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THE MAKING OF THE MAYOR

Steve Bartlett’s opponents painted him as a right-wing zealot. The voters didn’t buy it. Here’s an inside-the-ampaign look at the forces that made the Bartlett Express instoppable- and what his vision means or Dallas’ future.
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ALVIN STEPHENS SAT QUIETLY, HIS HEAD BOWED, LISTENING INTENTLY as Lisa LeMaster, Dallas’ best-known political consultant, led a discussion of the pros and cons of various campaign slogans. Scribbled in colored pen on a white grease board were numerous rallying cries: “Leadership. Direction. Common Sense.” “A City That Works Again.” “Believe Again.” “Bring Dallas Back.”

At this point in the Steve Bartlett for Mayor campaign-mid-February-Stephens, a black businessman, was still tentative about his position as volunteer campaign chairman for a white, conservative Republican congressman from North Dallas. By far the least politically experienced person in the room, Stephens was there because of his friendship with Steve Bartlett-not his saw v at spin control.

One of the slogans struck a chord in the group: “Bring Dallas Back.” In January, early polls-called “benchmark polls” in campaign lingo-had indicated an overwhelming desire on the part of those questioned to do just that: to return to a time when Dallas knew where it was going and how to get there. This group of Bartlett intimates-longtime friend and adviser Jim Oberwetter, political consultant Enid Gray, Republican fundraisers Jean Johnson and Bill Schilling, Bartlett loyalist and campaign volunteer Martha Weisend, LeMaster’s husband and business partner Ken Fairchild-knew a winner when they heard it. “Bring Dallas Back” said exactly what voters wanted to hear.

Finally, Calvin Stephens spoke up. In a soft but powerful voice, he reminded the roomful of Anglos that “Bring Dallas Back” meant, in some parts of town, a return to a time when blacks and browns were denied a voice in city affairs. Stephens was already worried about persuading his fellow African-Americans that Steve Bartlett, a man who had voted against civil rights legislation and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, was a friend to minorities. A slogan that even faintly implied that Dallas was better off before minorities’ recent hard-fought gains was more than Stephens could handle. He said flatly, “I can’t sell Martin Luther King, civil rights and back to the past, too.”

It was a telling moment-an aha! moment-as LeMaster, who gave the Bartlett campaign its jump start and later bowed out for personal reasons, likes to say. After a spirited debate, the group agreed with Stephens. The reference to the past was history.

Publicly at least, 44-year-old Steve Bartlett’s journey to the mayor’s office has seemed at times propelled by centrifugal force. He has been blessed by the gods of political timing and luck. Even whispered speculation way back in January that the former congressman might consider the race made the front page of The Dallas Morning News. “I think that for a three-week period there while we were scurrying around getting letterheads printed and everything, there was a story almost every day,” says LeMaster. “We got literally stacks of letters. And the only ones saying ’Don’t run’ were from people either running themselves or wanna-bes.”

Despite the encouragement, Bartlett has at times seemed an unlikely candidate to lead an increasingly diverse, divided-not to mention Democratic-Dallas. His decision to resign from Congress and come back to save Dallas from ruin, as he puts it, was not an easy one. Bartlett says it was some-thing he had been considering-and trying to push out of his mind-for at least two years.

During the past ten months, Bartlett literally wore holes in his shoes trying to persuade Dallas that he is not the racist, insensitive, gun-loving ogre his opponents tried to make him out to be. He had some formidable obstacles to overcome, most of them derived from his extremely conservative voting record in Congress. Bartlett’s closest friends and advisers, including Calvin Stephens, warned him that Dallas had changed since he had left for Washington in 1982. Since then, Bartlett had faced only token opposition in his re-election bids. “We told him, ’Steve, the hardest thing you’ve done in 10 years in Dallas is plan a Memorial Day picnic,’” Stephens says. “I told him, ’You’re not going to be the fair-haired white boy riding into town-they’ll jump your butt big-time.’”

In the waning weeks of an election campaign that, because of a historic court challenge, dragged on for an unprecedented nine months, Bartlett’s opponents, especially Forrest Smith and Kathryn Cain, did just that. Smith waged war on the battlefield of gun control. Cain played to the women’s vote with that most potent weapon-abortion rights. But even late-hour histrionics such as Smith’s brandishing an automatic ammunition clip at debates failed to sway an electorate weary of divisive rhetoric and cynical about City Hall. With 36 percent turnout-high for a city election-Steve Bartlett waltzed away with the spoils without a runoff, trouncing runner-up Kathryn Cain 54 to 27 percent.

In the untold story of the making of the Bartlett victory, Calvin Stephens may be the unsung hero. A bright, energetic man with a grizzled beard, Stephens, aided by feisty political consultant Rufus Shaw, played the role of interpreter from a foreign land-bringing a black perspective to an inner circle that had had little experience with ’90s-style diversity.

It was enough to expose not just Steve Bartlett, but his longtime conservative friends and supporters, to a community that they could not have understood well. It was enough to earn the new mayor the respect of several high-profile African-American leaders, including the Rev. S.M. Wright. It was not enough to deliver Bartlett more than 15 percent of the black vote. But if the gods are still smiling, it may be enough to prepare Bartlett for his role as the leader of a new Dallas. Says he: “Changing voting habits, especially when people are screaming racial epithets at you, is not easy. But it’s a start.”

THE MAKING OF THE MAYOR, 1991, CAN BE traced back to the spring of 1990, when insurance executives Charles Terrell and Tom Dunning began to be mentioned as potential candidates. “Actually there were three separate races for mayor,” recalls Rob Allyn, a political consultant and writer who represented former council member Jim Buerger and later worked for Bartlett. Terrell and Dunning were weighing the race, along with former Sanger-Harris executive Jack Miller. By the fell, two more names surfaced: Buer-ger, and Jack Evans, former mayor and retired Cullum Companies CEO. “All of these were the old style of candidates-” Allyn says, “political independents. That’s where the stream of Dallas politics always was.”

After several meetings among themselves and other political heavies-including Mayor Annette Strauss-Terrell, Dunning and Miller all decided not to run. From the traditional business enclave, that left Jack Evans. Evans, who held the job for two years in the early ’80’s, had passed up a re-election bid in 1983 to return full time to his business following the death of Robert Cullum. He still regrets not having served a second term. By the decade’s end, facing retirement, he began to test the waters for another bid.

If Evans expected unconditional support from at least his fellow CEOs, he must have been disappointed. “Ray Hunt [chairman of the board of Hunt Consolidated and the business community’s most formidable power] not only refused to support him but pledged to actively support someone else,” says a civic insider who asked not to be named.

To many, Evans was unelectable because of perceptions that he represented the past and not the future. Evans believes that he was well positioned to win a race with Jim Buerger and well suited to turn things around at City Hall. Citing his long friendship with black council member Al Lipscomb, Evans says, “I was labeled Establishment, but I never really was.”

Jim Buerger also wanted to serve. He has, he says, wanted to be mayor since he was 19 years old. Buerger had been running for the office officially or unofficially since 1986, when he ran against Annette Strauss and former Republican County Chairman Fred Meyer, among others. Buerger had every intention of running against Jack Evans in 1991, and, despite the liability of being a sitting member of an unpopular city council, he believes to this day that he could have easily won-if not for Steve Bartlett.

But all of this political maneuvering went on before the first inkling of a Bartlett candidacy trickled out in the September 1990 issue of this magazine. Buerger’s hired gun, Allyn, remembers cringing at the news. “I got my start in politics working for Steve Bartlett in 1981,” he says. “For me, [working against Steve] was my personal worst nightmare.”

In early January, Jack Evans announced he would not run. At the Buerger camp, the word was viewed as good news and bad. “On the positive side,” Allyn recalls, “Jim was king for a day, the flavor of the month-and the checks started coming in. On the bad side, we suspected that if Evans was getting out, then Bartlett might be really running.”

On January 4, The News ran a story in which Bartlett confirmed that he was seriously considering the race. But two other contenders were seriously considering it also: Forrest Smith, longtime local attorney and civic leader; and Kathryn Cain, another lawyer and former Democratic candidate for county judge.

As it turned out, Bartlett’s entry, formally announced on February 19, was enough to edge Jim Buerger out, just as the rumor of it vanquished Jack Evans earlier in the year. Both men say that they were cowed by the enormous resources that Bartlett’s Republican ties would lend to the campaign, and both say that they weren’t interested in waging the type of negative warfare against Bartlett that would have been necessary to win.

The fact that Steve Bartlett was a proven political candidate with strong Republican ties is a crucial marker in the history of Dallas politics. “The days are gone when a bunch of friendly CEOs can get together and decide which one of them is going to run,” says political consultant Carol Reed. “From now on we’re going to see career political people-people whose total career plan is in politics.”

The first rumblings of this change came in 1987 with the candidacy of Fred Meyer, then chair of the county Republican Party and as partisan a political animal as there ever was, observers say. “Before then,” says Allyn, “candidates ran much as one would run for stu-dent body president: ’Vote for me because I’m the best guy for the job.’”

But with Meyer came the loyalty, the resources and the identifying labels of the GOP. “In the old days, when city elections were really non-partisan.” Allyn says, “each new person coming into the process had to create a non-partisan image. Actually there were de facto parties-endorsements from the Citizens Council. The Dallas Morning News. But by and large, each candidate had to invent his or her own image without the quick reference that being a Republican or a Democrat offers voters. And that takes money.”

If Bartlett hadn’t gotten into the 1991 race, some believe, the 1987 campaign might have been a mere blip on the civic radar screen. As it was, the partisan shift was complete. Some political observers, including Buerger, believe that Bartlett’s domination of the 1991 race heralds a permanent change in our city elections. “We can never go back,” Buerger believes, “It’s irrevocable.” The next tightly contested race, he adds, whether in four years or eight, will produce a Democrat who can wage a campaign with the tenacity and resources that the Republicans have shown in the last two mayoral elections. Any non-partisan who attempts to run, Buerger wagers, will end up like he did. “I came to play baseball and found out I was on a football field.”

This time around the fig leaf of partisanship was still in place. Forrest Smith and Kathryn Cain promoted their Democratic ties-Cain, loudly-and in the irony of all ironies, Bartlett loudly chastised them for it. “It’s been a sham for years,” says longtime political analyst Enid Gray. “The trick is to be partisan while pretending you’re not.”

LONG BEFORE PARTISANSHIP OR EVEN campaign slogans were at issue, the Bartlett political “family” had gathered at D/FW Airport, far enough away to avoid being detected by someone they knew. It was the group’s first real meeting. No campaign assignments had been made; no strategies had been devised. They came armed with the benchmark poll and the determination to make sure Steve Bartlett knew what he was doing.

By all accounts, it was a long, tough meeting. Though the polls were encouraging-pitted against Evans and Buerger, Bartlett had extraordinary name ID and a high ratio of positives to negatives-there were some real mine fields ahead. Calvin Stephens, of course, was worried about the Martin Luther King vote. Others were concerned about Bartlett’s perceived weakness in responding to the savings and loan crisis. Then there was the issue of Dallas’ changing demographics and the fact that the city voted Democratic in last year’s state elections. Remembers Jim Oberwetter, “Having worked in the Fred Meyer campaign, I knew some of the pitfalls of running under the Republican label.”

The most obvious pitfall these days is the appearance of being tied to “old Dallas.” An “old Dallas” candidate is increasingly defined as too white, too conservative, too rigid, too rich and too insensitive to lead a city that has finally retooled its government to be more inclusive of all its citizens. The kiss of death in a diverse city would be to be labeled part of the “oligarchy.” Sure enough, rumors began to surface that Ray Hunt (perceived as “old Dallas” by many) had hand-picked Steve Bartlett to be mayor of Dallas and, furthermore, had put him on his payroll . When a reporter asked about the rumor, Hunt replied, ’That’s so ridiculous, I wouldn’t want to dignify that with a response,”

Then there was the question of why. Why would a man who had a safe seat in the U.S. Congress, making $96,600 a year, resign to run for a job as mayor that paid $50 a meeting? It is a question that haunted Bartlett to the end. Pundits put forth the explanation that Bartlett, a member of the House minority to begin with, had never made much of an impact in Congress, and that he was passed over for some key assignments that he coveted. Others suggested that his marriage was faltering and that his wife and children needed him home more often than weekends. Then there was the steppingstone theory, which said that Steve Bartlett needed a mayoral post to achieve statewide recognition, a la Henry Cisneros, for a future race for senator or governor.

Bartlett dismisses the political motives, noting that he turned down a high-visibility, statewide post in the Republican’s Victory ’92 campaign, which would have left him poised for a bid to unseat Sen. Lloyd Bent-sen. As for personal reasons, Bartlett says his wife, Gail, was a tough sell. “Gail doesn’t like to hear people criticizing her husband,” Bartlett says, “so she was reluctant at first. But I’ll never forget driving up the tollway from a Christmas party at the Sammons art center. We had been talking a lot about whether or not I would run, and I was at that time frankly leaning against it. But after that party, I said, ’Gail, we’ve got to stop for Mexican food and talk.’ I said that I had heard of five people at the party who were leaving Dallas-actually moving! Gail said she had heard the same thing-only more. That was it, I guess; that’s when we decided that I had to do this.”

From the time the mayor’s race first got rolling, Bartlett held a commanding lead. Most polls showed him with 40-plus percent of the vote from day one. He had high name recognition and a certain level of respect because of his service in Congress. (While people tend to hate Congress as a whole, they love their own representatives.) His positive ratings were high, even outside the socioeconomic and geographic boundaries of his North Dallas base.

Perhaps bolstered by that strong showing in his private polls, Bartlett resigned from his seat in Congress-a move he was not legally bound to make. “He did it for the right reasons,” says campaign co-chair Martha Weisend. “It was an integrity thing. You can’t be in Dallas and also adequately represent your district in Congress. You have to be there to vote.”

By mid-March, the settlement agreement in the city’s redistricting case had been sketched out. The election, originally set for May, was postponed. The announcement was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the Bartlett campaign would now have time to marshal fully the huge Republican resources at its command. On the other, a delay could mean a loss of momentum and give opponents time to build name ID.

Then came the event that may have ensured Steve Bartlett’s success: A June poll conducted by The Dallas Morning News showed Bartlett leading by 3 to 1 over Buerger, Smith and Cain. Shortly afterward, Buerger announced that he was pulling out. And though two other potentially formidable opponents-the Rev. Zan Holmes and Democratic power Sandy Kress-briefly flirted with launching campaigns, neither did. By the restart of the race just after Labor Day, the field had narrowed to six: Bartlett; Cain; Smith; Rufus Higginbotham, a pastor with a platform of space exploration; Dallas Jackson, an African-American cable TV show host whose major claim to fame seemed to be his given name; and Hispanic attorney Frank Hernandez, who was quickly rendered impotent by revelations of past misdeeds including a DWI and a threatened disbarment.

How did the Bartlett Express pull so far ahead so quickly? To Allyn, it’s simple: “Politics is about resources: money, name ID, volunteers, media coverage, the numbers in your coalition. It’s like war; it’s a matter of resources skillfully employed until you wear the opponents down.” Like the U.S. hovering over Iraq, Bartlett loomed above his foes from the moment news of his candidacy was first reported.

By early spring, the Express was chugging to life at the Bartlett campaign headquarters on Greenville Avenue. Martha Weisend. who led Jack Evans’ successful bid for the mayor’s office in 1981, was the ground troop commander, plotting the logistics and overseeing the army of volunteers who would coordinate everything from the phone banks to old-fashioned political walks. Sub-campaigns were launched: Asians for Bartlett and Adelante con Bartlett, a lobbying group in the Hispanic community led by businessman Cipriano Munoz. (Bartlett won almost half of the miniscule Hispanic vote.) Media consultant LeMaster dropped off the roster, beginning a much-publicized two-month sabbatical. She was replaced by Republican operative Karen Parfitt Hughes.

By all accounts, including that of Bartlett, the surprise powerhouse of the organization was paid political consultant Rufus Shaw, an SMU grad who writes fiery columns in the local African-American media and once authored a book called How To Be a Rich Nigger. In the black community, Shaw is something of a loose cannon, often going against the grain of popular opinion.

Shaw says his role in the Bartlett campaign was “revolutionary.” “In the past,” he says, “black consultants were hired because of who they knew-not what they knew. This is different. We’re using our brains, our talents, we have influence.”

Rufus Shaw is not known for being reticent about touting his own accomplishments. But a former consultant to Bartlett agrees that the campaign was a major departure from the way blacks have been brought into other city wide campaigns. “The normal thing to do is hire someone, give them some money, set them up in their community, ask them to deliver votes and never see them again. This is different. Steve brought them to the table and then he listened and did what they said.” From the moment Calvin Stephens pointed out that fatal flaw in the slogan “Bring Dallas Back,” he and Shaw had a major impact in shaping the campaign. Shaw was even made a part of Bartlett’s sanctum sanctorum, the “policy committee.” a group of seven or eight who met weekly throughout the campaign to make major decisions.

In the early days of the campaign, Shaw complemented Weisend’s role. Working closely with Stephens, Shaw held Bartlett back from going into the minority communities until they had, as Shaw puts it, “prepared the way” by blasting those who attacked Bartlett on the MLK vote or his record on civil rights. The men say they knew how to keep their candidate out of political traps. For example, Bartlett was asked to address the Political Congress of African-American Women. “But it was a setup,” Stephens says. “They had already endorsed another candidate [Kathryn Cain]. They had the media there and they were going to attack Steve. So we wouldn’t let him go.”

Shaw believes in playing hardball, and he counseled Bartlett not to back down when attacked-especially if someone called him a racist. “Most of the white leadership are wimps” in the face of such rhetoric, Shaw says. Stephens also advised his candidate that people of color would have more respect for him if he stood tall and stuck to his plans for the future rather than apologizing for the past. (However, throughout the campaign, Bartlett said his vote in Congress against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday “was a mistake”)

Backing Bartlett (they met back in the mid-70s working on minority business development in South Dallas) has had its personal costs. Stephens says. He has been threatened, cursed and shunned by members of his community. Stephens recalls a poignant conversation with Bill Blair, publisher of Elite News. “He said, ’You know, Calvin, |in the black community] this race is not about civil rights or Martin Luther King. It’s about you. If Bartlett wins, people are afraid they’ll have to deal through you.”

CAMERAMEN AND REPORTERS WERE SPIL-ling out the door and onto Greenville Avenue in anticipation of the arrival of Forrest Smith and his entourage. The press had been tipped off earlier in the day to Smith’s plan to arrive at Bartlett headquarters, coffee cup in hand, and take Bartlett up on his advertised offer to “come by my headquarters, have a cup of coffee and look at |my record]. It’s all here.” Clearly enjoying himself. Smith moved through the stunned Bartlett volunteers, press in tow, and held his empty cup out for the promised brew. Again, as he had done for weeks, he chided Bartlett for voting against gun control and civil rights. “You say you’re going to be a mayor who listens,” Smith said in what by now was a familiar refrain. “But who’re you listenin’ to, Steve? Not the Dallas City Council, not Chief Rathburn…”

Two days later, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Smith’s campaign manager Bill Kenyon reflected on the stunt, pronouncing it a stunning success. Like every tack Forrest Smith took during the last months of the campaign, this one had the mark of Kenyon, the man whose last assignment was to put Clayton Williams in the governor’s mansion.

Kenyon lost that one, and he lost the Forrest Smith race. too. But not before giving the Bartlett campaign a few nervous moments. Smiths relentless attacks on Bartlett’s votes in Congress against any form of gun control rattled the fair-haired candidate right into the last stretch of the race. At a forum at Clara’s Kitchen in South Dallas seven days after the massacre in Killeen, Smith implied that gun control foes such as Bartlett were responsible for the deaths of innocent victims. When it was his turn to rebut, Bartlett’s eyes narrowed and he was pale and shaken. He angrily retorted that it was “shameful” to invoke such a tragedy in the name of a political point. It was one of the few times in the campaign that Bartlett showed signs of strain.

Bill Kenyon’s strategy for Forrest Smith was to isolate the front-runner and go after him with a vengeance. Though with more grace, Kathryn Cain did much the same thing. Cain could have been crippled by stories that surfaced in mid-September about developer Craig Hall, a man she had dated for seven months. Hall was jailed for not making back child support payments-again in the glaring light of the media. Things got worse when it was revealed that he had loaned thousands of dollars to Cain’s campaign and to her personally. It was widely rumored-and weakly denied-that Kenyon leaked news of the Hall affair to reporters.

In spite of it, with election day a mere 10 days away, both Cain and Smith moved up in the polls. With less than a week to go, one television station showed results of a poll that saw Bartlett’s lead drop to 39 percent and Cain move into second place with 22 percent.

But in the end neither Smith, who finished third with 13 percent, nor Cain could overpower Bartlett’s enormous strengths. He out-spent them three-to-one-the Bartlett campaign raised over $1 million. He outadvertised them-Bartlett was the only candidate to run television commercials. He out-campaigned them-Bartlett volunteers organized some 938 campaign events. Bartlett’s people estimate that their candidate personally greeted over 50,000 potential voters. Some 300,000 pieces of campaign literature were mailed; over 400,000 voters were contacted by telephone.

On election night, to a cheering crowd of his supporters-a diverse group that underscored the campaign’s theme of grass-roots involvement-Bartlett attributed his win to two factors: a positive message of moving forward, and the support of citizens from every section of the city.

JIM OBERWETTER SAT IN HIS OFFICE AT Hunt Consolidated, Ray Hunt’s oil and real estate conglomerate, recounting the early days of his longtime friend’s entry into the mayor’s race. Folded neatly on his desk was a column from the morning newspaper decrying a seeming lack of passion or “moral energy” among the candidates, including Steve Bartlett. “Mr. Bartlett left unclear just how well he understands the plight of those whose needs he was discussing,’’ the columnist wrote.

That column bothered Oberwetter-not because of the bad publicity, but because he has noticed the same thing. Bartlett’s propensity to be well prepared, and to offer specific answers to broad questions, Oberwetter says, sometimes makes him seem cold, detached, unemotional.

In fact, says Karen Hughes, whose job included prepping Bartlett for his myriad appearances before the press-and critiquing his performance-the candidate’s rat-a-tat-tat delivery was “something we worked on” throughout the campaign. Bartlett is not given to dramatic body language or emotional rhetoric, Instead, he chose to repeat his positive message for the future over and over, weaving the threads of change, new leadership and a new direction, into a shiny tapestry of hope.

From the beginning, Bartlett pledged to conduct a clean campaign, and by all accounts, he did. When one of his younger, more exuberant staff workers hatched a plan to tack yard signs on telephone poles in South Dallas, Bartlett said, “No way.” Even the hint of any impropriety (tacking signs on telephone poles violates city codes) was off limits.

The clean machine theme would help Bartlett in the final stretch of the contest. At forum after forum. Smith bore into Bartlett, allowing Bartlett to respond by looking forward to a Dallas in which nasty rhetoric has been put to rest. “We can’t end the chaos at City Hall,” he would say, “by name-calling in the campaign.” The crowds seemed to eat it up. Smith came off as shrill; Bartlett, as the angel of mercy.

Bartlett is nothing if not a shrewd politician. Though his M.O. is to hire the best consultants around, he makes the major decisions himself. It was his call, for instance, to steer clear of the Presidential entourage that hit town four days before the election. Because partisanship in city elections is officially taboo, Bartlett, for the sake | of purity, dodged being linked with Bush.

Bartlett’s political instincts also convinced him early on that diversity was the number one theme in the New Dallas and that he had better get on the bandwagon fast. It may have swung the pendulum toward the choice of Calvin Stephens as campaign manager, though both men bristle at such a suggestion. Still, only a political ingenue could miss the symbolic impact of these two men, black and white, locked in a victory embrace-especially on a city struggling to overcome the pain of racial strife.

Bartlett’s attempts to gather grass-roots support all over the city-which paid off in a major endorsement by longtime political broker Reverend S.M. Wright-will serve him well in the future. But it was also sound campaign strategy. From the beginning, Bartlett’s handlers assumed that he “owned” the right end of the political spectrum and that Cain and Smith would divide the far left. The fertile pickings were in the middle. “To attract those voters,” says LeMaster, marking the middle of a line drawn on a cocktail napkin, “he had to move to the center-and that meant hard campaigning in the south. He had to convince those voters that he would be a mayor for the whole city.”

In the end, this historic election pretty much came down to that one question: What have you done for blacks? “What kind of a signal does [your voting record) send to the people of Dallas?” asked Channel 8 reporter Cinny Kennard in a televised debate. “A signal of not voting on sloganeering” he replied. Over and over, Bartlett asked his audiences to judge his voting record on the substance of the legislation, not on the bills’ titles. Repeatedly, he insisted that he had wide support in the black community, including his campaign manager and other high-profile minority leaders, among them El Centra College president Wright Lassiter and housing chief Alphonso Jackson. But in his heart, Steve Bartlett knew that the media would never carry his message to the people the way he could carry it himself.

HI, I’M STEVE BARTLETT, AND I’M GOING to be your next mayor.” Again and again, traipsing through small stores and storefront businesses in Lakewood in late October, the man who has loved politics since junior high school repeated those words to anyone who would listen. It was the midpoint in a day that began early with private meetings at campaign headquarters, then moved to a noon forum and debate in South Dallas. After touring Hillside Village, it was on to Kessler Park for a coffee, then to a homeowner’s group meeting in Pleasant Grove. Most of Steve Bartlett’s days since his candidacy began had been similarly choreographed. Says LeMaster, “I’ve never worked with a candidate who had more energy or more stamina for campaigning. Most candidates want you to schedule in time for golf, or walking, or just down time at home. Not Steve.”

Most of the people he sought out on this whirlwind tour perked up at his name or face. One woman told him “[You’re] more handsome than you look on TV.” A number volunteered that he already had their votes. “It’s like this all over Dallas,” he remarked at one point, “everywhere I go.”

Asked to describe Steve Bartlett, the word offered most often by his friends is “intense.” Add self-confident, upbeat, penetratingly bright, persuasive, wry-witted, impatient, likable. During his years as a Dallas city councilman, a post he earned by waging a campaign against a better-funded, Establishment-backed Peter Baldwin, he earned a reputation as a hard-working, studious member whose votes were difficult to predict.

Bartlett seems truly convinced that he is the person to turn Dallas around. His selfassurance never flags, although he slops short of outright egocentricism. “I’m not saying I’m the only one who could be a quality mayor,” he says. “I am saying that I’m the only qualified candidate who could get elected.”

Battlett has matured politically in his eight years in Congress, managing to hold on to his squeaky-clean image and to his strict conservative principles. Like his boyhood hero Barry Goldwater, Bartlett believes passionately in the rights and the good of the individual. He looks at every issue “from the bottom up,” he says, asking himself-or his staff or a colleague-what an action taken by government means to the person who will be the recipient or the user of it. Bartlett keeps a collection of paperweights on his desk. Whenever a staff member makes the mistake of discussing an issue in terms of the program design or the administrative entity or some other example of “from the top down,” Bartlett simply turns one of the paperweights upside down. “Now,” he’ll say patiently, “why don’t you tell me what that means to the individual.” It is a theme that will likely sound often at City Hall.

Bartlett agrees that his conservativism goes against the grain of big-city politics. “I’m not politically correct,” he admits. He decries the advent of “groupthink,” which, in his mind, is the height of racial prejudice. “We have to stop thinking of minority communities as monolithic,” he says. “There’s as much diversity there as anywhere else.”

Perhaps he is most enamored of the idea of political empowerment-giving people more power over their finances or housing or education-a tenet that is basically a modem-day application of the ancient lesson “Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day; teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Bartlett says that empowerment programs such as giving the tenants in public housing projects rights and responsibilities for managing their units are “much more applicable to the local problems than at the federal level.”

Few who know Steve Bartlett doubt that he has the brains or the political savvy or the mental toughness to establish a new day at City Hall. But can he really bring the kind of fair and open government that will unite the new council and set it on a common course?

Bartlett’s vaunted “peace plan” offers a blueprint for “ending the turmoil at City Hall.” As a campaign strategy, it played beautifully with the discontent of Dallas voters. But in some circles, bringing peace to the council chambers is a code word for muzzling discontent. It’s no secret that the most vocal complainers in recent years have been minorities. So is Steve Bartlett telegraphing blacks and browns that he won’t tolerate open conflict?

Bartlett insists that conflict and emotion have a place in the democratic process. And while much of that insistence came while he was wooing reluctant voters, Mayor Bart-lett probably can hold that delicate line between controversy and chaos. His style is focused but affable, firm but not given to self-aggrandizing or navel gazing. He has the confidence to be able to make other people feel good about themselves. He can be self-deprecating in his humor and humble in small gestures like filling other people’s coffee cups, or clearing away their lunch dishes. He did both often during the campaign.

But Bartlett will have to control any urge to run roughshod over his new colleagues- especially those who are in public service for the first time. Few will even come close to matching his vast knowledge of issues (a possible exception being Lori Palmer), and he will apply himself even more diligently now that he’s got the job. Known as one who, as Enid Gray puts it, “doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” Bartlett may find himself extremely frustrated some days-and the trick will be not to let it show.

But will he turn a deaf ear to the plight of Dallas’ less fortunate, as his critics feared? Probably not, though his conservative solutions to problems-ideas like empowerment and school choice-may seem insensitive until they are better understood. Bartlett’s chief African-American supporters, Shaw and Stephens, insist that he has been unfairly stereotyped, and that he will do right by minorities.

But critics aren’t so sure. Says Paul Geisel, an urban studies professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, “He has said that he will bring minorities to the table-but he never said he would share power with them.”

The truth is, he has little choice. The reality of the new council configuration dictates a coalition style of governing. An unprecedented number of minorities are seated at the horseshoe at City Hall, and at least one of the inner-city white districts is represented by a strong liberal-Lori Palmer. The name of the game for Bartlett will be getting eight votes in support of his initiatives. His political savvy will be called into service in governing as much as it was in campaigning.

For his part, Bartlett believes absolutely that he is the right man for the job. During the campaign, he says, he had to put a lid on the plans and dreams he has for Dallas- because “people just weren’t ready to hope that much.” Says he, “’Everywhere I went- whether it was on the front porches in Singing Hills or up in Lake Highlands, people said the same thing: ’Get me out from behind my burglar bars, and end the turmoil at City Hall.’”

He says he didn’t dare tell them that he sees the Dallas of the future as the “City on the Hill.” “I’m not planning just to end the bad times,” he says with a self-assurance that is his virtual trademark. “I’m planning to make Dallas great again.”

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