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Commentary: Tom Leppert

By Victoria Loe Hicks, KERA 90.1 Commentator

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-600819.mp3

Dallas, TX –

This is Tom Leppert's day. At noon, the man virtually none of us had heard of a year ago - despite his sterling accomplishments in the corporate world - will become Dallas mayor. Let us hope that, starting tomorrow, the next four years will be not Mr. Leppert's years but Dallas' years. Let us hope that he makes good on his promises to deliver both a broad vision and tight purse strings - and especially on his vow to "build...the relationships that will make us whole again."

Today, the main thing we know about Tom Leppert is that he hired some very smart people to run his campaign. With their help, he was able to persuade a lot of savvy and powerful people on both sides of the Trinity that he's the real deal.

He won convincingly enough that the Dallas Morning News used the word "mandate" to describe his victory. That's a fair characterization - if you're standing north of the Trinity. But, as Mr. Leppert eloquently acknowledged during his campaign, ours is a tragically divided city. And this election did not change that.

Tom Leppert not only failed to carry the Southern Sector, he ran slightly worse there than Laura Miller did in her two mayoral victories. That's right, our outgoing mayor, whom many in the Southern Sector regard as the Darth Vader of Dallas politics, actually pulled more votes there in 2002 and 2003 than Mr. Leppert did in his runoff against Ed Oakley.

And we can't forget the dispiriting saga of Don Hill, because Southern Sector voters won't soon forget it. Given how well Mr. Hill ran on May 12, it's likely that the only thing that stopped him from becoming Dallas' second black mayor was a two-year-old F.B.I. investigation that - for all the evidence we have seen - was groundless. I'd hate to think that the probe was designed to do just what it did -foil his mayoral ambitions - but, as of today, there's nothing to refute the suspicions of those who see it that way.

This is the city Mr. Leppert inherits. Only one thing will make it better, and it's not talk. It's action - swift, decisive action on a scale this city has not yet seen to create housing, retail activity and high-quality jobs south of the Trinity.

Fortunately, Mr. Leppert does not have to start from square one in charting that course of action. Several months ago, a diverse group of community and religious leaders, city officials and business leaders met to forge an agenda for the economic development of the Southern Sector. During the campaign, Mr. Leppert indicated, in response to a survey, that he will work to implement the most critical elements of that agenda.

For starters, that means assembling about $100 million, primarily from public sources, to spur even greater private investment in housing for families of all income levels. It means assembling another $100 million to attract new businesses and grow existing businesses. And it means adopting an inclusionary housing policy, which requires every new housing development to include units affordable to working-class families.

That's a big order. But Mr. Leppert won his seat at the head of the City Council horseshoe by painting himself as a big-picture guy. He brings a big resume. He's already said he'll do the things that most need to be done, in the judgment of people who have worked for years to better the Southern Sector. Today is his day to celebrate. Tomorrow is his day to take that big vision he talked about, of building a whole city, and just do it.

Victoria Loe Hicks is a policy analyst and senior writer for the Foundation for Community Empowerment. You can see the Southern Sector Economic Development Agenda at www.fcedallas.org.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.