For the next mayor of dallas, these will be the best of times. A booming economy and expanding tax base will allow the city to tackle substantive problems and even do a little window-dressing. Here are the five major priorities the new mayor will face and who, to my mind, has what it takes to handle them:
The Trinity. The biggest and most complicated public works project in Dallas history faces yet another challenge from the same people who have opposed it from the beginning. This time it is over the parkway that will act as a reliever road for the Stemmons mixmaster. The voters already approved it. The courts have dismissed challenges against it. The time comes when you need a bulldozer for more than moving earth. Ed Oakley or Tom Leppert will push the project forward.
Crime. Surprise! All of the candidates are for reducing crime. Only Max Wells, however, has had the gumption to come up with a way of paying for it. Unfortunately, his idea is wrong. Wells proposes an anti-crime district that would use an additional half-cent sales tax to provide more than $100 million annually. I’m not opposed to higher taxes, but I am opposed to creating another government bureaucracy with the power to tax and spend. Wells is right on the major point, though: if we want to cut crime, we’re going to have to pay for it. It’s a fraud when other candidates say we don’t.
City Hall. The city staff’s attitude adjustment in a short three years has been dramatic, in large part due to City Manager Mary Suhm. But her reformation couldn’t have been accomplished without the groundwork laid by Gary Griffith. Patient, accommodating, and persistent, Griffith did the nitty-gritty work that led the Council to set priorities and stick with them, liberating city employees from nitpicking and second-guessing. Ed Oakley and Don Hill also deserve credit, but Griffith was the prime mover.
Education. Candidates don’t want to talk about it because the mayor has no jurisdiction over it. But the fact is, a strong mayor can rally business to support new ideas like the West Dallas Initiative, which targets families in trouble. Tom Leppert was a volunteer leader in that effort, and he has claimed education, especially pre-school support, as a vital component of the mayor’s job. He’s right. The next step up will be when the city demands vouchers for its residents.
Economic Development. Again, all of them are for it. However, only Max Wells has brought up the issue of water, which is essential to our growth. Nobody has mentioned Fair Park. After the Trinity, it’s our city’s largest underdeveloped asset. Nor are any of them talking about our poor air quality. Pollution will kill business development. (Don’t any of these guys have asthma? Don’t any of their grandchildren?)
The biggest two issues I see are the Trinity and how City Hall operates. If those two go forward on track, other matters such as economic development and even crime reduction will fall into place. Right now, I’m leaning toward Leppert, Oakley, and Griffith. Darrell Jordan and Don Hill (forget the FBI; it was all show) are good men and would probably make good enough mayors. Max Wells, Sam Coats, and the others just don’t push my buttons. But that’s me, here in Highland Park and without a vote. The wonderful thing about democracy is that I don’t have to decide everything.