Welcome back, Dallas city council – you have your work cut out for you

Say what you will about Mayor Park Cities (and I certainly have), one thing is absolutely, completely true: No one works harder than he does. You can argue with his motives, you can argue with his analysis, and you can argue with his vision. But when he decides to do something, he devotes all he has to the project.

The hotel victory got most of the attention over the weekend, but perhaps more significant was Leppert’s other victory – every incumbent on the council (bar one, who is a runoff) was re-elected, and Leppert did his part. I don’t know, in the 20 years I have been writing about Dallas politics, that I saw any mayor do as much as Leppert did to help his allies on the council.

So what did they win? The opportunity to raise taxes and cut services in August, when they debate the new city budget. More, after the jump:

Because there will be a tax hike and service cuts, something this council is woefully unprepared to deal with. Several council members have actually been telling constituents not to worry, and that they’ll be able to find money for various projects without drastic cuts. The sad thing is that they probably believe this. The situation is dire (Cassandra alert!), and almost no one on the council wants to understand. There will be 10-15 percent less sales tax revenue for the 2009-10 budget, and there looks to be 5-10 percent less in property tax revenue. That adds up to a budget that could be 10 percent smaller than this one, assuming no tax increase. And 10 percent translates to a $270 million cut, which is a lot of libraries to close.

I don’t doubt that Leppert will get the council to go along with whatever city manager Mary Suhm presents in the budget. The question is whether the council will understand the consequences of what they’re doing.

The other thing to watch? Whether the Dallas neighborhoods north of Northwest Highway, which elected Leppert and provided the margin of victory for his side in the Trinity and hotel votes, accept the service cuts and the tax hike – and especially the tax hike. The hard facts lost in the rhetoric about the hotel vote is that no one one voted. Turnout was just 5,000 more than the Trinity vote, and was small even by municipal election standards. Only two elections this decade had fewer votes, and one of them was when Leppert got elected in 2007. It seems odd to talk about mandates when, in fact, the election was decided by just one of every eight city residents, most of whom were upper middle class Anglos. (I’m even wondering if we should devote as much time and energy to politics on the blog as we do, given the lack of interest.)

Leppert, despite strenuous effort, has not done much to increase participation south of the Trinity, where the totals were shockingly low. More than 14,000 people voted in Preston Hollow, which wasn’t great – about 25 percent. But that was more than the vote in three districts south of the Trinity combined, and just 1,000 people voted in the district 6 race. Which means that Leppert must continue to depend on the Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands, and Far North Dallas voters who agree with his Dallas booster, world class city point of view.

How long will that continue, especially if the budget blows up in August? Significantly, and again little noted, even support from this group is wavering. Leppert’s margin of victory in the hotel vote was two percent less than in the Trinity vote, and I found some precincts in Preston Hollow and Far North Dallas that supported the mayor in 2007 but didn’t this time.  Maybe that was a fluke, and they’ll be back in line when Leppert runs for re-election in 2011. But what if their potholes don’t get fixed and the cops take 20 minutes to answer their 911 calls? Will they feel differently? Two years is a long time in politics.


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