a meeting was arranged for February 15. A few days later, Rupp met with Donaldson, who briefed him on the airport disputes and again charged Stuart with mismanagement. Rupp soon agreed to run for town council, leaving Allyn and Bray with one spot to fill. They had six days to find a mayoral candidate.

“We had gotten to the point where we were ready to knock on doors to find the right person,” Bray says. She was taking the names of real estate agents from signs and calling condominium associations. Then, out of the blue, Jerry Mansfield called them. Mansfield is a former owner of Management Marketing Associates and is now division operations manager for Sanger Harris. At 32, he is trim and athletic, a former member of the U.S. Amateur Baseball team.

The Redding campaign would later try to paint Mansfield and the other challengers as tools of the “airport special interests,” but, from the start, Mansfield insisted on being his own man. (In light of the outcome, he may have been too independent for his own good.) He refused to take any of the charges against Redding and Stuart on faith, demanding documentation for the challengers’ claims about increased crime and airport mismanagement. “I told them from the beginning I would make no promises about anything,” Mansfield says. “I said I’d look at their complaints and listen to everybody, but I wasn’t going to be anyone’s yes man.”

With those conditions and with a brief-ing from an FAA official on the airport situation, Mansfield agreed to run for mayor. Six weeks before election day, the CBA ticket was complete.

“WE THINK he’s soft [vulnerable] because he hasn’t had to run hard in years,” Rob Allyn said of Redding in early March. To capitalize on that supposed weakness, Fairchild/LeMaster planned an impressive barrage of voter registration drives, door-to-door canvassing, receptions and, above all, mailings and phone banks. The other side did much the same thing. Addison has a little more than 2,000 registered voters, and candidates on both sides apparently decided to send every one of them several pieces of mail.

Fairchild/LeMaster’s outline of the Addison campaign plan is a tidy, rational document detailing every major step of the proposed campaign: February 28 – voter registration. March 8 – order yard signs and bumper stickers. March 24 – drop the Addison Alert. But one important date is missing from this orderly timetable. Had Allyn and Bray known what was coming, they might have added: “March 15 – Redding, Roder and Cole hold press conference, begin Big Lie about Addison Airport.”

On Monday, March 14, Allyn and Bray learned that the mayor’s team had planned a press conference for the next day. During the weekend, Addison voters had received a letter from Redding, Roder and Cole warning that “a group in Addison” wanted to bring regularly scheduled passenger service to Addison Airport, now a general aviation center. The mayor and his men were “unalterably opposed” to such schemes, the letter said, and they promised to keep “the roar of huge passenger jets” out of Addison. “One Love Field in Dallas County is enough,” they vowed.

Seeing only part of what was coming, Allyn and Bray planned a “counterevent” to steal Redding’s thunder. They invited the press to Buddy Schoellkopf’s Pumpkin Air, scheduled immediately after the mayor’s press conference.

Allyn and the others planned to attack the mayor’s credibility, arguing that the whole Big Jet Scare was a “smoke screen” to divert attention from the mayor’s record. Their main points were that passenger jets at Addison were impossible, that the FAA would never allow such flights and that nobody had proposed it, anyway. (As it turned out, they were wrong about this last objection.) Allyn’s first draft contained some strong language, accusing airport manager Stuart of “milking the city for millions” and hitting hard at the mayor’s business partnership with Stuart (Stuart owns 5 percent of Redding’s Ad-dison Automotive).

Mansfield and Rupp balked at some of the tough rhetoric. “I’m glad I’m not wearing a light-colored suit,” Mansfield said. “The blood won’t come off for weeks.” At their insistence, Allyn struck several hard hitting phrases.

At 10 p.m., Donaldson read the amended statement. Allyn reminded him to turn toward Steve Rupp, the pilot, and ask sarcastically, “Would you try to land a 747 here, Steve?” As they were finishing, a telephone volunteer entered to say good night. “I’m very encouraged,” she said. “Not a single negative vote. They’re an intelligent lot of people.”

BEWARE THE ides of March, they say. The next day, March 15, a funny thing happened on the way to the election. Four print journalists, three radio reporters and TV crews from Channels 4, 5 and 8 turned out at the behest of Michael Shannon, Redding’s (choose one) media consultant, image maker, slick PR guy. Shannon, who ran Jim Mattox’s 1980 congressional campaign, calls his firm Mandate; the logo on his business card boasts of “the power to change men’s minds.” On this day, like the Shadow of the old radio serials, Shannon was out to “cloud men’s minds” on the subject of the airport.

The clouding began when Redding stepped to the microphone to start the press conference. Instantly, his voice was lost in a hellish roar; everyone looked toward the runway to see what was landing, but the runway was empty. What the newsmen were hearing was a recording of a passenger jet landing at Love Field. The purpose of the gimmick? To dramatize what Redding, Roder and Cole would make the centerpiece of their campaign: passenger jet service at Addison Airport.

“The sound of a jet airplane blasting in your living room is an invasion of privacy of the worst kind,” Redding said in a Shannon-prepared statement. The mayor pledged that he, Roder and Cole would deliver “three solid votes against these Southwest Airlines-type jets roaring over our neighborhoods.”

Redding and Shannon distributed copies of airline flight schedules, which were apparently the work of the cynical profiteers who proposed passenger jet service. Redding and Roder avoided saying that their opponents favored such service, but the implication was clear. Redding told the press that his foes vowed to have him “un-elected” if he would not go along with their plans. Greg Cole, who would be the main point man on the airport throughout the campaign, then attacked Citizens for a Better Addison. During the question-and-answer session that followed, Redding was asked whether he was sure that Mansfield, Rupp and Dominic were in favor of passenger jets. “I do not have that link,” the mayor replied.

Still, through the press releases and the innuendoes, the link was formed. A simple, emotional issue was born: Out of pure greed and meanness, they hope to subject you to a lifetime of brain-numbing racket; we will save you from their wicked schemes.

Most of the press decided to make the trek over to Pumpkin Air for the “coun-terevent.” As planned, Donaldson opened with the prepared statement, which had been toned down from the night before but was still dripping with vitriol. He damned the mayor’s press conference as “a huge cover-up” by “a gang of local politicians who don’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”

“I oppose the idea of passenger jet service at Addison Airport,” Donaldson said, “and so do most or all of us in the CBA.” Donaldson then introduced Jerry Mansfield, who apologized for having no special effects and accused Redding of posing as “a knight in shining armor.” Then, in a fit of reasonableness that would come back to haunt him, Mansfield addressed the issue of passenger service. “I’d have to study the proposal, and I haven’t even seen it yet,” he said. “1 want to study the issue, but as far as large jets like 727s and 747s, I’m against them.”

As the television crews did their silent minuet, moving as if by signal to trade camera angles, Mansfield introduced Rupp, who slammed the “gross mismanagement” of the airport and what he called “governing by litigation,” a reference to Addison’s legal troubles over the airport. Dominic’s pet issue was the lack of citizen participation in town government.

During the question-and-answer session, it became clear that some reporters did not grasp the situation; a few even thought the airport question had been raised by Mansfield. That evening on the news, one TV station carried the Redding message: The CBA (and by extension, its candidates) wanted big jets in Addison.

So the tone of the campaign was set. For the final weeks, Shannon, Redding and the others had their opponents just where they did not want to be: on the defensive, spending time and money denying a charge instead of attacking the mayor’s record.

No one was more stunned by the Big Jet Scare than Bruce Mittendorf, whose Air Addison group actually did want to bring passenger service to Addison – but not with “Southwest Airlines-type jets.”

“We were made into a political football,” says Mittendorf, who denies any connection between Air Addison and anyone associated with CBA. He says he had never heard of Donaldson, Mansfield, Rupp or Dominic until the mayor’s press conference. Also lost in the thicket of distortions was another important distinction: Air Addison had planned to use jet-prop planes known as Dash-7s, which are quieter than many of the planes already landing regularly at Addison Airport. “They would never have known we were there,” Mittendorf says.

The Redding campaign “deliberately misrepresented the facts,” Mittendorf says, adding that the mayor had photo-copied and distributed the Air Addison material without his permission. “We certainly never threatened to run [Redding] out of office.” For the time being, Air Addison is about as popular as cholera in Addison.

“WE DON’T just give advice,” Rob Allyn said in early March, “we do the work.” As the brief campaign rushed along, he and Bray took care of almost all the drudge work – building signs, designing brochures, arranging photo sessions, haggling with printers. The candidates and several volunteers spent four hours or so each night for almost two weeks calling voters. Since television and radio would be wasted in such a small area, the telephone was the main link with the voters.

Phone calls were divided into two types: advocacy calls, which began shortly after the first flurry of mailings, and voter identification calls during the last week of the campaign. Again, the transient nature of Addison plagued the challengers. Perhaps one-fourth of the voters registered in 1981 had moved. One night, after reaching three disconnected numbers in a row, Mansfield exclaimed in frustration, “Doesn’t anybody live in this town?”

Door-to-door canvassing in a small town like Addison sounds easy, but candidates from both sides found that it was not. It was difficult, especially in apartments, to keep a current list of registered voters. And there was the problem of getting away gracefully without seeming to rush off. Mansfield remembers an evening when one couple had him fielding questions for 45 minutes – a long time to spend on two votes.

The challengers’ spirits were lifted when Channel 5 filmed a four-minute debate be-tween the two Jerrys. Mansfield, who is out of the telegenic Jack Kemp mode, is perfect for today’s politics; he zinged Redding for his “nature of the city” quote and pounded away at the Redding-Stuart business connection. At headquarters that evening, most people believed that Mansfield had won the debate.

The last week of the campaign, the Redding camp sent another letter to Addison voters. This time they leaned almost exclusively on the Big Jet Scare and attempted to rewrite the past. The letter claimed that at their press conference, Mansfield and Company had “refused to take a stand” against regularly scheduled passenger airlines at the airport. The letter walked the razor’s edge between truth and lies.

“The men controlling their campaign won’t allow them to oppose passenger airlines,” the letter went on. Those shadowy bosses, of course, turned out to be Donaldson and Von Rodman, general manager of Friendly Aviation. Then Shannon raised the spectre of outside agitators, long a reliable tactic in the South: Eight members of Citizens for a Better Addison “either don’t live in Addison or don’t care enough about our city to register to vote,” the letter stated.

In the final days of the campaign, the Redding people were clearly on the attack, going door-to-door to pass out earplugs and to remind voters that they were the guardians of peace and quiet. At night, the phone banks showed that the attacks were working. Mansfield, Rupp and Dominic were spending more and more time denying the “airport slate” charges.

The strain began to show on the candidates. After the mayor’s second letter to the voters, Mansfield was furious. “If you want to attack me, go ahead,” he said, “but don’t misquote me.” Finally, the Fair-child/LeMaster group was forced to send out more than 1,000 Mansfield brochures stamped with a message in lurid green: “I strongly oppose passenger jet service at Addison Airport.” Mansfield was further incensed when he learned that a councilman’s wife had been calling voters to tell them that Mansfield drove a car with Pennsylvania license plates. None of the challengers are native Texans, but Mansfield has lived in Addison for three years. His car has Texas plates.

ON THE WEDNESDAY before the election, the two camps trad bitter accu-sations. Donaldson was charged with registering seven nonresidents to vote in Addison. He admitted registering himself, his wife and five others by listing them at his airport business address, but claimed that he didn’t believe this was illegal since none were registered to vote anywhere else. If election officials determine that Donaldson knowingly violated the law, he could face up to three years in prison.

That same day, Mansfield accused Redding, Roder and Cole of campaign spending violations, charging them with refusing to disclose any of their campaign expenditures and distributing campaign literature without identifying the group or person paying for it. He also claimed that the incumbents had used city employees – in particular, Addison police -to confiscate their campaign signs.

The Redding camp admitted that they had disclosed no expenses on the official statements that are due 30 days and seven days before an election. Asked if this were not odd, Shannon said, “Nobody has billed them yet” and implied that printers, photographers and earplug makers were in no hurry to be paid. “These guys aren’t going anywhere,” he says.

When the phone banks shut down March 31, the challengers had lost some of their spirit. The Big Jet Scare was working. Dominic and Rupp seemed a little dazed, as if wondering what had hit them. Dominic told of showing some of the Redding literature to friends: “They said they wouldn’t vote for me if they believed this stuff. Heck, I wouldn’t vote for myself. I’ve always heard that politics could be dirty, but some of this has surprised me.”

Some self-pity and second-guessing was in the air. “We started so damned late,” Allyn said. Forcing a joke, he added: “If only you guys had been straight demagogues. This is what you get for being reasonable.”

Mysteriously, despite the setbacks over the airport issue, the phone count that night showed the challengers running slightly ahead: 95 for, 68 against and 262 still undecided. If the undecided vote split evenly, they would have a chance.

On election day, Allyn had a premonition. He and his brother-in-law were putting out yard signs early that morning. Whenever they returned to check an area, their signs were gone. “I just felt right then that we were going to lose it,” he says. “It was too much to fight.”

That night, at what was to be a victory party, Donaldson sat apart from the other guests, staring at a phone. At 7:05, minutes after the polls had closed, the phone rang. Donaldson’s hand shot out. “Yeah. Yeah. Not yet,” he told LeMaster. Then he went back to watching the phone.

At 7:15, the phone rang again, and Donaldson quickly scribbled down the results. It wasn’t even close. Redding 371, Mansfield 164. Roder 249, Rupp 128. Cole 244, Dominic 113. One by one, the guests came to the table and looked down at the numbers, as if paying their last respects. There was some talk of next year and of filing a challenge to the results on some technicality, but the fire was gone. The figures spoke loudly for themselves.

Mayor Jerry Redding believes that the campaign was built on “totally negative issues,” and he doesn’t think that’s good for Addison. He describes the campaign as “agonizingly tough” because of “the media coverage our opponents stirred up.” Redding says that the airport was definitely the major issue of the campaign, and he believes that there was and is a connection between the defeated candidates and those who would bring passenger jet service to Addison Airport.

His proof? At the FAA hearings on theairport in mid-March, he saw Donaldsonand representatives of Air Addison sittingtogether. “I can’t give you living proof,”the mayor says, “but I’ve seen them together more than once.”