DALLASITE OF THE YEAR: ANNETTE STRAUSS

A LOT HAS BEEN SAID ABOUT Annette Strauss since she broke the mold of the traditional Dallas mayor in last April’s precedent-setting city elections. She has felt the glare of scrutiny-more so perhaps than her male predecessors. “How many mayors get a televised report card three months into their term?” she asks with a rarely glimpsed feistiness. But the fact remains that Mayor Strauss is being watched, and so far, many of her colleagues-and even some of her detractors-have been favorably impressed. The election of Mayor Strauss is arguably the single most significant event of 1987. Her 56 percent to 44 percent victory over opponent Fred Meyer broke not just a gender barrier and an ethnic barrier (she is Dallas’s first Jewish mayor); it may have redefined the way in which we elect city officials. For the first time in history, both candidates were clearly aligned with political parties, and precinct workers were organized to get out the vote. Strauss is quick to insist that the entrance of Meyer, a former Dallas County Republican Party Chairman, determined the partisanship of the race. It was, nonetheless, a battle that openly pitted Democrats against Republicans for the first time in a city election. Will it be the last? Strauss thinks so, hopes so; she sees the partisan outbreak as an aberration. “I think the philosophy of non-partisanship has worked well for the city, and it should continue.”

As she sees it, Annette Strauss’s victory was a victory for all the people of Dallas-people of both genders, people of all races and religions. Her greatest strength (or weakness, to those who see pluralism as unwieldy) is in bringing people of diverse backgrounds to the table to hammer away at their differences. Strauss is diligent about studying the issues. Her propensity to listen (a trait that tends to put previously held convictions at risk) is sometimes mistaken for weakness. It might be, if that listening results in Strauss’s indecision. So far, it has not. Strauss has worked, often out of the public eye, to bring peopie together, and that is what Dallas needs now. We have been, over the past two decades, intoxicated by Dallas’s dizzying potential for growth, and past mayors’ agendas have tended to reflect that. Today is the morning after. We must face the reality of the problems that were left untended: our shortage of affordable and low-income housing, festering resentment among members of the minority community, a rising population of teenagers who, having lost their sense of direction, face a lifetime of bleak options.

Mayor Strauss has reached out to minorities by supporting and working closely with Deputy Mayor Pro Tern Diane Ragsdale (who faced a struggle over her largely symbolic post following the council elections last April); and by her willingness to face problems within the police department. She diffused a potentially explosive fight between developers and homeowners on the City Plan Commission by backing chairman Dan Garrigan, and she moderated an eleventh-hour dispute over new zoning regulations that threatened to destroy a fragile consensus on that difficult issue. She acknowledges that the city has not taken a leadership role in addressing the future of education in Dallas, and to that end named esteemed educator and former SMU president Willis Tate to chair a new advisory committee on education. She picked longtime civic leader and businessman Peter Baldwin to head up a pro bono information exchange that will help local small businesses tap into the successes of larger ones. EDS founder Mort Meyerson will lead a group seeking to encourage international development. On the issue of crime, Strauss will be beating the drum for a program to “encourage the citizens with the problem to become part of the solution” by appointing former mayoral candidate Jim Buerger to oversee “Adopt-a-Block,” a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to fighting crime.

Mayor Strauss’s style is a departure for Dallas. It is difficult for some to adjust to her soft, womanly expressions or to the gratuitous kindnesses she continuously bestows. But these are matters of style, not substance. By electing Annette Strauss as mayor, we discovered something new about ourselves. At the same time, we send the world a new message about Dallas.

For all of these reasons, Annette Strauss is our 1987 Dallasite of the Year.

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