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GROUP POWER:

Who’s got the clout?
By D Magazine |

GROUPS ARE A by-product of an increasingly pluralistic city. We band together in hundreds of organizations for hundreds of purposes. Some are the old-line groups; others are newly empowered. Some deal with relatively broad questions; many limit their scope to a single issue or a single territory. Their level of sophistication in doing their homework and in dealing at the Big Table will determine their success in the power structure. But for now, these are the groups to watch.



Dallas Citizens Council: The power slippage in this group of old-line business leaders is slight and relative. With the hiring of full-time executive director Alex Bickley in the Seventies, the Citizens Council signaled its intention to regain its power hold. Its methodology still rests with the clout of its individual members, one-on-one lunches and discreet meetings and with its role as the chief source of funds for major projects. With Bickley as key coach, strategist, counselor and lobbyist, the Citizens Council remains at the top of the power pyramid.

Dallas Chamber of Commerce: Word of a new image had been rumored for years. The chamber was to move from a public relations arm to leadership in public affairs. It was ready to get into the trenches and tackle the tough issues. Its Nice Guy image of the past allowed it to step safely onto the battle ground.

Expect the chamber to become the core group-at least publicly-in attracting other organizations to business concerns. But a strong, sophisticated leadership recognizes the role it can play in city diplomacy.

North Dallas Chamber of Commerce: Vitally alive, this growing chamber has the reputation for getting out the vote or putting on the pressure when its territory is at stake. Although the membership of the Dallas and North Dallas chambers frequently overlap, the North Dallas chamber is slightly younger, somewhat more aggressive in its public approach and includes more small-business people. Although the Dallas Chamber counts on the clout and work of its key leaders, who usually represent major business concerns, the North Dallas chamber uses sheer numbers to fight an issue.

Neighborhood Organizations: For the most part, neighborhood organizations are perceived as a monolithic group, but no single umbrella organization has effectively brought together a true coalition of neighborhood interests. Once the key groups can deploy the strength of their numbers and show the sophistication needed at the Big Table, they will be a far more potent force in creating policy.

On the other hand, many individual neighborhood groups-particularly those in East Dallas, Oak Lawn and a few scattered in North Dallas-have been extremely effective. They have leaders who understand how to work the system. Thruways have been blocked and high-rises have stayed on the drawing board solely because of the potent force these groups have displayed.

The Black Community: Although the black community is no more monolithic or homogeneous than any other communities, it does have a singular goal-economic development-that ties it together as a political force. At first look, the black community appears to be split between activist grass-roots actions and a more moderate business leadership. Unlike the Hispanic community, which is truly splintered along hostile lines, the black community is split more in public approach than behind-the-scenes realities. While grass-roots voices capture attention and portray the deep frustrations, the black business leadership moves slowly and steadily behind the scenes. In many cases, the business community makes more progress because of its moderate stand. Although the approaches are different, the real leaders of South Dallas understand how the two can work together.

In the old days, the black power structure formed around the church, with ministers acting as liaisons and lobbyists to the white community. Today, although some churches still provide a political forum and some preachers provide political leadership, the key power has shifted to the ballot box and use of the media. The political speeches of Council members Al Lipscomb and Diane Ragsdale are little different from those of former Councilwoman Elsie Faye Heggins, but both Lipscomb and Ragsdale are more sophisticated in their negotiations. Councilwoman Ragsdale, although allied with Heggins, gets her political coaching elsewhere and does more homework than her predecessor. Councilman Lipscomb, although still a grandstand player for the press, does know how to deal.

In the short term, the grass-roots movers will likely win points in the political games. But long-term change will come from the black business community. At its core, Dallas still is a city that moves by the power of business. As more black leadership is developed in the manner of Al Herron, Billy Allen, Adolph Hauss, Judge Ron White and Helen Giddings (who now works in leadership development for the Dallas Chamber of Commerce), the black community will increasingly have the wherewithal not only to improve its own economic situation from within but to deal more effectively with the white business Establishment. When the black business community can elect its own business leaders to office-with no financial support from outside-the first major step toward viable staying power will have been taken.



Other Groups To Witch-Dallas Assembly:

Formed by Bob Thornton to train upcoming “yes-and-no” men for membership in the Citizens Council, it now has broadened its base to include women and minorities and is an important networking organization.

Salesmanship Club: These men have worked doggedly to support camps for troubled youth, and in the process they’ve formed one of the most important, hard-to-get-in organizations in Dallas.

Dallas Alliance: Started in 1976 as a means of assembling all interests in the school desegregation case, it has endured as a forum for neighborhood issues, including the lead controversy.

United Way of Greater Dallas: This group is the most important charitable organization in Dallas. Participation is almost mandatory for those who are serious about rising in the business establishment.