PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The Paradox of Laura Miller

How can someone so disliked be so popular?

Laura Miller fascinates me.

When she was a journalist, she was a one-woman wrecking ball. When she was a City Council member, she was a petty obstructionist. But as mayor, she has transformed herself into a visionary leader. Nobody could be as surprised by the makeover as I am.

Here is a woman who is tough, driven, passionate, and eloquent. On the flip side, she is stubborn, ideological, self-righteous, and disdainful of those who disagree with her. She’s less a modern American politician than a throwback to a different era. Shakespeare would have loved her.

History will give the woman her due. She took in hand the Trinity River Project and reshaped it brilliantly. She has disrupted business as usual at City Hall and, for the most part, imposed her will on a recalcitrant City Council. She’s taken on mediocrity and incompetence and driven out of office a city manager and a police chief who were poster boys for both. She has worked incessantly to improve downtown, talked businesses and individuals into donating millions to the city, and vastly improved enforcement of city codes.

So why do so many people dislike her?

In answering that question, one business leader started by admitting, “There’s no doubt that whatever room she walks into, she raises the IQ average by 10 points,” and then went on, in increasingly vulgar language, to depict the mayor’s arrogance, lack of business knowledge, and inability to negotiate. Another respected civic leader was in a more reflective frame of mind. “Laura Miller is like a compass pointed north,” he said. “Getting her to see another point of view is like juggling the compass. The needle may move 15 or even 20 degrees, but in no time at all, it will be back to where it originally pointed.”

The antipathy to her in downtown business circles and among local politicos is so intense that few insiders can talk about her without sputtering. At a recent luncheon, I was seated with two councilmembers who hit me hard for supporting the Blackwood proposal. Their arguments were fraught with emotion but had nothing to do with the structure of government. Their darts were aimed squarely at the faults of Laura Miller.

I couldn’t disagree with them about her faults, but I also couldn’t help but think that if either of these councilmembers—or anybody else, for that matter—challenged her in an election, she’d trounce them.

So maybe the question is: for someone so disliked by so many powerful people, why is Laura Miller so popular?

She’s popular for the same reason she’s disliked. If big-company titans hate her or  big-name politicians complain about her, that only adds to her charm in voters’ eyes. Everyday citizens know Laura Miller has that compass point. They may not always agree with her, but they feel her passion. They trust her obstinacy. They admire her well-developed sense of outrage.

Those qualities make her maddeningly difficult as a person. But they also are what make her capable of forcing radical change at City Hall—and that’s just what the voters of Dallas want. —Wick Allison