Leppert: Savior or pariah?

I wish I could say this would be the last Trinity tollroad post here on Back Talk, but something about that whole deal just won’t go away, even as it swings from done deal to nearly dead deal over the course of the past few weeks.

There has been a lot of media patter about the Trinity deal, and the convention center hotel deal, the past few days. Sam Merten at the Dallas Observer called us out for our posts (here and here) earlier this week, and he also called out Wick Allison and D Magazine, which called out Angela Hunt, who called out Mayor Tom Leppert in the Morning News, which just yesterday called out Merten and Jim Schutze and the Observer (calling the latter a "sexually oriented weekly tabloid", and that wasn’t meant as a compliment), which in turn called out the Morning News and D … honestly, I don’t know if I have all of the "call outs" right or not.

Virtually all of the discussion was triggered by the Morning News’ Sunday story about what Leppert knew about the project and when he knew it. The News story shed light on Army Corps of Engineers’ concerns about the tollroad that clearly should have been revealed to voters prior to the election; Leppert says he told voters and fellow city council members exactly what he knew, which was that he saw the information in question but no one from the Corps ever specifically told him the project couldn’t be done.

That statement appears to be legally correct, but also tacitly misleading: If no one specifically tells you a stop sign is red, that means there’s at least a possibility that it could be green, right?

Facts and media bluster notwithstanding, the biggest crime of the Trinity issue and, perhaps, the impending convention center hotel project and vote, appears to be that the privileged few people who have the facts aren’t willing to trust the rest of us with them.

I’ve always believed that the pro-tollroad people made the conscious decision to forget about the Trinity facts and instead rely on the strength of Leppert’s character to sell the issue and win the day. And it also appeared that Hunt, chief of the no-tollroad crowd, made the conscious decision to do the right thing and not sell her character as the linchpin of her group’s television- and mailer-ad referendum campagn. It appeared she deliberately choose to rely on the facts and hoped that would be enough. Had she put herself and her personality on every ad — just like Leppert did — I suspect the outcome would have been different, because her personality and personal charisma are as formidable as Leppert’s, if not moreso.

But that’s not the way the Trinity referendum played out, and when given the opportunity to choose between a confusing set of facts and Leppert’s smiling and confident persona, enough voters threw up their hands in frustration and instead chose to put their faith in Leppert’s character. That swung the vote from a certain loss for the pro-tollroad people to a narrow victory (or so I was told about the polling leading up to the vote).

I have no idea what polling on the convention center hotel project says is going to happen in May, particularly after the News’ latest story about the Trinity appears to have ripped a good-sized hole in Leppert’s cloak of invincibility.

In an odd reversal of fortune, this time around, it’s the pro-hotel people who have been relying on facts and figures (and scare tactics, of course), while the anti-hotel people — lacking a Hunt-type character to carry their banner — have simplified their approach to one people can understand: Leppert is an arrogant SOB who doesn’t trust Dallas residents to vote the "right way" on the hotel deal. And sensing a connection with voters, they just keep pounding away with that same message.

Leppert’s character carried the day for the pro-tollroad people; now it’s possible his character foibles may be enough of a burden to take down the convention center hotel deal.

All of this is what disgusts me about Dallas politics: Reasonable people rarely agree to disagree anymore, because there don’t seem to be many reasonable, independently thoughtful people in Dallas politics. Too many councilmen seem content to thoughtlessly walk the same straight line as a majority of their colleagues. Many people in the media are shrill and enjoy wordsmithing their way to punchline, and a good number are simply frightened about losing their jobs as things tilt toward the internet and the blogs. And bloggers are much more likely to carve up someone online and anonymously than to take them on in person; it’s just a whole lot easier these days to be opinionated than to be informed.

Unfortunately, all of the name-calling and back-patting and righteous indignation won’t answer the fundamental questions facing us today — will there be a Trinity park even if the Trinity tollroad can’t be built, and do we really need to spend $500 million of taxpayer money to build the convention center hotel?

Good luck sorting through all of the "facts" while trying to figure out the answers for yourself.


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