Vibe, Not Wonk Issues, Will Decide Who Becomes Dallas’ Next Mayor

Will it be an old person or a young person who leads the city into the future?
Will it be an old person or a young person who leads the city into the future?

But I also know that the political consultants — the people who get people elected — snicker behind their hands at us for this. They know that people don’t get elected on wonkisms, or technical issues, because the voters don’t really have time for wonkisms. They have lives.

The consultants have a point, sort of, to a limited extent. As important as the generational wave and the chance to change the city may be, people are not going to vote consciously on that basis. People won’t ask each other, “Which generation are you voting for?” And they definitely won’t vote based entirely on way-insider technical issues.

But they will vote for somebody who looks like somebody they might like or trust, who sounds like somebody they might connect with, who makes them feel better when she or he talks. For example, let’s look at the first guy out of the box to declare for mayor so far, Albert Black.

Black, 58, has close ties to the old business establishment and has been around forever. He is a successful businessman. He has been involved in the easy, antiseptic issues like economic development. He’s for it. (As time wears on for me, I fear I may go to my everlasting reward without ever having met the first candidate who is against economic development.)

Like many successful local businesspeople, Black’s approach to the hard and dirty issues — pensions for cops, Confederate memorials — has been to walk around them as if circumnavigating a landfill in July. I don’t blame him. I’m sure he wears expensive shoes.

He told The Dallas Morning News, “I believe Dallas can and should be a place where everyone who wants to find a good paying job can get one, and where they can afford to stay, live and raise their families, just as I was able to do.”

That’s not a bad line. Born to the Frazier Courts public housing project in southern Dallas, Black, who is African-American, is a handsome, personable guy who rose against odds to become a success.

The question might be this: Black rose to success 20-40 years ago. So what does he know about the lives of people trying to succeed or just survive in today’s world, and what does he know about the kind of city and world they want or need? And here is where the issues begin to creep back in.

The issues come back into the equation not as the very tight technical formulations we news wonks tend to propound but as what we might better call sensibilities. The issues are there, but they lie deep.

Take one broad area of life and politics, the environment. I am so old, I actually remember an editor at the Detroit Free Press telling me when I was in my early 20s never to use the word environmentalism again in a Detroit Free Press story. He said it was a made-up word invented by hippies.

Now every 20- or 30-something I run into is a person who grew up with environmentalism somewhere in the curriculum since elementary school. Half of them were dandled on knees before school by someone reading them When the Animals Saved Earth.

That makes a huge difference in people, and it’s a difference that trickles down even to the level of wonk issues. Drainage, the issue that has guided me through most of my career, is all about land use, for example. Land-use issues are mostly impenetrable to the generations who grew up thinking of land…


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